I personally find the act of over signing appalling. Obviously, the total number of scholarships available is a fluid situation and thus it is a difficult task to pin down the exact number of scholarships that are available for an upcoming class. But the act of signing significantly more LOI than there could conceivably be room for invites large amounts of attrition either through a large number of kids not getting qualified or through dismissing players currently on the team. Promising a student athlete a scholarship and then releasing them from the program to make room for the next class is not the purpose of the NCAA athletics.
I don’t feel I need to go into specific instances of over signing as the practice is well documented especially in conferences outside of the Big Ten. What I’m more interested in is how the practice can be eliminated. It is obvious that schools who choose to over sign gain an advantage over those who don’t, even if they aren’t breaking any rules. So, the first objective would be to eliminate the temptation for coaches to over sign. Without the promise of an advantage there is no need to continue the act.
Though my proposal might sound slightly extreme, I do feel it comes with some positive side effects in addition to the elimination of over signing. I propose that the NCAA should, for the Football Bowl Subdivision, eliminate the 85 scholarship limit and reduce the number of allowable LOI per year to 25. There are a few stipulations that accompany this proposal. First is that early enrollees can still count toward either the class of freshmen already on campus or toward the class of freshmen that will be enrolling in the fall just as they can now, provided that there were less than 25 students in the previous class. Second, transfer students count toward the year that they enroll at a school regardless of their eligibility; this prevents coaches from trying to replace attrition in the upper classes with large amounts of transfers.
The threat of losing scholarships under the APR rules is the only deterrent to large amounts of attrition. Also, under the current system schools that do a great job of retaining and graduating their students are penalized by the 85 scholarship limit because they aren’t able to take a full class every year where as schools with poor retention rates can. Yet, under this proposal schools that have lower retention rates are at a competitive disadvantage because they will have less scholarship athletes on their team than schools with good retention rates. Meaning, there is no longer any incentive to encourage attrition. Thus, I think this proposal does a great job of aligning the interests of institutions with that of its student athletes by benefiting schools that do it best and punishing schools who do it worst.
There are obviously a few reasons the NCAA and its member institutions would be hesitant to adopt this proposal and so I would like to address those now. The first issue is that this would certainly have the potential to the add costs to athletic departments, and with the rising cost of education the additional costs would assuredly grow. However, at the same time the money generated by intercollegiate athletics continues to grow, while under the current rules there is no feasible way to funnel that money to the student athletes, and thus more money is spent on coach’s salaries and facilities instead. This proposal allows for the only possible way to give more money, in the form of scholarships, to student athletes while keeping any semblance of amateurism.
Another issue with the proposal is that there is a great deal of flexibility in total number of scholarships a school could be responsible for in a given year and it could also change dramatically year to year. Under the current rules the number of football scholarships given in a year does vary but it is capped at 85. Also, there could be Title IX implications to adding scholarships in football and thus the increase in scholarships could actually be double.
Lastly, small schools might not be too excited about the proposal since they would have an increase in the number of scholarships they are responsible for, yet they haven’t enjoyed the same growth in athletic revenue that the larger schools have. It would also make them less competitive on the field since more players can go to the bigger schools leaving less of the talent pool available for the smaller schools to build their teams from.
While, I can perfectly understand how an Athletic Director would be hesitant about increases in scholarship costs I see the increases in scholarships as a good thing. What is the purpose of the NCAA if it isn’t to support the education of as many student athletes as possible? And with the outcry about how student athletes should be paid because of the increase in revenue generated by intercollegiate athletics wouldn’t this be a great way of showing that the NCAA wants to make sure that this added revenue goes towards students rather than buildings and coaches’ salaries?
There is another benefit to capping the number of signed LOI and nothing else. Schools would be more reluctant to sign fringe academic qualifiers because if they wash out, then that scholarship spot is permanently lost. This increases the priority of the student part of student athlete and encourages high school athletes to focus on their grades if they want to receive a scholarship offer. Students who do struggle with qualifying would still be able to attend a preparatory school or junior college and transfer just as they can now.
To summarize, the benefits of this proposal would be:
Eliminates the practice of over signing from the FBS
Creates a competitive advantage for schools with high retention rates
Increases the number of students receiving scholarships
Increases the importance of academics when signing recruits
Obviously, I have biases just like everyone else so I thought I should address these. First, as a Michigan fan this proposal benefits the “Big Boys” by letting them hoard talent. Second, as a Big Ten fan it eliminates the advantage other conferences that partake in the practice of over signing have. Third, I think there are too many FBS schools now so the small schools that wouldn’t have the budget for the added scholarships would probably move down to FCS which would make me happy. Lastly, while I don’t have any issue with coaches getting paid as much as they can since they work incredibly long hours in a high pressure job, I still would prefer to see more athletes granted scholarships than an increase in coaching salaries or an arms race in facilities.
I would like to note that there is nothing magical about the number 25 so decreasing that number for cost purposes wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but I like that more student athletes would be getting scholarships.