Oversigning: It Moves

Submitted by Brian on February 1st, 2011 at 12:17 PM


quien es mas macho? always pick the man with the giant gold medallion.

When Doctor Saturday heralded this offseason as oversigning's moment in the sun I thought that was true, but that a lot of sturm und drang would amount to nothing much. A couple Outside The Lines pieces by ESPN and articles demonstrating Alabama players' remarkable misfortune when it comes to medical scholarships would move chatter from disgruntled blogs to media flamethrowers and people in Alabama would not care at all and fin. I might be wrong. It looks like the media pressure has moved chatter from disgruntled blogs to disgruntled… SEC power brokers?

"I don't think the rule we passed is going to solve the problem," Florida President Bernie Machen says. "There are still universities that will oversign and it's going to end up with a student athlete being left out. I think we either have to get the universities to be more serious about it, or the league and the NCAA are going to have to pass more stringent punishments for those who do oversign."

Machen just published a letter on SI.com that calls grayshirting "morally reprehensible." Meanwhile, Georgia's new athletic director:

McGarity also said that Georgia football will not allow oversigning -- a practice that some programs participate in and is garnering more attention by both media and regulating bodies. “We will not sign more than 85 scholarship football players,” he noted.

That moved fast.

Once people in positions of power in the SEC start grumbling about a practice, the chance for a meaningful change has come. (Point to Braves & Birds for saying "the programs that ought to be the most aggressive in condemning oversigning are Florida and Georgia" since they're the exceptions to the rule in the SEC. The sources here are not a coincidence.)

That's especially true when the league just put in place some cosmetic modifications by capping letters of intent at 28. These didn't take. Journalists said "hey, wait a minute" when they multiply 28 by four and get a number that's well north of 85 but not well north of the number of kids most SEC schools have promised an education over the last relevant period. SEC schools averaged 27.6 signees from 2002-2010.

More importantly, you now have an SEC athletic director who's bluntly stating the real issue* and saying his team won't partake, and an SEC president who is on the warpath. There's someone calling into Finebaum right now and saying BUT PAWWWWWL, BERNIE MACHEN'S JUST DOING THIS BECAUSE IT HELPS FLORIDA. Even if they're right, being in a position to rail because other rich people are doing shitty things to poor ones—and you're not—justifies itself. Florida's Machiavellian brilliance in is in not being Machievellian.

So we seem to be at a point where kids complaining about getting booted off their not-for-profit educational institution's sporting team leads to action. The Bylaw Blog has migrated to the official NCAA site and provides some indication of what might be feasible to the current membership in a post on oversigning. The strictest version of his proposal:

GIAs to Current SAs with Eligibility Remaining Next Year + Signed Scholarships by Prospects ≤ NCAA Limit

In English this is:

You can't sign a kid to a LOI or scholarship agreement unless you have room right now.

IE, "the Big Ten." Hockey fans might remember Brandon Burlon not signing when the rest of his class did because he was ticketed for a full scholarship Michigan did not have at that instant. (He signed later when Kevin Quick was booted after he stole a teammate's credit card.) In football this is the Big Ten's policy—they theoretically relaxed it by allowing oversigning up to 88, but explaining where you will get the money is onerous and public and it's uncertain if anyone's actually used the option yet.

Even that's a little soft for my tastes, but it would be a massive step in the right direction. Today it seems like it's one coming in the not-too-distant future.

*[The NCAA's 25-per-class limit serves as an unfortunate distraction here because people point out that's an arbitrary rule no one should care about, which is true. If you have 30 open spots it's not unethical to squeeze as many players in as possible, and people attack that strawman as if you're trying to clutch pearls but failing to because you're deranged. Even when that's not happening there's no particular reason for Get The Picture to focus on 25 as a magic number.]


Isaac Newton

February 1st, 2011 at 12:24 PM ^

Not surprised by Machen's stance, whether or not it's "good for Florida."  Look at his educational and employment background prior to Florida:  Vanderbilt, St. Louis, Iowa, U.S. Army, North Carolina, Michigan, Utah.  Very upstanding institutions.


February 1st, 2011 at 12:28 PM ^

moving the NFL declare date to Jan 1 would help too.  i'm all for being strict and requiring that you have a scholarship to give, but it isn't always clear that you do (or don't).  giving coaches 5 weeks with that information should help the programs doing it right make sure they're not disadvantaged.


February 1st, 2011 at 12:41 PM ^

I hope you're right, but one or two SEC prez saying the right thing doesn't make a change.  Saban says (and presumably others join him) that scholarships commit to only one year and he is technically correct.  There's as much evidence that the perform-or-get-cut philosphy will prevail as otherwise.

oriental andrew

February 1st, 2011 at 12:43 PM ^

It stands for:

Grants in Aid to current Scholarship Athletes + Grants in Aid to new Scholarship Athletes ≤ NCAA scholarship limit

Infante differentiates between the National Letter of Intent and Grant in Aid agreement.


February 1st, 2011 at 12:52 PM ^

If strict action is actually taken on this I can't wait to see what the sec's product on the field looks 3 years out. My bet is they drop back down to the level of everyone else.


February 1st, 2011 at 12:58 PM ^

I'll believe it when I see an actual change. Until then, the majority of the SEC, and especially the fans, will be just fine with the status quo of winning NCs and being the "best conference", no matter how they got there. And you know what, I can understand that. I do not condone it, but I can understand.


February 1st, 2011 at 1:02 PM ^

I like the way Machen finishes his OP piece:

The football programs must be accountable and should honor institutional commitments to students. It is, after all, a moral contract

His emphasis not on legality but on morality is excellent. This must be a thing of doing what is right by these young men before it is a thing of doing what is best for winning football games.



February 1st, 2011 at 1:03 PM ^

If the NCAA is going to continue to push the notion of student-athletes, then make athletic scholarships academically-based. If you get kicked off the football team, that's too bad, but you still get the remainder of your scholarship as long as you are academically eligible. This basically makes an athletic scholarship "count" for four years toward your degree, with the added bonus of allowing you access to athletic facilities. Then the scholarship still "counts" towards the number of players on scholarship for the team.

This would be in addition to any other changes addressing the original LOI issue: too many kids, not enough spots. This would help avoid programs having "cuts" to get their rosters down to size.N ow I realize that just like "greyshirting" and "medical redshirts", this is not a perfect solution - there is still incentive for a program to get a kid to flunk out/transfer, but it would be much easier to police since it would be out of the AD's office and into the Regents/Admissions/whathaveyou.

In geek terms: Athletic Scholarship ⊃ (superset of) Academic Scholarship. If the kids are there to learn, let them learn. Put the incentive on the coaches to find kids who will complete degrees, THEN worry about making money for the University.

I Blue Myself

February 1st, 2011 at 1:15 PM ^

If the new rule is that you can't offer a scholarship unless you have an empty spot, doesn't that just encourage people like Saban to kick underachievers off the team before signing day? 

I think you need to add a hard limit of no more than 90 or 95 scholarships offered over the course of any four year period.  Then you have an incentive to keep as many athletes as possible on the team, because if they flunk out or transfer or develop convenient career-ending medical problems the week before signing day, you can't replace them.


February 1st, 2011 at 11:47 PM ^

At least then they know they need to look for a spot elsewhere - and it's more of a risk for Saban & Co. to boot kids before they have an official commitment from a recruit because 1) the kid could change his mind, and 2) you don't get to watch them compete at spring practice before deciding who to "encourage" to transfer.

As for grayshirting, I don't think it's bad as long as the kid knows up front (and not in the "sign here, great, oh BTW you might not get the scholarship for the first year" sense, but more of a "we don't know yet if we'll have room, you can sign on for next year if you want or we can wait until we know there's a spot"). I think it would help if there were separate LOIs for normal recruits and grayshirts - normal ones guarantee a scholarship starting that year (revokable by the school only in case of academic ineligibility, failure to meet admission requirements, or criminal acts by the recruit), grayshirt LOIs can be revoked by the student at any time prior to the next year's signing day if they do not play (if they do play that year as a walk-on, it's as with a normal LOI except that the guarantee of a scholarship is postponed to the next year). A school can "upgrade" their offer from a grayshirt to an immediate LOI if a spot opens but cannot do the reverse (hence, the 85 cap applies at all times, not just in-season).


February 1st, 2011 at 1:24 PM ^

I used to think I was in favor of not allowing schools to ever have more than 85 promised scholarships out (fall, winter, spring, or at any time), but then I realized there are a few legitimate reasons to do so.  For one, coaches usually know that a kid is on a path to failing out and recruit accordingly.  A hard, 85-at-all-times limit wouldn't stop them from recruiting over someone, it would simply incentivize the coaches to boot the failing kid earlier rather than seeing the process through.

I don't think there's any magic bullet rule that will de-institutionalize bad behavior by coaches.  (Nothing will ever get rid of it entirely, of course - the goal should be to make it rare enough that coaches who do play games with scholarships are publicly shamed and held up as awful examples rather than allowing winning to combine with "everyone does it" and let it go.)  Grayshirting must go, however - that would be the #1 rule in my package of reform laws.  It would be part of "make LOIs binding for the school too" and indicate that any student-athlete that signed an LOI and isn't enrolled at that school in the fall AND listed on the football roster AND receiving his grant-in-aid, is free to transfer and play for any school of his choice (that will admit him) right away, if it's a decision of the school.


February 1st, 2011 at 8:19 PM ^

Actually, there is a way.  Make the scholarship slot guarenteed for four years.  What this means is that even if a kid washes out academically, or violates team rules, or has a medical issue, or leaves early for the pros, you as a team do not get that scholarship slot back until the end of a four year period.  I would be in favor of increasing the number of scholarship slots to 90 to give a little more flexibility.  This seems harsh but it would put a premium on schools doing their homework because each scholarship is a big deal commitment to an athlete.

I would also make it such that you could not offer an athlete until their senior year and that any offer is good the moment an athlete receives it.  The day it arrives in the mail the athlete could sign a letter of intent and the university would at that point be obligated for the four years (assuming the student meets entrance requirements in time to enroll).  The athlete would also be obligated to the university and have to follow all the proper rules to transfer such as losing a year of eligibility.  This would put a damper to the scattershot offer process.  There would, of course, be a deadline by which offers would have to be extended and accepted, but it would likely mean that teams do a lot more work before they make offers and would be much more careful to whom they extend offers and that students would play less games with schools.  I think also that a lot of offering and accepting would happen closer to the deadlines.  


February 1st, 2011 at 2:50 PM ^

OTL has an interesting special on over signing right now. Shitting all over Les Miles. Tuberville gets the business from a B10 dude.