Addressing Over Signing in the FBS

Submitted by remdies on January 21st, 2011 at 1:06 AM

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.



Lenny Law

January 21st, 2011 at 1:16 AM ^

You probably have a lot of great points and what not, but let's not turn these post into novels. I agree that you shouldn't be able to do whats going on in the SEC, but couldnt you say it in a lot less words?


January 21st, 2011 at 2:05 AM ^

the whole "diary" tag seems a bit misleading. the posts that do well up here are the ones that provide substantial new information or analysis. things that are actually more like diary entries (Dear Diary, This Is How Things Would Be If I Were King) seem more appropriate for the board (or, y'know, somebody's actual diary).


January 21st, 2011 at 10:14 AM ^

The OP may have become a tad long-winded with that recap at the end, but before that he (i) described an important problem related to contemporary college football, (ii) proposed a solution to the problem; (iii) discussed perceived pros and cons of his proposal, (iii) provided a conclusion in which he summarized why he felt the strengths of his proposal outweighed the weaknesses, and (iv) asked for feeback.  It may not have had any pie charts, but it was a quality entry and appropriate as a diary.

Also, had the OP posted the same thing on the message board, there would have been a slew of "tl; dr" responses and people complaining that he should have posted it as a diary.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:33 AM ^

Wouldn't the easier solution be to simply gaurantee four year scholarships on a LOI? This wouldn't end Saban's medical hardship sleaziness but it would end a lot of the oversigning practices.


January 21st, 2011 at 2:22 AM ^

One-year v. four-year scholarships is a related issue, but the key to stopping over-signing is to cap signing at a fixed number (e.g., 25) for all schools. Similarly, the key to stopping teams from creatively "eliminating" existing players from their rosters to make room for new players each fall is, again, to simply not allow it.

As the OP suggests, the NCAA should cap LOI's and class sizes at 25 and then make schools live with the 25 players they sign up each year (i.e., make a rule that if a player is lost from a class for any reason, he cannot be replaced). Such a system would force every school to do a better job of identifying athletes that fit its academic profile and football program's needs on the front end and invest the resources necessary to ensure the highest possible retention rates once the athletes are on campus. Schools that lose a higher than average number of players to academic ineligibility, off the field issues and other reasons would be at a disadvantage and the Sabans would no longer have any incentive to do what they do.


January 21st, 2011 at 2:44 AM ^

Point taken, but if you choose the cap at 25 you could theoretically have a team roster of 125. For a lot of reasons that's not going to happen, the most obvious one is Title IX.

Making each scholarship four years would effectively tie each class to the existing 85 limit and would be a lot more politically feasible to navigate through the NCAA.


January 21st, 2011 at 3:21 AM ^

First, the NCAA can cap the number of LOI's and scholarships per class at any number it wants (i.e., if a lower annual number such as 18 or 20 or 22 -- or any other number -- works better for Title IX purposes, the NCAA can use that number). Second, most players are not guaranteed a fifth year on scholarship and understand that is a decision the school and player will make at the end of the fourth year. Most players do not get a fifth year on scholarship (and, presumably, would not be guaranteed one under your four-year scholarship idea). And, again, I am not suggesting the four-year scholarship idea is not workable, but It does nothing to address over-signing. To stop over-signing, the NCAA needs to implement a rule against over-signing.  


January 21st, 2011 at 7:37 AM ^

most players are not guaranteed a fifth year on scholarship

Another point people constantly overlook.  Scholarships are only good for 1 year.  So not only are most players not guaranteed a fifth year, they're also not guaranteed a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th year either.  By July 1st every year, schools must decide which scholarships they are going to renew and which ones they are going to let expire.  Most coaches, however, will honor the committment to the player and give them the full 4 years to earn their diploma.  In most instances where 5th year seniors do not return to the team, its because they've already gotten their degree and the coach/school has fullfilled their committment to the player to get them an education.  There's no longer a moral/ethical obligation to bring them back.


January 22nd, 2011 at 12:51 PM ^

Because they comitt the school to four years of the same roster for that particular class.

Oversigning per se isn't the problem. The problem is that students are getting cut from the existing team to make room for huge classes of recruits.

Hardware Sushi

January 21st, 2011 at 10:42 AM ^

I don't follow. If you have a hard limit of 25 scholarships per year, without replacement, you would need an entire class to redshirt and have 0 attrition over 4 years to end up with 125 players. If you redshirt 10 of what turns out to be the senior class in this example and 0 attrition, you have 110 players. Additionally, 25 is an arbitrary number that can be changed to fit something more like 20 players, where redshirting 10 with 0 attrition would lead to a total team size of 90.

While this isn't the perfect solution, I think it is in the right direction. There are so many factors involved with fixing oversigning that it's tough to find something that covers every base.

One issue I have found with the idea thrown out by the OP is walk-ons. If someone walks-on to the team and, say his junior year, earns a scholarship. If the junior class of his team signed 25 players (or 20 or whatever you set the limit to be) when he was a freshman, is he allowed to get a scholarship? According to the outline in the OP, he wouldn't be able to qualify because they have used up the scholarships for his eligibility year. One solution may be to add walk-on scholarships to count against the incoming class total?

OP, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject and have wanted to put together some sort of outline for fixing oversigning/greyshirting/etc. While I understand that professional sports are a business, collegiate athletics are an extracurricular activity. No matter how much people pay for tickets or networks pay for television rights, it's still an amateur sport that is in place to enrich the collegiate experience, at least that's what I believe. I've read quite a few SEC blogs and a large block of the fanbase doesn't see anything wrong with this. I suppose if that's what they believe, fine, but I don't ever want to see the Big Ten turn into just a semi-professional feeder league for the NFL that is constantly casting off 20-year olds into the world without a degree. I'd rather shut our program down before we start paying players, oversigning and greyshirting, and placing winning over integrity, character and class.

The most confusing part to me: Why do these top recruits keep signing with Alabama (Auburn, Ole Miss, etc.) when players get treated like this? I don't know if it's ignorance of the issue, or teenage invincibility (won't happen to me!), or the lure of how fans treat you when you do perform...hopefully the rise of coverage will be another useful tool in ridding college football of oversigning simply by kids not wanting to play for a douche like Saban.


January 21st, 2011 at 5:49 PM ^

I couldn't think of a good way to incorporate them without creating a loop hole.  Maybe they can replace attrition with walk-ons but not during the freshman year?  That would prevent schools from just telling kids to walk-on and you'll get a scholly anyway, while still making it possible to award walk-ons with scholarships and not penalize the schools who do so, like counting against the incoming class total would.

And I'm with you I have no idea why these kids still sign up for these schools but they do and keeping the conversation going is just about all average fans can do to help bring about a solution.


January 21st, 2011 at 9:02 AM ^

Its been capped at 25 enrollee's per class for a long time, but you could technically sign as many as you wanted to a LOI.  This year, the NCAA capped the number of LOI's you could accept at 28.  But that still doesn't solve the problem of oversigning because there are two ways you can oversigning -- by going over your 25 alloted scholarships per class, and by going over the 85-man roster limit.  Most of the oversigning problems are a result of going over the 85 man limit.  Situations like incoming freshman Elliot Porter at LSU are extrememly rare.

The reason oversigning is a problem in the SEC and not the Big Ten is because the Big Ten ties their oversigning rules to the 85-man limit.  Capping the number you can enroll per class doens't really solve anything because you can still sign 20 or 25 per class and still be way over the 85-man roster limit.


January 21st, 2011 at 11:37 AM ^

The OP's proposal specifically includes elimination of the 85 total scholarship cap and instead relies only on a per school year cap of 25. This is not exactly how I would do it, but it does eliminate over-signing so long as the per school year LOI limit is the same as the per school year scholarship cap.

Unlike the OP, I would actually leave the total scholarship cap in place but adjust it so that it exactly equals four times the per school year scholarship cap (i.e., zero "cushion" for anticipated attrition). For example, if the per school year cap is set at 24, then the total cap would be set at 4 x 24 = 96. Theoretically, this would allow up to 96 players on scholarship at any one time, but schools would be extremely unlikely to hit that number if the NCAA simultaneously implements a rule preventing schools from replacing players lost from a class for any reason. Unavoidable attrition (i.e., players who leave early for the NFL, players who are are lost due to academically ineligibility or serious off the field issues, players who transfer to other schools and players who are lost permanently to injury) would naturally reduce the total number under scholarship to something below the 96 theoretical maximum. In fact, if an average of only two players are lost from a team per school year for reasons other than completing their senior seasons, then the average number of total players on scholarship for that team would be 96 - 8 = 88 (only slightly higher than the current total scholarship limit of 85).

Fifth year scholarships and transfers would be handled similarly to how they are today, except that they would be counted against the per school year cap of 24 rather than the total scholarship cap of 96. For example, if a school elects to pick up one transfer and retain two players longer than four years by granting them fifth year scholarships, then the number of freshmen players that school could enroll (and the number of LOI's it could sign) for the upcoming school year would be correspondingly reduced (i.e., 24 - 3 = 21). This is slightly different than how fifth years and transfers are counted today, but it would eliminate the incentive to manufacture attrition that arises when the only cap coaches need to worry about is total scholarships.

Over-signing and manufactured attrition are not difficult problems to solve. It merely takes the will of the NCAA (and, therefore, of the member institutions) to do it.


January 21st, 2011 at 7:29 AM ^

You lost me right off the bat with this:

reduce the number of allowable LOI per year to 25

The NCAA already does this.  You can only enroll a maximum of 25 incoming freshman per year.  Under a new rule this year, you can also (NCAA wide) only sign 28 players per recruiting class.  That gives schools a 3 player buffer to account for those that don't qualify academically.  If all 28 qualify, you are still allowed to enroll some of those 3 early to count in the previous class, or delay their enrollment and count them as part of the next class.

The only real way to deal with this problem is to adopt a rule like the Big Ten has where you can basically only offer what you have available under the 85-man scholarship limit.  Oversigning in the Big Ten is not an issue because of this.  Doing away with the 85 limit and capping it at 25 would do absolutely nothing and you would wind up with schools with 100-125 people on roster.


January 21st, 2011 at 10:12 AM ^

Right.  Only offering what you have avail is the better way to prevent oversigning.  One way to combat this would be to raise the scholarship limit to 100, and keep the class limit at 25.  Having a scholarship limit at 25 but only allowing 85 scholarships on rosters basically forces attrition, whether it comes naturally or not.  


In fact, if you did away with the 85-scholarship limit you would create a whole new problem: the uber-walkon.  Certain coaches will start inviting 5-star "walk-ons" to camp without signing them to an LOI.  Once they are on campus, they could then turn around and give them a full ride scholarship.  



January 21st, 2011 at 5:17 PM ^

The problem is that having an 85-man scholarship limit encourages attrition and creates a disadvantage for schools with good retention rates.  Setting a per year cap makes schools accountable to the students they sign for the duration of their eligibility since that scholarship spot cannot be replaced under this proposal.

The number of LOI a year doesn't have to be 25 it can be anything but I think increasing the number of scholarships granted to student athletes is the best way for the increases in athletic revenue to be shared with them, also it's the only way to do it while keeping amateurism alive.  But that is my opinion, if a version of this proposal were to be adopted then it would probably be with a limit lower than 25.


January 21st, 2011 at 9:07 AM ^

I understand why some were a little concerned with this post being a Diary entry since it is probably a little long-winded and is in desperate need of some formatting help.  But the problem is that things just get lost on the board in a sea of "did you see Scarlett Johansson on a rerun today?  Please post pictures!" 

If you have something of substance actually related to Michigan sports that will generate good discussion with any substance, it is tempting to put it in a Diary.  Maybe this one is a fringe candidate for a diary, but I like it as a Diary instead of a board entry. 


January 21st, 2011 at 10:54 AM ^

but where do the extra 15-40 scholies come from (ie if everyone redshirts u have 125) and what girls sport do you match the scholies with becaus ethey have to be 1 to 1 or are you proposing slashing even more guys scholies from other sports


January 21st, 2011 at 12:48 PM ^

It is popular to rail against lawyers and "over regulation" as a modern ill (I'm not a lawyer) but just the brief run of replies shows what happens when we have people trying to game the rules rather than live up to the intent. This is where the NCAA really should be sticking their inquiring minds into. None of the rules were meant to allow kids to be brought in and later cut if they don't work out as players yet this is exactly what is happening.

I don't see any obvious answers to this, but just have to hope that better character will win out in the end; it is a sad commentary if what becomes acceptable as good compliance is all of the shenanigans which goes on and is tolerated in the SEC (and to be fair it occurs elsewhere, but most flagrantly in the SEC).

Without being a one note nag as I have suggested this before, if we are going to reassess players each year and decide if they can continue their "athletic studies" then make performance athletics a formal major and degree concentration. Not everyone can stick with the honors English program or the Electrical Engineering concentration. Not everyone makes the cut in orchestra or band. But they knew this going in and then it is all above board and open. It is bad enough to yank a kid's scholarship but to then bad mouth him in the press (as happened in LSU) is to just add further insult.


January 21st, 2011 at 5:38 PM ^

i saw on rivals that south carolina now sits at 31 kids recruiting class, and are in the hunt for clowney and a couple other higher profile guys, how many spots do they have available. also, auburn now gets christian westerman, but had to scrambleto make room kris frost, i see they are also in the running for alot of the top guys left, when these five and four star kids decide to join, what do they do? just bump a 2 or 3 star guy and say , "sorry, but this kid is better"


January 22nd, 2011 at 10:02 AM ^

Why do these kids keep signing to these schools, (Ala. LSU), if they know they run the risk of being cut??...If all this is true you think these kids and there parents would take a closer look at the SEC school's that participate in this...I'm not trying to argue I truely would like to know because you would expect to see a down swing in quality of there askin...

Action Jackson

January 22nd, 2011 at 12:56 PM ^

explaining all this is by Bruce Feldman of ESPN.  Someone asked him about oversigning in college football and this was his response.

"I've actually written about the subject several times and helped on a recent "Outside the Lines" segment on the issue. I was also the commentator discussing it in detail right after the near-10 minute piece aired.

One of the points I brought up on the show was about the practice of schools rewarding coaches with bonuses for signing a "top" class (either top 5, top 10 or top 25), or for landing a certain number of four-star players. With coaches having even more of an incentive to meet certain quotas and rankings, they often try to sign certain recruits that they know might have a very tough time qualifying academically.

I wrote about the "Sign-and-Place" method in "Meat Market," and for schools that deal heavily with junior college recruits, that also factors in. The process is this: Sign the shaky four-star prospect so that you can up your recruiting ranking, impress other prospective recruits, appease your fan base (and, in turn, the administration), increase your own chance of landing that recruiting bonus, and then send the players who can't get in academically to a junior college as if it's a farm system. If the kid turns out to be a complete knucklehead or flops on the field, you forget about him. If not, you didn't take up a spot for two years and then the juco coach, who is thrilled you sent him a talented player, has protected him for you and sends you back a more ready-to-play, developed prospect.

Another key: Because the recruiting cycle has been moved up so much earlier, teams are taking recruits with less of a formed picture academically. They're borderline. Maybe they'll make it in, maybe they won't. Schools hedge their bets by taking commitments from other prospects, knowing they have lawyered-up language to provide them an out in the scholarship letters in the event that they end up "in a best case scenario" on signing day where their recruiting cup runneth over.

I know of one case in which an athlete said he was pushed out for no apparent reason, but then I was later told by a member of that staff that the player was always "a list guy," meaning he was repeatedly in trouble for academics. The schools are sensitive about discussing that publicly for legal reasons. Now, is that spin control or revisionist history? It is hard to say, but I know it's really complicated.

One FBS program I know of has the policy that the program has to keep a file on a kid, so if the team opts to not renew his scholarship, it goes through a school review in which it submits the reasons, which would either be academics-related or drug/alcohol/discipline-related. How good a player he may be cannot factor in. But I'm told that school's policy isn't the norm among FBS programs. The business part of this is that you're talking about one-year deals in essence. Sometimes schools are reluctant to push a kid out more because of the backlash it might cause them down the road, especially if they want to recruit in that kid's area in the future."


January 25th, 2011 at 6:28 PM ^

the recruits who choose to go to these schools know that there is a chance that they won't make it. If they wanted a guarantee that they will get 4 years, then don't be recruit #30 on a team that can only take 20, unless you firmly believe that the person cut, won't be you.

It's free market Darwinism at it's finest, and nobody is forcing a kid to go to a school or lying to a kid. The website below lays all of the numbers out for any and all recruits.