Oversigning: The Depressing, Eternal Line

Submitted by Brian on February 11th, 2011 at 2:39 PM


College football in a nutshell, according to Finebaum callers

Oversigning continues to be a hot topic now that beat writers are aware of the subject and are keeping an eye out for stuff like a half-dozen players evaporating from the Ole Miss roster in the wake of Ole Miss oversigning by twelve:

In the Ole Miss notebook in Wednesday’s Clarion-Ledger, you probably read the lead note about the impending transfer of WR/KR Jesse Grandy. That’s somewhat significant news, considering how valuable he was as a freshman and the depth at wide receiver.

Later in that note, though, there are a couple of other names mentioned: Dele Junaid and Jared Mitchell. Both were scholarship players who are not on this roster that the school distributed Tuesday night, shortly after the news of Grandy’s departure broke.

But here are four more scholarship players from last year who were missing, as we noted early Wednesday afternoon on Twitter: RB Martez Eastland, OL Terrance Hackney, DE Lekenwic Haynes and DL Alan-Michael Thomas.

Hope you enjoyed your year or three in Oxford, but it's off to South Ballsack for you. Enjoy your degree from something that's not technically a community college anymore, unless it is, except you probably won't be getting one anyway. Don't brush the APR on your way out.

Hopefully this keeps up to the point where the SEC has to do something more than obfuscate the problem and actually, you know, does something about it. Here's Mike Slive:

It was two years ago that we took the initiative and put in an SEC rule that 28 was the most you could sign [in one class] and understanding that the rest of the country might not do that. The rest of the country followed suit and copied the SEC rule nationally and made it 28.

The SEC took an "initiative" to implement something far weaker than the Big Ten and Pac 10 had for decades after Houston Nutt signed 37 kids one year. That implementation is a paper tiger, but Slive's waving his PR magic wand because he's a company man. The SEC's done nothing except implement a cosmetic change. Florida going bats about it forced Slive to gesture towards discussion later this year, but at no point will he ever suggest that the SEC is anything but a forward-thinking bastion of nation-leading ethics.

In contrast, the Big Ten actually grasps the issue:

Do those exceptions relate to the rule that allows three over the [scholarship] limit?
CH: Correct. This is the difference between our rule and what the NCAA rule is. If you have 20 scholarship slots available, our rule would allow you to sign 23, where the NCAA is a firm number. We allow oversigning by three in football. Some have used it, not everyone has. On a year-to-year basis, there are fewer than use it than not. And even within those instances, we may be looking at oversigning by two or even one.

Meanwhile, Nick Saban's feeble attempt to justify his massive oversigning was torn to shreds by anyone who wrote about it. (He then had the audacity to complain about players breaking verbal commitments! Alabama is the only school in the state that blacks out scholarship numbers from FOIAed requests!) Moments later we found out we can add Saban to the list of coaches who yoinked scholarships from players after they had moved into the dorm:

So Jones was asked to delay his enrollment until January. He had to move out of the dorm, and he won't be on an athletic scholarship until next semester. He can't practice with the team, work out with the team or travel with the team.

Instead, he'll be a part-time student this semester, taking nine hours, and he'll live in the condo his parents had leased for his older brother to call home and for the family to share on football weekends.

"It's disappointing when you don't really expect it, but we understand it," said Leslie Jones, the mother of Harrison and Barrett. "We have no hard feelings. We're very grateful for the opportunities our sons have."

[Ed-M: Update: there's more to the story - According to the boys' high school coach in the comments below, he's back on scholarship. Also, Saban had a long talk with the family about the grashirt situation, wherein he probably explained...]. This is followed by the quote that always shows up in these stories:

"College football is a business, and you have to treat it as a business."

Yea, and the legions of SEC fans filled the comments to call the reporter a quisling and the player a piece of meat, and other people were depressed because the people Bud Light commercials work on can still operate computers, and people compared the attempted education of poor kids to Wall Street.



February 11th, 2011 at 2:47 PM ^

Somewhat surprised to see you linking to anything written by Ty Duffy. If I remember correctly, I thought you weren't a fan of his. Can't blame you for that

Section 1

February 12th, 2011 at 12:12 PM ^

is that the Oversigning Scandal didn't get broken by Sports Illustrated, or ESPN.  It certainly didn't get broken by CBS or ABC.  It didn't get broken by any investigative reporter for the New York Times, or the Washington Post or the Columbus Dispatch (whidch features somme very good CFB writers).  It is of course laughable, to think of the cheapskate, bottom-feeding Detroit papers breaking this story, and it wasn't broken by the Times of the South, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This story was broken and pushed, first and foremost by bloggers, like Brian Cook of MGoBlog.  This was originally a blog story...


February 11th, 2011 at 3:05 PM ^

"Idiots flooded the comment section to say that it was the fault of impoverished 18 year old kids for not being as awesome at football as people thought they might be.  Other people -- namely, people who realize how horrifying that sentiment is -- read the comments section and got depressed that those people are allowed to vote."


February 11th, 2011 at 3:15 PM ^

It's funny -- I was just going to mention this little bit:

"... people Bud Light commercials work on can still operate computers ..."

Lines like that are a big part of what makes this 'blog so enjoyable.

- - -

People who respond emotionally to mainstream ads can be found in large numbers all over the U.S., but I'll bet there are more of them per capita in SEC country.

Magnum P.I.

February 11th, 2011 at 3:05 PM ^

and making noise, Brian.

They should do a reality TV show where the oversigning coach has to return kickoffs against a team of players he grayshirted/medical redshirted.

Also, while you can argue that it's the SEC system that's the problem here, I still have no respect for individual coaches who take advantage of it. I'm very happy that we didn't hire Les Miles.

Everyone Murders

February 11th, 2011 at 3:13 PM ^

I think any feigned surprise that Saban is oversigning and being disingenuous about it is kind of silly.  (Not here, but some members of the MSM appear to be shocked, shocked to find oversigning on the premises.)

Saban's an egocentric piece of shit, and oversigning is the sort of thing that naturally occurs when an egocentric piece of shit is put in charge of the lives of 120 +/- student athletes (non-scholarship players included).  We wouldn't be surprised if Alabama made an alligator its coach, and the Coach tore someone's arm off.  That's what alligators do.


February 11th, 2011 at 3:14 PM ^

So much sinful behavior is justified by "just being business." If college football is a business, shouldn't players be able to sue the schools who yank their scholarships for breech of contract? What rights does a player get in return for signing a Letter of Intent? Isn't the LOI some sort of contract between player and school? If it isn't, it should be. Afterall, college football is a business.


February 11th, 2011 at 3:28 PM ^

It's what the sport of football has become. We are spectators to the modern Roman gladatorial games.

Is it any surprise that the players are treated like meat at the college level when they are barely treated any better on a human level at the professional ranks?

People only look to the monetary and fame recognition as enough compensation for playing this sport. But this is a tough sport to play in and I am honestly glad I never went farther than high school because it's amazing to see the perceptions of the fans when it comes to the actual care of these players.

As long as we are entertained, nothing else matters.


February 11th, 2011 at 3:22 PM ^

On this...though there aren't a lot of posts. I wonder if it's just a Bud Light/SEC thing...there were a lot of posts HERE using the same "it's a business, they know what they're getting into" mentality when it looked like Les Miles was going to be our next coach.
<br>What does it mean, other than they must sell a lot of Bud Light around Michigan, too? I don't know. But this is one topic that will never be a waste of time to further expose, because change "is" possible. And even if it weren't...it's the right thing.


February 11th, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

So just wondering....what is the punishment for oversigning? Who regulates oversigning the NCAA or the Conference themselves? Why is there one set of rules for the Big Ten and one for the SEC?

Reason being is in looking at oversigning.com I noticed USC had an uptick on its signings this recruiting class as well. Now that could be because they are getting ready to take a hit once their appeal comes through but it is a loophole schools are going to really start to exploit if not closed.

Why is there not a hard number in place is my question. For every number over the hard number a school should have to submit in detail as to why they went over that number. Every scholarship kid that leaves a football program should go through an exiting process that list the reasons why a student athlete is leaving the program and the circumstances behind them leaving. A criteria should be met and once that process is completed then the school should be awarded that scholarship back...and it should be rewarded in the corresponding recruiting season. And put a max of three per recruiting class.


February 11th, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

The strongest policing measures against this are those imposed by the conferences themselves.  Other than that the only thing stopping these schools from doing it are the APR consequences of guys leaving school.

This also has basically nothing to do wth what USC did this year.  They signed a big class because they needed to sign a big class to fill their available scholarships and they used the backdating rules for early enrolees (something we did last year) to go over the annual limit.  What the SEC schools are doing is signing a big class knowing full well that they have exceeded their overall scholarship limit and will have to boot guys currently on the team (usually those who haven't yet climbed the depth chart) out the door in order to make room for the incoming class.  It also differs from the longstanding (in the SEC at least) practice of signing a big class because you know a large percentage of your recruits won't be able to meet the NCAA minimum qualifications before it comes time to enroll in the fall.


February 12th, 2011 at 9:09 AM ^

I have a good friend who's a Bama fan and he was crowing all over the place about five championships in a row and how PAC-10 fans were all silent. I tried explaining that since he was in California that there probably weren't a bunch of Oregon fans there and the rest probably didn't care too much as it seems only the Ess Ee See pulls this bizarre conference fandom crap. I will never understand being happy about the accomplishments of a rival school, is the Southern inferiority complex really that bad?


February 11th, 2011 at 3:53 PM ^

I commend Brian for his continued dilligence on exposing this inequality, but I am getting a bit too jaded to really care anymore or expect any meaningful change to occur.  Auburn just won an MNC with a couple of kids who will undobutedly be deemed retroactively ineligible and stripped of their title, yet nobody really cares.  People look at the fact that the SEC has won 6 of the last 8 titles and just say "well, the SEC must have better teams and players" without much of a second thought.  All the while, simple math would show you that 28+ kid classes each year is way over the 85 scholarship, even if you factor in juniors leaving in droves, yet I don't see anyone with meaningful authority doing anything about it.  As long as schools continue to receive $15M+ per BCS game, I expect this to continue and for schools in the B1G and the Pac-10 to continue to suffer a competitive imbalance as a result. 

This almost feels like there should be two different titles a year, like they do in weight lifting with tested and untested athletes.  Have a title for schools that stay reasonably close to 85 scholarships with their recruiting and another for the schools that basically recruit 5 classes every 4 years.  That way, at least there would be an even playing field.  Otherwise, I expect to see the SEC continue to dominate CFB for years to come.

D.C. Dave

February 11th, 2011 at 3:54 PM ^

I'm glad to see this subject brought up on this board because it is so galling to see these schools subvert the rules to give themselves an advantage. To think that Michigan went on probation for not properly accounting for stretching, while these SEC schools skate even though they deny scholarships to kids after they've moved in on campus, well, that says it all about the NCAA's priorities.

Paul Finebaum has been all over this in terms of it being the wrong way to treat student/athletes or, in the case of the SEC, football players who are registered for classes. But no newspaper in the South wants to touch this, which is why you see Sports Illustrated hitting it hard. Where are the newspapers in Jackson, Birmingham, Columbia and New Orleans? Not only is there no outrage, they think their schools are smart for finding ways to bend the rules.

And it certainly is reprehensible. It also produces a huge competitive edge for the SEC. What you essentially have here is schools signing students and then basically requiring them to "tryout" for the team each year. And if a guy comes in who was less than advertised, or a better guy comes along at that position, they just kick the first player off the team. They try to come up with a reason, but the fact is no reason is needed. They can just do it if they want to, and they want to. Nothing fascinates an SEC coach like a new player who looks better than the one they signed last year.

So imagine if everyone else lives with the 85-scholarship rule, but your school brings in 7-8 players each year beyond the standard 25-scholarship limit. Over a four-year period, that school has a pool of more than 30 extra players to evaluate and field a stronger team. It is a huge advantage: SEC teams don't have to live with their misses. They just oversign and cut the misses from previous years as needed, or force them to take medical exemptions even if they are not all that injured. Check how many medical exemptions Alabama has each year compared to any other school in the country. It's disgusting. You can see more here: www.oversigning.com

Giving your team a pool of players to build out of that is more than 30 percent larger than other schools are able to use can make a real difference in winning games -- games in which even a few players can give a team a decided edge.

The SEC builds in that edge, doesn't play by the same rules, and then boasts about how strong its teams are. The league's strength on the football field is not so surprising once one looks at how they go about it. They basically run them like NFL camps. Your grades don't matter. If a better player comes along, you're gone no matter how you're doing in school -- and it's not hard to do well at an SEC school. In the immortal words of former Auburn basketball coach Sonny Smith, who said this upon learning one of his players, Mike Jones, had failed out of Auburn. "How do you fail out of Auburn?" he asked. "We could pass a house plant at Auburn, if we could get it to go to class."



Magnum P.I.

February 11th, 2011 at 4:28 PM ^

Comparing U-M's "major violations" to the oversigning that's happening in the SEC certainly makes one wonder why the hell NCAA rules exist at all. At the heart of our violations was an assertion that we were compromising our student athletes' academic and physical well-being by forcing over-commitment. If student-athlete well-being is really what the NCAA is about then this oversigning shit would be canceled yesterday. Someone with the time and writing talent should use the U-M violations as the basis for a satire attacking oversigning and the NCAA. What a joke.


February 11th, 2011 at 8:20 PM ^

Well done.  Maybe now that so much light is being shed on this, it will be a topic of rumination for kids and their families?  They can factor it in when looking at schools and realize that they may not be signing on for a true 4-year education as they were promised. (That's really the fundamental evil here regardless if the technique is oversigning or medical hardships)

Maybe it will be a talking point at home visits with some of these offending coaches too. I'll bet you it is never discussed now. Houston Nutt is full of it.

It seems like informed student athletes may help reform this way quicker than the SEC doing something about it.


February 11th, 2011 at 4:08 PM ^

Listening to SEC sports talk radio is sickening.  All these "fans" come up with every reason and excuse that either their team(auburn, alabama) don't oversign, or if they do its ok because...whatever crazy reason they come up with.  People down here are either dumb, or crazy. 


February 11th, 2011 at 4:17 PM ^

Viewed as a business, I can certainly understand the desire to have a little extra inventory on hand. There are issues such as spoilage, theft, obsolescence, etc...


February 11th, 2011 at 4:18 PM ^

I normally read anything that Brian posts as gospel, when it comes to Michigan, but I feel like I do need to make an edit to the quoted section referencing the treatment of Jones and his mother's response. I actually thought that it's cool that a kid I coach showed up on MGoBlog - that's never happened for me before. Despite my thrill, I need to make sure we keep the story straight ...

I coach in Tennessee - and actually coached Jones. His name is Harrison Jones, and he is the younger brother of Alabama's academic All-American, Barrett Jones. Harrison's a good kid - and was expecting to redshirt all along.

The article that Brian quoted was a bit hasty on the whole situation. Jones did get a gray shirt - for about 5 days. Then, his scholarship was returned to him, and he resumed everything as normal. I've had numerous conversations with him about his experiences at Alabama - He has nothing negative to say about the way he was treated in the whole situation. He got to dress for all of their games, and was as much of a redshirt player as anyone else.

I'm not a Saban fan; he's been around school a couple of times to recruit our kids. He's a business man first and foremost. Though the Jones family was not expecting the whole gray shirt situation, they ended up saying that it was reported far differently than it actually went down. Saban did call the parents in - and Harrison in. He explained the whole situation to them. Harrision said that Saban spent nearly 45 minutes articulating it all - which is something that Saban rarely does ... have that long of a conversation with his players. He actually tried to make sure that everyone knew exactly what was happening ... and from what I understand, the family understood that this was most likely a temporary thing ... and that's what it ended up being.

Like I said, I don't like Saban one bit - never have. But, this specific issue was not reported - or at least followed up with accurately. There's no reason to say that Brian should know this ... but the article should have linked a follow up to the story. I do believe that more than a handful of kids have gotten screwed by Saban. Jones is not one of them.


February 11th, 2011 at 5:13 PM ^

Thanks for your post, and for sharing! It's not often we get to hear directly from someone intimately familiar with what happened.

I can see it from Harrison's perspective: he wants to play for Alabama, wants to be loyal to the school, and since the situation worked itself out fine for him and his family, the last thing he would want is for his name to become a byword on the recruiting trail for "Saban is scum."

What Harrison should understand is that this is not his fault -- that his name is being used to trash Saban is Saban's fault and Saban's doing, and not his. He should understand that ethically a school should not offer him a scholarship if someone else has to lose theirs for him to get it. No matter what his new coach is telling him, it's not a business. A commitment is a two-way street.


February 11th, 2011 at 4:29 PM ^

I can never read enough of the comments.  They either fall into two categories:

1)  Accuse the author of being in the pocket of Auburn thus biased and then proceed to rip Auburn.  Apparently facts are irrelevant to those people.  

2) Make up ridiculous justifications, such as "Blake Simms place was held open because he changed the game by qualifying. Alabama did the right thing by allowing for him to join the team and now both players profit from the change. Why such a negative spin on a very positive set of events? Why don't you stick to writing kiddie stories and leave this stuff to the pro's?"   Didn't realize being unable to practice with the team, kicked out of the dorm and have to pay your own way was a benefit.