Recruiting is now valued as a second season for football coaches. After a difficult season, one of the best defenses a coach can mount is a class ranking among the top five or top 10. It creates a public perception that your program is on the rise.
The pursuit of recruiting rankings has led to over-signing—the more you sign, the more points you get. Over-signing is signing more players than the NCAA allows in a given year.
At the major college football level, NCAA rules allow you to enroll no more than 25 new scholarship players a year. The NCAA also limits the total number of scholarship players on your team to 85.
Those are hard caps and are non-negotiable. The limit is the limit--or is it?
There are three accounting tricks used to get around the limit. For years, one of the tricks was to have a player graduate early and start in January. You could essentially back-date that player to the previous class (unless you signed the limit the previous year).
The second trick is pushing a few players back to the following January, essentially moving that scholarship to the following year.
The third trick is to sign players who will not make the NCAA’s initial academic eligibility standards, and stash them in a junior college so that no one else can sign them. It is a game of keep-away. It also explains how one school was able to sign 37 players in 2009 (the highest number of signees in the last 10 years).
Recently, there has been some media discussion about the ethics (or lack thereof) in continually over-signing. Over the past 10 years, an average of nine of the top-20 rated Rivals teams over-signed. One particular team has signed 143 players the past five years (an average of nearly 29 per year) and 275 over the past 10 years.
Now, I am no math major, but I do believe even Enron’s accounting firm would have a hard time making those numbers fit the NCAA’s rules.
But even with all the evidence, the tough questions remain unasked. During one network’s signing-day coverage, they interviewed four coaches who had over-signed in a two-hour window. Not once did anyone interviewing the coaches ask for the math equation that makes 27 or 29 or even 31 fit into 25.