A word about ‘oversigning’ (and revisiting Saban’s dance)

The numbers show Nick Saban has learned creative ways to say goodbye to some players.

The numbers show Alabama coach Nick Saban has learned creative ways to say goodbye to some players. (AP photo)

It’s the home stretch of recruiting season, which generally isn’t my favorite time of the year, partly because I find the whole concept of obsessing over where an 18-year-old goes to school as, I dunno, a little creepy.

But here’s one of my biggest issues with recruiting: The practice of “oversigning.” It’s exactly what the term says. NCAA rules mandate a football program can’t give out more than 25 scholarships in one class and have more than 85 scholarship athletes on the roster at one time. Often, the math doesn’t work.

A team may have only 18 spots open but it gives out 25 scholarships. This is “oversigning.” It’s a gray area in the rulebook. Coaches get away with it by rationalizing than some players don’t qualify. So the players are stashed at prep schools or junior colleges, while others are convinced to take medical scholarships. Others are pressured into transferring.

The fact is, some kids are run off because they didn’t turn out to be as good as coaches hoped. So much for the concept of amateur athletics.

Nick Saban is the current poster boy for this practice. The Wall Street Journal did a terrific story back in September, quoting three former Alabama players who said they were pressured into leaving the program, presumably to open spots on the roster.

The website oversigning.com is tracking school’s commitments and  available slots. Currently, Mississippi and coach Houston Nutt are at plus-11, followed by Saban/Alabama at plus-10, Les Miles/LSU at plus-9 and Bobby Petrino/Arkansas at plus-8.

Suffice to say, this is a horrible practice. I’m going to expand on this topic more in a column in my next post. I spoke to former Baylor head coach Grant Teaff of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).

But until then, this will either amuse you or make you sick. Here’s a transcript of a conversation from 2008 between Saban and former Birmingham News staff writer Ian Rapoport (who now covers the New England Patriots for the Boston Herald). Ian’s a good guy, a solid reporter and a bit of a smart aleck, which is probably why I like him. This give-and-take between he and Saban will tell you all you need to know about how coaches try to finesse things to make the numbers work.

April 15, 2008.

By Ian Rapoport

Some questions, you can’t wait to ask. If a pitcher coming off arm surgery throws a no-hitter in his first start back, it would be fun to ask him, So how does that feel? On the other hand, there are some questions that you simply have to ask. Ya know, because it’s your job. A lot of times, it’s clear that while the answer will be valuable, the process getting there won’t be pretty. Your subject might not want to talk about it. Yeah, you might get yelled at. (Not that you mind…)

Today, after Alabama’s last spring practice, I had one of those situations. One of the big questions, I think, for the offseason is how will coach Nick Saban whittle the roster down to just 85 scholarships? There are 66 on scholarship now, and assume 25 freshman will enroll. That’s 91. So six have to go by August. How? That’s what I asked Saban today. He was entertaining as always. Let’s just say, the conversation was classic:

Me: “The numbers [are the] issue. First, do you know, is Colin Peek on scholarship?”

Saban: (Time to play dumb.) “I don’t know. You ask me, do I know…” (Bad question. Clearly, he knows.)

Me: “I think you do know.” (See?)

Saban: “You’ll have to ask somebody else.” (Cue mischievous grin) “You’re asking the wrong guy.”

Me: (Alright, come on, it’s getting late.) “He is, right?”

Saban: “Yeah.” (Round one: Me!)

Me: (The real questions) “How are you going to handle the numbers and when do you start to worry about it?”

Saban: (Getting a little loud… What, Saban worry?) “I’m not worried about them. It’ll all work out. I mean, the whole thing has a solution to every issue. You don’t put yourself in a position where you don’t know what’s coming, then have to take it in the chops.” (”Chops” is such a dad word. Not that there is anything wrong with that) “Alright? We know how it has to be managed, and it will be managed.”

(Pause)

Saban: “And you don’t need to call me and ask me to write a column for you, and I won’t call you and ask you how to manage our numbers. How’s that?”

Me: (Deal! But when did I suggest how to manage the numbers? If he did ask… I digress.) “I don’t even have a calculator.” (Can’t do math without one of those.)

Saban: (The smile returns.) “You don’t need one to do this.”

Me: (Throwing the hands up in the air.) “So you’re not going to tell us?”

Saban: “I’m not going to tell you what?” (That exit is looking mighty welcoming now.) “It’s none of your business. Alright? And don’t give me this stuff about the fans need to know, because they don’t need to know.”

Me: “I would never say that.”

Saban: “Don’t even ask. Alright? So. (Starts to walk out, but he’s got one more zinger before he leaves.) Ya know, I thought we could get this one last thing without having to…” (attempt a scolding?)

Me: (Even I start to laugh at that) “You really thought that? No chance.”

Saban: (Off the podium, he can’t help giggling to himself, too) “Not with you.”

Media relations guru Jeff Purinton: (Escorting Saban out the door) “He (me) needed something to hold him over until the season…”

True. Good times…

I’ll be back later with a column on this topic. Until then, what are your thoughts on the practice of oversigning?

By Jeff Schultz

Last 3 posts (in high-def!)

Time to mock! Kiper, McShay say Falcons take . . .

Stacy Searels leaving Georgia? Can I offer him a lift?

SEC’s get into ‘Smack Wear’ with BCS T-shirt (really?)

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

296 comments Add your comment

First

January 20th, 2011
10:36 am

PTC DAWG

January 20th, 2011
10:46 am

Oversigning should be banned by the Ncaa. PERIOD.

A Big Dog

January 20th, 2011
10:51 am

Dang, I wish our coach was as smart as Alabama’s Saban.

Bryan G.

January 20th, 2011
10:52 am

How can Ole Miss be plus 11? You’re telling me that Houston Nutt thinks there are players he’s recruiting that can’t get into….Ole Miss? Really?

MikeP

January 20th, 2011
10:53 am

Unless a coach can guarantee no player will get sick, get injured or simply want to transfer to someplace else, there is no way to avoid over signing and still maintain a full roster. Five or six dropping out over the summer is normal for most schools.

I would like to see $aban tarred and feathered for a number of things, but this is not one of them. Scholarships are issued on a year-by-year basis and the players know this when they sign.

PMC

January 20th, 2011
10:54 am

since when is this amateur athletics anyway? They only people buying that argument are on the NCAA’s payroll.

If it’s really “amateur” why not make every player qualify for the school academically before they are admitted?

Why? because it would degrade the quality of the college football cash cow that’s why.

Without a viable semi pro league as a feeder program for the NFL, this is what you get.

College Football in this country is FAR from amateur athletics.

BRAD STEVENS

January 20th, 2011
10:54 am

Recruiting is sad these days. In basketball it is awful and football it is headed in the same direction. I also agree that obsessing over 18 year olds is a little creepy and that a lot of teams cheat like crazy. I’m almost certain that every team in the SEC, excluding Vanderbilt, plays this numbers game all the time. I’m sick and tired of all the transferring from JUCO schools and doing whatever it takes to make kids eligible. Saban and Miles and Meyer are the worst at this but you would never see ESPN do a story on this because it hurts their baby(SEC).

I would love for all to see background and academic checks on AJ Green, Greg Reid, Cam Newton, Nick Fairley and many many others. I can tell you that it’s not pretty.

Russ555

January 20th, 2011
10:56 am

Saban has ten spots. He signs 25. Then before time to set his roster he kicks 15 off the team or talks 15 reshmen to go to a junior college for two years. Math made easy.

gcs

January 20th, 2011
10:57 am

oversigning.com com is a biased BLOG. It is NOT a reliable media source!
There is no mention of the four Ga Tech players who have already been run off.

82Dawg

January 20th, 2011
10:57 am

Why shouldn’t the NCAA be all over this?

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 20th, 2011
10:57 am

So the dogs don’t over sign lately because not enough recruits want to come ?

RDUCK

January 20th, 2011
10:59 am

it’s a shame that these type of coaches are usually the ones to land the big time prospects. there is alot wrong with the whole recruiting process, but this is probably the worst. they promise to take care of these kids for 3-5 years and if the kid isn’t what the coach thought he had, then the kid pays the price. too much of this going on to ignore. this sport is supposed to be an amateur sport, but everyday it is becoming a pro business. i love college football, but there has to be some kind of protection for these kids that go to these schools and help make the millions of dollars for them…

ByteMe

January 20th, 2011
10:59 am

I think oversigning is fine as long as the kids kicked out of a program or dropped from scholarship are immediately able to play at any other school who wants them. That simple. If the bigs are going to play games with the lower 10% of their roster, let the smaller schools that have trouble competing for that level of talent benefit from the situation.

Or do like they do in baseball: you have a 70-man protected roster you have to declare and everyone else can change schools if they find another place to get a scholarship.

RTideR

January 20th, 2011
10:59 am

So many UGA fans will be up in arms about Saban and Bama oversigning. They will say how bad it is for some underachieving players to be run off and transfer. Quick question, How long do you think Quintavious Harrow will be a Bulldog? Do you think he will contribute? Or simply be forced to transfer after a year. I mean the kid had no offers from anyone. He wouldn’t be on Vanderbilt’s 2 deep. But the morally strong and non oversigning Mark Richt wouldn’t ever take advantage of a player just for a year so he can get his teammate would he? What’s the difference? By oversigning, some kids will eventually transfer. But I bet that Harrow will be run off as well.

Barry

January 20th, 2011
11:00 am

What a disgusting practice. These are boys’ lives you are dealing with. How arrogant and self-serving can you be?

Bryan G.

January 20th, 2011
11:00 am

I think the NCAA avoids it because Saban told them it was his dad oversigning all the players and not him. Saban denied any knowledge of the oversigning and thus the NCAA couldn’t punish him.

A Big Dog

January 20th, 2011
11:02 am

Barry….oh, I imagine Saban has about 5 million reasons to be self-serving and such

Lowcountry Bulldawgs

January 20th, 2011
11:02 am

With each passing season the NCCAA and college football becomes more fraudulent. I am finding the NFL more enjoyable as I get older. The players all get paid, the playing field seems to be as level as possible. College football is tarnishing itself right before our very eyes with grayshirting, the Cam Newton/Reggie Bush story’s and the BCS.

gcs

January 20th, 2011
11:07 am

Someone tell me why a scholarshipped player who underperforms deserves to keep their scholarship anyway?
If a person gets an academic scholarship and makes Cs and Ds, what happens to that scholarship? That is right. It gets taken away.
Most non-athletic scholarships have a GPA minimum that must be sustained – usually 3.0 – and you may be surprised to know that many of these scholarships also require leadership skills, extracurricular activities and community service.
Why shouldn’t athletes be held up to the same performance standards.

.

ez

January 20th, 2011
11:07 am

should be ‘between him and Saban’

Bruce Mac

January 20th, 2011
11:07 am

So our Dawgs are just plain stupid. It is apparently in the rules and legal. If you want to compete you have to take every advantage of every rule. Saban is smart and CMR is dumb, period. This is like me saying in my business, that giving Xmas gifts to customers is legal but not ethical so I won’t do it. My competition does it and gets all the business. So, who is stupid? Me!!!!!

Bruce Mac

January 20th, 2011
11:09 am

RTideR, Mr. Richteous will keep Harrow on scholly for four years. That is how dumb we are.

A Big Dog

January 20th, 2011
11:10 am

Bruce Mac…you really expect our coach to play tough…heck, the idiot can’t even use a cellphone correctly when recruiting!

Bruce Mac

January 20th, 2011
11:11 am

I can hope that he will. I guaranty you the next one will.

5150 P.O.A.D

January 20th, 2011
11:12 am

gcs
What are the Tech Players names you speak of.
And this is the Reason B Dodd hated Bear Bryant and Left the SEC over these types of recruiting issues.

RTideR

January 20th, 2011
11:13 am

Bruce Mac, If Crowell goes to UGA he will probably be worth 2 Scholarships. The thing people don’t realize is that college athletic scholarships are a 1 year agreement. Not 4 years. They are renewed each year and it is up to the discretion of the coach whether to renew them or not. You could sign 25 every year, not renew some scholarships every year, and be completely within the rules.

Trojan

January 20th, 2011
11:13 am

Saban does not equal character. He is out for winning and he will do anything, ethically or not, to make that happen.

DawginLex

January 20th, 2011
11:15 am

Nobody knows about Harrow or anyone else.

He was barely able to qualify academically and that overshadowed his athletic ability because of concerns about him being able to go to college.

He can do one of two things:

Bust his butt in the classroom and play 4 years and get a free college education.

or

Listen to you experts who say he is a flop and doesn’t deserve to get a scholarship.

i hope he chooses to prove you wrong.

Bruce Mac

January 20th, 2011
11:18 am

RTideR, I realize that but we will give him a scholly every year unless he does something stupid or flunks out. CMR will not pull his scholly just because he is not worthy. Never has, never will.

Buckshot

January 20th, 2011
11:19 am

RTideR made a good point. They are 1 year scholarships that are renewed each season. The student athlete should live up to the expectations of that scholarship in order to maintain it. It would be nice if UGA could have the same problem that UA has with over-signing.

Jeff Schultz

January 20th, 2011
11:20 am

ByteMe — I agree with you 100 percent on kids being allowed to play elsewhere right away and that will be a part of the column.

GTBob

January 20th, 2011
11:21 am

Oversigning should be banned. Plain and simple. It’s pretty disgusting what the NCAA and college football has become these days. If things like this are going to be allowed then they should just let them pay the players and fire them whenever they want. College Football is well past being an amateur sport at this point anyways.

Jeff Schultz

January 20th, 2011
11:21 am

GCS — 4 kids run off from Georgia Tech? Who?

heartofdarkness

January 20th, 2011
11:21 am

Bread and circuses.

CT_Jacket

January 20th, 2011
11:24 am

GCS,

It doesn’t matter if oversigning.com is a biased blog or not. Fox and MSNBC are biased. The question is, do they present the facts?

And the four Tech players that were “run off” are irrelevant to this discussion because GT hasn’t signed over 21 players in the last five years.

bjohndawg

January 20th, 2011
11:25 am

Ban it.Ban it. Ban it. Make it a 4 year deal. not a one year. With out clause for arrests for major charges, multiples, and grades.Otherwise its a four year ride.
Colleges should be ashamed of this lack of integrity.

A Big Dog

January 20th, 2011
11:25 am

JS….wasn’t the NCAA Academic Progress Report supposed to help stop the scholarship high turnover rate?

joe

January 20th, 2011
11:25 am

You’d think potential recruits would look at the numbers, check the depth charts and do the math to see if they could potentially be one of the ones that are “placed” elsewhere or are “run off/transferred” before signing at a particular school. If these schools are 8-12 OVER, whey would any recruit in their right mind sign there when there are other schools in need that offer a better opportunity for playing time…and provide just as good an education.

SouthGaBrave

January 20th, 2011
11:26 am

RTideR,

Harrow will be a Dawg his entire career. You’re obviously not a fan of Georgia, but if you were you would know the names Kevin Perez, Ricardo Crawford, and Tanner Strickland. All are scholarship guys who barely scratched the field, but were allowed to stay for 4 years and earn a degree. They would have been run off after 2 years in Tuscaloosa.

Lowcountry Bulldawgs

January 20th, 2011
11:26 am

The school’s are 1 year deals, but the kids should not be penelized for the coaching staff misevaluating a kids ability. That is the reality the coaching staff should have to live with.

DZ

January 20th, 2011
11:28 am

Regarding the so-called “terrific story” in The Wall Street Journal, I guess it was terrific to you because it told you what you wanted to hear.
1. The Wall Street Journal is not the prestigious paper it used to be. It has a lot of schlocky articles these days.
2. “Three Alabama players who’ve taken these exemptions say they believe the team uses the practice as a way to clear spots for better players by cutting players it no longer wants.” This is a lie. Only one of these players hints at this. Words were put in the other two players’ mouths.
3. There are no counter-interviews with anyone from the Alabama staff or administration. That is taught in Journalism 101.
4. I would think that the Alabama team doctors – which includes the world-renowned sports medicine surgeon Dr. James Andrews (ever heard of him?) – know what they are doing. Do you think these doctors would risk their careers by faking medical results???
5. It took two people to write this flimsy sad excuse for an article? (see item #1)

Bodda Getta

January 20th, 2011
11:31 am

Face it.

For some young men, football is their best chance to excel, make a name for themselves, and provide for their families.

At Georgia’s major universities, many of these men will never get the opportunity to realize their dreams if they can not execute a linear algebra equation or diagram a sentence.

(By the way, how many of YOU can execute a linear equation today? Or diagram a sentence?)

We know that not all of the best players will be able to do these things day one.

Our approach gives them the best players the opportunity to show their skills on the practice field and the weight room. If they are good enough, they will get the opportunity (either directly or through junior college) to achieve entry and demonstrate these skills on the big stage.

It pains me to agree with Coach Saban, but he is right. These scholarships do not belong to the fans. It is none of their business how they are managed. The same is true for financial assistance given to any other student.

For those students who are not the best players, we give them immediate feedback and give them the opportunity to move on and focus their time on developing other skills which will make them successful. Depending on the situation, this will happen at the university or elsewhere.

We do not let them continue waste their time under a five year delusion that they will make the NFL if they continue their football career here.

The sooner they come to this conclusion, the more time they will have to plot the course which is best for them.

This is how real life works. We do not operate a baby sitting center, or live in some self-righteous fantasy world.

Native Atlantan

January 20th, 2011
11:32 am

@ RTideR: Tim Jennings was a 2 star from Spartanburg SC and was headed to South Carolina State until UGA offered him near signing date. All he did was start 4 years and turn out to be a first round NFL pick. Who knows how some of these players will develop. Take a look at some NFL rosters and you’ll see plenty of guys from small schools or non football powers.

I’m willing to bet Harrow will stay at UGA as long as he wants. Sorry to hear the same can not be said for many players at Alabama.

Russ555

January 20th, 2011
11:34 am

Change the rule to only allow them to sign twenty a year, with a limit of only 80 at any time.
That would eliminate the problem of coaches having to run players off to make room for the next 25 victims, I mean freshmen.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 20th, 2011
11:35 am

one more season of Richt and I am afraid we might be glad to take the tides castoffs .
but this is a bad practice for the kids that lose their free ride .

#1BamaFan

January 20th, 2011
11:35 am

Some of the folks on this board do not know what they are talking about but they love to hear or read what they speak. If you dislike Saban, then so be it but do not make up stuff about how he is cruel to the kids or oversigns players and puts them in the street. Maybe the players want to be coached to the next level or want to play like a champion so they sign with BAMA. Why do the players sign with BAMA if SABAN is a tryant with there are plenty of offered schlorships available at other schools? RTR

RTideR

January 20th, 2011
11:35 am

I’m not justifying oversigning by any means. I’m simply saying that it is within the rules.

Tell the truth

January 20th, 2011
11:42 am

Bryan G. You may be on to something there. It has worked before.

AAron

January 20th, 2011
11:43 am

SouthGaBrave, I am glad you brought up Tanner Strickland.

This is the exact same thing that is going on in the ‘Wall Street Journal’ article except Strickland is accepting his fate. He has one more year of eligibility left but he is stepping aside so UGA can have one more scholarship.

It’s only fair that if someone is not going to play due to injury that they take the medical scholarship.

Under a medical scholarship a person still has room, board and tuition paid for by the university. Is there any reason for him to stand on the sidelines in uniform except to appease his ego if he is never going to play?

Jerry Pugh

January 20th, 2011
11:44 am

C’mon guys. After all, this is the SEC where your team can gets it’s rear kicked all year or in a bowl game, but as long as some SEC teams wins, you can cheer for them and pretend all is well with the world. This is the SEC where if your aren’t bending rules or cheating, then you just aren’t trying to win. And this is why coaches like Saban, Miles and Meyer migrate to the SEC. They know they can do whatever they want as long as they want and as long as they win, they will make the big bucks, and that’s all that they care about. You think Saban really gives a flip about Alabama or Miles LSU? Welcome to the Yellow Brick Road where life is beautiful all the time.