Grant Teaff calls this a “complicated issue.” I guess that’s the problem with the concept of amateur athletics. Dollars complicate the issue.
Dollars tell college football officials it’s fine to start games at 9 p.m and play for the national title on Jan. 10 (37 days after the regular season). It’s OK to preach academics in one news conference and approve 12-game schedules in another.
Apparently, it’s also OK for a coach to extend 20-something scholarship offers to players when the numbers scream he only has room for 12 – just as long as he can make the math work out by bed check in July (wink wink, nudge nudge).
This “complicated issue” is called oversigning. It occurs when a college football program extends more scholarship offers than it has room for. The NCAA allows teams to enroll up to 25 scholarship players per year and have 85 at one time. Obviously, with most student-athletes attending college for four years, you can see right away there’s going to be an excess.
The problem isn’t limited to shrinking 100 to 85. Some schools, most notably Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss, have seen the ethics of their programs and coaches called into question. The charge is that players are being run off. Scholarships become available when underachieving players are given “medical scholarships” (effectively ending their career), or being pressured to transfer by being told they’re not good enough and they’re not going to get playing time.
Other recruits are being asked not to enroll until the following January, so they’ll count on the following year’s class. It’s like transferring credit card balances from one card to another to avoid payment – except in this case, we’re talking about a human being.
This isn’t to indict all coaches and all situations. Fact is, many coaches “oversign” because some players don’t qualify academically. There also are legitimate reasons somebody may transfer.
But this “complicated issue” is growing and becoming increasingly ugly. A Wall Street Journal article in September quoted three Alabama players who were given medical scholarships. All said they believe coach Nick Saban tries to use the exemptions to clear roster spots for better players.
Teaff, the former Baylor coach, is the executive director of American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). He said he, “Wouldn’t deny that these things” are occurring. He added: “Any time a coach literally runs a player off, that’s wrong.”
But he doesn’t believe the practice is widespread and said any coach who chooses to run off players “will find that it’s going to come back to haunt them. That gets back to the high school coaches, and relationships with the high school coaches are imperative to recruiting.”
That’s true, but it’s not stopping it from happening. The website Oversigning.com has become a clearing house for the issue. It currently is tracking Alabama as having 23 commitments (including junior college) for 13 spots, Ole Miss with 26 for 15 and LSU with 21 for 12. In 2009, Rebels coach Houston Nutt somehow finessed a signing class of 37. LSU
coach Les Miles effectively cut a player, Elliott Porter, because everybody in the recruiting class academically qualified. Porter had already moved into the dorm.
The NCAA has rules in place. But as former Alabama linebacker Chuck Kirschman told the Journal, there’s “a loophole in the system.” He also said: “It’s a business. College football is all about politics.”
It’s also about money and winning, but not always ethics. If there’s a loophole, coaches will exploit it, particularly during recruiting.
This isn’t going on everywhere. Georgia’s Mark Richt and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson seem to understand the mission of college athletics. But it’s an issue that taints the sport.
The NCAA can do something about this. It just hasn’t felt enough pressure to do so. Here are a few suggestions:
♦ A hard cap: A coach can only sign as many kids as the 25/85 rule allows. If a recruit doesn’t qualify academically and the program is left one player short, that’s on the coach. Maybe he shouldn’t have recruited the player to begin with. All coaches will be dealing with same rules. If the class ends up being one short, the coach can hit the streets for a replacement.
♦ No more “gray shirts.” This is the practice of asking a player who signs a letter of intent in February but doesn’t enroll until the following January, just so the numbers work.
♦ Unrestricted transferring: If the NCAA insists on giving coaches all this power, let’s make it equal. Players can transfer to another FBS school without having to redshirt a year. Seems only fair.
Some coaches are accepting no responsibility for recruits who don’t pan out. So the kid turns out to not be “five-star” worthy after all, or he gets injured, or he struggles academically. These things happen.
Is the mission of college athletics to kick student-athletes to the curb so the head coach can maintain his status and hit an incentive in his contract? What happened to the mission?
It’s not complicated.
By Jeff Schultz
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