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.”
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
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