Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Dark Shadow of Oversigning.....

You're that close to gettin' run out of town.....

We all know the stakes have never been higher in college football than right now; just take a look at the ACC's new TV contract. We're now talking billions of dollars. That's a lot of chedda'. And when that much money is at stake you can be sure that competition becomes fierce; everyone is looking for a competitive edge. One way this competition has manifested itself is the oversigning of recruiting classes. Of course the programs that practice oversigning will deny that they engage in such activity; while it may be legal and within the letter of the law it is certainly outside the spirit of such laws and carries with it a moral ambiguity that is at best troubling. So what is oversigning?

Oversigning is essentially the practice of recruiting & then signing more players than you have room for & then somehow, someway, ridding yourself of lesser scholarship players so new recruits (with a potentially higher performance ceiling) can take their place. Graduation is of course the preferred way to open up scholarships but we'll see there's a not so savory side to opening up scholarships later on (forced transfers, the ever-popular "violation of team rules", medical hardships, just to name a few). Remember, NCAA scholarships are renewable YEARLY. They are very temporal & we'll find are often removed to make room for new players on a team.

Back to the basics. The NCAA allows each Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I) school 85 football scholarships. The number of the counting shall be 85. 85 shall be the number of the counting. Pretty simple so far. In 1992, the NCAA mandated that schools no longer sign more than 25 scholarship players per year & have them enroll during the Fall term. Warning: Loophole Alert!!!! What happens if players don't enroll in the Fall but in the Spring? Well, they don't count towards the 25 man limit & thus the game is afoot. If you manipulate enrollment properly, you can sign as many players as you want. In fact, just a couple years ago, incoming Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt signed a class of 39 players! That's a tunnel, not a loophole. While conferences like the SEC have moved to somewhat tighten this loophole (limiting the number of total incoming players to 28), there's still a big chasm between the rule on paper & in practice. So in reality the number that matters the most is 85, the number of scholarships, in total, a team is allowed to award. You must be at that 85 limit in the Fall before the season starts.

Why oversign? Well, the guys at Oversigning.com have a terrific website & have done yeoman's work in pointing out the current troubles with oversigning & how it skews the competitive balance of college football. I highly recommend you check out their work, as they even go back as far as Tech's departure from the SEC due to oversigning, something many Tech folks don't know about. So I grabbed this diagram from their website because it artfully depicts the advantages of oversigning:

(click above to enlarge)
As you can see, oversigning is simply a way of turning over a roster & ridding oneself of players who have been determined to be of little value to the team. It's the football version of culling the herd. A player comes in & for whatever reason doesn't live up to the hype? Find a way to force him out & through oversigning infuse new talent into the program. Now don't get me wrong, there will be natural attrition in any program. Some kids want to transfer, there are always academic issues, & unfortunately, kids get hurt. All of those naturally occur. But you're taking a big gamble when after signing day & graduation you have to lose 10 players and at this point in the season you have to lose 6 players before the fall.

So let's get to the ACC. Is anyone in our conference oversigning? A look at the numbers from Oversigning.com. As a conference, we do very well, having averaged signing 89.42 players from 2006-10. That's very respectable & makes perfect sense. After all, we said there will be some natural attrition & one player per year over four years is certainly reasonable. In fact, Tech's classes of 20,20,21,21 put us at 82, leaving three scholarships for walk-ons. Most of the conference appears to abide by both the letter & spirit of the law. The big exception? Butch Davis & UNC. At one point in 2009, UNC was short 17 scholarships. Not to worry, Davis balanced the equation. Seems like Butch's favorite tool is the medical hardship. Fourteen players from UNC have had career ending injuries since 2002, including 3 in 2009. That's an astounding rate that indicates UNC is engaging in 1) unsafe behavior on the field, or 2) using medical redshirts to clear players out. By my count, Tech has had two players receive medical hardships over that time frame, Antonio Wilson in 2009 (it is my understanding that Wilson & his family disagree with the diagnosis & litigation is pending) & Shane Bowen in 2008, both for neck injuries. Bowen is now a grad assistant at Tech while Wilson remains enrolled in school. Davis has a reputation as a great recruiter & now we know part of the reason why: through oversigning he's able to make more mistakes than everyone else. Sign 'em all & see who sticks.

We're not trying to be overly prude or moral here. But it seems only fair that when we expect 18 year-old kids to keep their word that the same standard apply to adult men making millions of dollars. The age old question: at what price victory? It seems a some are willing to do almost anything. On a related note, it looks as if some folks are getting wise to some of these shenanigans. Hopefully they take action. I'll at least wonder the next time the nebulous "violation of team rules" comes up when a player is dismissed.....


  1. Unfortunately, there is a small group of “those that don’t” in all sectors of society/sports/whathaveyou that force the powers that be down the path of over-litigiousness and heavy handed control. There are large sectors of people and organizations that responsibly obey the letter AND intent of the law such that we won’t bring down the heavy hand of enforcement on our lives, and generally to be faithful, moral and responsible members of the organizations and societies that we live in.

    Just think, how many fewer rules and laws we would have if everyone excercised common sense and restraint...

  2. How can it be over-litigious when the rule is clearly not functioning as intended? Or is over-signing not an issue? Its one or the other.

    Lots of people go to college for seven years. They are called Doctor - Julius Hodge

  3. "Seven years of college down the drain!" - Bluto, Animal House

  4. Julius Hodge spent 18 years at N.C. State. Seriously. That guy was around forever. I can remember no other player with an ACC tenure as long as Mr. Hodge. Well done, sir.....


  5. I like the idea of increasing roster size to, say, 100, and giving every school a hard cap of 100 scholorships offered every 4 years. Transfers, flunk outs, and imprisoned players schlororships are tied up for 4 years. If you manage recruiting well, a coach might enjoy a roster of 90 or more. If you continue to operate like Houston Nutt, then you might have a season where you need guys to play two ways. Maybe build in a small medical safety net, but if you increase rosters by 10 or 15, then you should be able to absorb injuries.

  6. These coaching staffs are smarter and fairer than some of you guys are giving them credit for being. You have an immense amount of data available to you as a staff, because you know what has tended to happen in the past. You know the average number of kids that lose eligibility due to grades, misbehavior, etc. You know how many become medically unable to play. You know how many leave for the NFL (or you can surely guess based on performance and NFL scouts). And you know how many transfer.

    So if the NCAA says "here's the deal guys. It's 25/85 and it's pretty simple. Live by this rule and you're fine." Incidentally, some variation on the 25/85 has been around for almost 50 years. Back in the 60s it was 45/140, but it was the same concept. So why shouldn't the NCAA member schools be allowed to simply adhere to this basic rule, factoring in the fall-out that is inevitable every season? The author of this website seems to think that schools should come out of the winter signing period with their 85 intact, leaving no room for fallout, and if you DO happen to experience fallout, then your team just has to operate with less than the allowed number. Why would anyone do that?

    That's not noble. It's naive. Makes me wonder if this guy has some kind of agenda going here. Is it possible that he's a Big Ten fan who is just sick of watching SEC teams sit on the throne at the end of every season? Sure seems like it. But you have to give him credit. He has cloaked his obsession in the righteous guise of something that seems supportable on the surface. That is, until you look at it more closely.

  7. The entire concept of scholarship limits stems from the fact that some areas of the country take their football more seriously than others. Certain conferences got tired of losing, so they had rules passed "to maintain competitive balance". Trust me, if the Big Integer was winning national championships every other year, oversigning would be a non-issue. It's not about the players, it's about which teams are winning.