The topic of oversigning is somewhat complicated, the numbers are hard to track, especially when a school redacts them from public documents, the terms used in the recruit game are hard to understand (greyshirt, redshirt, count forward, count back, medical hardships, medical redshirts, etc), and the NCAA bylaws combined with the NLI process can make the whole world of recruiting hard to truly understand. Most fans simply follow rivals.com and the other recruiting sites to see where their team is ranked and give very little thought to how rosters are managed and whether or not coaches are abusing the oversigning loophole or any other loophole.
This site has been the epicenter of the oversigning debate since it was launched roughly a year ago. Since being discovered by Stewart Mandel in May of 2010, its popularity and traffic has grown to the tune of 200,000+ unique readers and 6.6 million page visits.
This is why I love the Internet. I must confess, I was not aware of oversigning.com until receiving this e-mail. (I've since seen it referenced numerous places.) Hats off to the authors. They've done a tremendous job of shedding light on a largely under-covered topic through meticulous research and easy-to-digest data. They seem most concerned with the overlooked human consequence of this practice: coaches quietly cutting loose underperforming or injury-riddled veterans to make room for a new crop of recruits. Currently, the site is closely monitoring Alabama, which, as of the most recent post, still had 91 scholarship players on its projected 2010 roster, in its "March to 85."
Needless to say the topic is viral, as it should be. It's a topic that is years and years overdue for the spotlight.
For those of you who are new to oversigning, there is plenty of material on the topic readily available all over the Internet.
In the past year of following and writing about this topic, we have found that there are two main components to the oversigning debate: competitive advantage and ethics.
Where most people get lost in this argument is in that they think that the team that oversigns the most is automatically the better team. Often times people will say, Huston Nutt is the most notorious oversigner in the country - he signed 37 in one class, if it was such and advantage why doesn't he win the National Championship every year? Well, it's not that simple. You have to look at when the attrition takes place in order to determine if a coach is upgrading his roster by signing more guys than he has room for, having those guys qualify and enroll, and then having upperclassmen or guys already on the roster pushed out via transfers, medical hardships or simply not renewing their scholarship, OR, if a coach is signing a bunch of guys that won't qualify and have to go to JUCO which ultimately has no tangible bearing on the roster in the short term, a practice commonly known as signing and placing. Nick Saban and Les Miles would be the former, Huston Nutt would be the latter, and that is perhaps why we see a difference in the results on the field, not to mention Saban and Miles are simply better coaches, much better.
There is absolutely no question that oversigning creates a competitive advantage against schools that are prohibited from the practice or elect on their own, as does Georgia in the SEC, to not exploit the loophole.
Oversigning provides coaches with the opportunity to hedge their bets against attrition, gives them leverage in the recruiting process by not being as restricted in terms of the number of players they can pursue, and gives coaches a mulligan should they miss on a recruit. We wrote a post a while back comparing the numbers for National Championship Coaches.
National Championship Coaches 2002 - 2010
The first thing that jumps off the screen is that despite being out of college football for 2 years (2005 & 2006), Nick Saban still signed 193 recruits, which is second only to Les Miles his successor at LSU when Saban left in 2005. Saban also has the highest average recruits per year at 27.50. In 7 years, Nick Saban has never signed less than 25 recruits in a single year.
Let's compare that to the same set of years (2002-2004 & 2007-2010) for the coach with the lowest numbers, Jim Tressel. Tressel signed 142 players in the same years that Saban signed 193 recruits. That is a difference of 51 players over the same period of time, 7 years. That is mind boggling to say the least.
Note: we would add Gene Chizik to the table above, but he only has two recruiting classes as a head coach: 2010: 32 and 2011: 24.
Ken Gordon at The Columbus Dispatch asked former Head Coach of LSU, Gerry DiNardo, about the competitive advantage of oversigning:
"At LSU, I could do whatever I wanted," said DiNardo, now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. "The athletic director trusted me. If I signed 30, he knew I would be at 25 when I had to be. There was always a way to manage to numbers."
Then in 2002, when DiNardo was hired by Indiana, he was in for a shock. The Big Ten had the most restrictive rules against oversigning of all the major conferences.
The NCAA allows 85 scholarship players. DiNardo found that he could sign only the number of players that would bring him to 85. Not only that - he could offer only 20 scholarships.
What that meant was that if any of the 20 players he offered went elsewhere, he was short of 85 that season.
"The Big Ten puts itself at a competitive disadvantage," DiNardo said. "You would never be at 85. When I got to Indiana, the numbers were awful. We had 50-some players on scholarships. My only chance to catch up was to oversign."
Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said, "It's like in bowling, if your opponent gets three balls instead of two."
The analogies are endless, but the point remains, having the freedom to play fast and loose with the numbers when competing against schools that play conservative and tight with the numbers creates a competitive advantage. Jim Tressel, being the senator that he is, took the high road when questioned about it:
This doesn't bother Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, though. The way he looks at it, the majority of his games are against Big Ten schools working under the same rules.
"I don't think (oversigning) is a crisis-type thing," he said. "I don't see it happening in our league that much. Sometimes in a bowl game we compete against another conference, but I've never thought we had an unfair bowl matchup because of that."
But he did make it very clear where he stands on the issue:
Tressel said his staff tries to keep the lines of communication open, so he usually has a good idea who might transfer. But in general, Tressel is in philosophical lock-step with the Big Ten. Where others consider it a competitive disadvantage, he looks at it from the perspective of making sure he treats recruits fairly.
And that means ensuring he doesn't have to sweat out a summer like DiNardo did.
"We're probably conservative in more ways than just play-calling," Tressel said, referring to offering relatively few scholarships. "We've ended up under 85, because we don't want to overcommit.
"To me, the worst nightmare would be if you have got to tell someone, 'We can't fit you.' You're talking about a young kid's life."
The direction of the ethical side of the oversigning debate became pretty apparent to the general public when University of Florida President, Bernie Machen, called the actions of other SEC members morally "reprehensible," "disgusting," and "nefarious." Those are STRONG words from an SEC President aimed directly at other SEC member institutions who are notorious for oversiging.
When it comes to the ethics side of oversigning you have to look at several areas:
1. Honesty in recruiting.
2. The spirit of the NCAA rules vs. The Written Bylaws.
3. College football being "Big Business" instead of Tax-Exempt Institutions of Higher Learning.
With the increased attention on recruiting rankings, college football's second season has become more competitive than ever, especially in the SEC where the recruiting battles are just as hard fought and nasty as the actually games on the field. Greg Doyle recently wrote about this very topic.
Honesty in recruiting:
How honest are coaches being with recruits? Are they telling them upfront that they plan to oversign the roster and that there might not be space for them? Why are we seeing guys who commit and then on signing day are surprised with greyshirt offers, or even worse after signing day and after they have moved onto campus? Is it unethical for a coach not to prepare for roster management and ensure that there is never a need to push someone out? After all, most coaches make more than the smartest, most-credentialed professors on campus, surely they should be able to manage their roster in such a way that doesn't force them to push a greyshirt on an unsuspecting kid or push out an upperclassmen.
Recently, Nick Saban alluded to a possible ethics issue with recruiting in the SEC when he compared how coaches in the SEC react to a verbal commitment to how coaches in the Big 10 reacted to verbal commitments when he was in the Big 10. Paraphrasing, he said that in the SEC when a guy commits verbally he becomes a target for other schools, but during his time in the Big 10 when a guy commits verbally he was off limits unless the recruit approached another Big 10 school, in which case the coach that was approached would contact the coach the player was originally committed to and discuss the matter. If coaches in the SEC are not handling verbal commitments ethically, according to Saban, which he admitted he was just as guilty of because of the competitive nature of recruiting in the SEC, are they handling roster management ethically with regards to the oversigning?
Just today, Sports by Brooks published an article called: Player's Parents Outrage Illuminates Nutt's Deceit, in which he claims any credibility that Houston Nutt had left in recruiting has been driven off of a cliff.
The Spirit of NCAA Rules:
Obviously, there is a loophole in the recruiting bylaws with regards to the number of players that can be enrolled each year and the total number of players allowed on scholarship each year. 25 new players can enroll and no more than 85 can be on scholarship at one time; 25*4=100 plus any redshirt seniors obviously doesn't even come close to the 85 limit. However, the NCAA used those numbers to provide a little bit of cushion and probably had no idea that some coaches were going to use that cushion as a way to manage their roster like a professional football team. The Spirit of the NCAA bylaws for recruiting is that if you have 17 openings for new scholarship players then you should sign and enroll 17 new players, not 25 and push 8 guys out the door.
The NCAA bylaws are enormous and they grow every year. Much of that growth is in response to coaches abusing the spirit of the existing rules, such as the Huston Nutt "28 rule" because of his abuse of the signing process and the Nick Saban "bump rule" because of his abuse of bumping into recruits while visiting their coaches.
In the Big 10 Conference, there is not a problem with oversigning. Although schools are allowed to send out 3 extra NLI than they have room for under the 85 limit, most coaches avoid doing it at all costs. Why?? Because they like competing at a competitive disadvantage? Probably not. They probably avoid it because they all know oversigning is a dirty little trick that is played with numbers in order to gain an advantage and it comes with the price tag of messing with the lives of young people. The Big 10 Conference has embraced the spirit of the signing process by developing a culture devoid of oversigning. It didn't happen overnight--the rules on oversigning have been on the books in the Big 10 Conference since 1954.
College Football as Big Business:
Often times, supporters of oversigning will point to the 1 year renewable scholarship and infer that college football has become big business and schools need to manage their rosters like NFL teams. That argument falls on deaf ears because despite the growth of college football these are still institutions of higher learning, governed by an organization with a mission statement that states athletics only exist to enrich the educational experience and that the educational experience is paramount, and they enjoy a tax-exempt status that the NFL does not enjoy. Somewhere along the line, there is a disconnect between the spirit of the NCAA's mission statement and what certain schools are doing in blatantly managing their rosters like an NFL team. How ethical is it for a coach or school to hide behind the tax-exempt status of an institution of higher learning while attempting to run a NFL style team with roster cuts and an injured reserved list; at least in the NFL guys on the IR have half a shot at making it back.
At the end of the day, that is the fundamental question when discussing oversigning. By virtue of the way the NCAA by-laws are written and the structure of the 85/25 scholarship rules, there is no question that coaches, by NCAA rules, are allowed to sign as many players as they want (in fact the NCAA places no limits on the number of players that can be signed), as long as only 25 new scholarship players are added each year and no more than 85 scholarship players are on the roster at one time. Those that have been following this site already know all of this, as we have talked about it and debated it many times here.
For those just reading this site for the first time, we have taken a look at the restrictions some conferences have added to the signing process to prevent the practice of oversigning and we have looked at some conferences that until just recently have had no such restrictions and that blatantly oversign. There is no question that there are two schools of thought on this topic and that fans are just as passionate about this topic as they are about recruiting rankings and the games played on the field.
We ran across a wonderfully written article on oversigning and whether or not it is ethical at www.athlonsports.com. If you follow this site and this topic then this is a must read article, as it touches on all of the main talking points when it comes to oversigning, including comments from high school coaches upset that their players were victims of oversigning, something that detractors of this site claim doesn't exist. We're not sure when the article was written, but based on the comments from the coaches in the article our best guess is that this was written somewhere around 2003.
Let's take a closer look at the article (warning, this is a long, but very informative read - you might want to get a cup of coffee or something before you dive into this):
Click the link to continue reading >>>
We found a Sports Illustrated article from 1996 with some interesting comments from Gerry DiNardo. We can only imagine what a sobering experience it was when he came to Indiana and had to start recruiting by a different set of rules after spending 5 years at LSU.
If you remember, he was the coach that led the charge in 2000 to get the Big 10 to approve a rules change to allow Big 10 schools to sign an additional 3 players over the 25 per recruiting season limit, provided the coach could prove that he had room for 3 in his previous class.
"There are 28 new Tigers, although some of them will not qualify academically (which will keep LSU within the NCAA one-year maximum of 25 new scholarships) and many will never contribute. 'It's a fact that only about a third of the guys you sign will end up starting, because if you get it going, you sign someone the following year that's better,' DiNardo said. 'There will be injuries, transfers, failures. There always are.'"
DiNardo is right about the fact that once a coach get going and has some success he should be able to start landing better talent, and eventually these coaches are faced with a dilemma, sign as many of these better players as legally possible under the 25/85 rule and by exploiting the oversigning loophole of cutting guys between signing day and august or simply take what your roster budget will allow.
DiNardo was at Indiana for three years and those were the 3 highest years in terms of recruits. Despite signing a larger number of players, DiNardo was never able to put it together. Indiana never won more than 3 games in a single year during his time and he was fired.
We find this extremely interesting. One of the main things oversigning enables is for a coach to completely gut an existing roster and get his guys in faster; most of the time this is when you will see the most abuse of oversigning. There have been several coaches who have coached other places (Ron Zook, DiNardo, Saban, Rodriguez, etc) that were all somewhat successful (ranging from NC caliber success to mediocre success) in other conferences (which obviously have different recruiting rules), yet failed to get it done in the Big 10. Meanwhile, coaches that have had longer tenures in the Big 10 such as Lloyd Carr, Jim Tressel, and Joe Paterno, and all who were accustom to the Big 10 recruiting rules, have won National Championships and were (in Carr's case) or continue to be very successful (in Tressel and Paterno's case). Our point here is that most new head coaches coming into the Big 10 are going to struggle if they have to come in and wade through 3-4 years of recruiting to get their guys in, instead of gutting the roster in 2-3 years by oversigning. This is not to diminish the actual coaching these guys do - some coaches are much better recruiters than they are coaches - but there is definitely something to all of this.
Here is a look at his numbers while at Indiana (2003, 2004, and 2005); kind of interesting that Indiana's numbers leveled out some after he left.
Indiana Recruiting Numbers 2002 - 2010
The article is actually a great read. Check it out.
Maybe legalizes was a strong word, it's more like they made a slight rule change back in 2002, but stick with us, this gets pretty interesting. We have already covered the history of oversigning in the conference that has the worst problem with it, the SEC. Now we are starting to dig around and look at the history of oversigning in other conferences.
Recently, we found an article on Penn State's Collegian website from back in 2002, which we found extremely interesting.
"According to Scott Chipman, Big Ten associate director of communications, the Big Ten has passed a ruling to allow teams to "oversign" on national signing day. Starting next season, teams will be able to sign more players to scholarship than were lost the previous season to graduation, which they are not currently allowed to do. Chipman said that the rule has been passed, but is still in the legislative process. The Big Ten released no further comment, and Chipman would not explain the workings of the legislative process."
"The cause was championed by Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo, who is in his first year at the helm for the Hoosiers. DiNardo spent four years as the head coach at Vanderbilt and five in the same position at Louisiana State, where he was able to oversign players. DiNardo and his staff introduced the legislation, and DiNardo lobbied faculty representatives."
"There's no way in most universities that you can manage your roster to be at 85 scholarships if you're not permitted to oversign and allow for no attrition," he said. "I don't know any program that has no attrition from the first Wednesday in February until the day freshman report. I think that creates a competitive disadvantage for the Big Ten as a whole in interconference play."
The article delves further into the topic and we'll get into that after the jump.
Click the link to continue reading >>>