Nick Saban, apparent guiding light for the nation’s oppressed and downtrodden — or at least those with a really good time in the 40 — is blaming the media for making too much of this “oversigning” issue.
“You all are creating a bad problem for everybody,” he said. “You’re going to mess up kids’ opportunities by doing what you’re doing.”
Yes, that is my purpose here on earth — to prevent potential student-athletes from fulfilling their dreams. And I’m certain if Nick Saban’s son were to be offered a football scholarship one year, only to be told months later after he had enrolled that there was no room after all, or to be pressured into leaving a season or two later when coaches suddenly determined that he wasn’t good enough, papa bear still would be perfectly fine with all this.
I don’t mean to put this all on Saban, although he and Houston Nutt have been two of the biggest abusers of oversigning, a “morally reprehensible” practice in the words of Florida president Bernie Machen. Only in the past year has the issue been drawing the attention it deserves.
The SEC, as the highest-profile college football conference in the nation, had a chance to make a loud statement at its meetings this week. It kind of wimped out. Rather than attack the oversigning problem with significant legislation, it decided only that it would lower the annual scholarship offer cap from 28 to 25.
Let me translate: Coaches now have a lower limit as to how unethical and morally reprehensible they can be. Feel better?
This was sort of like the real SEC passing a rule: “We recognize that insider trading is a problem. So we’re going to cap profits from said illegal transactions at $2.7 million.”
According to the rules, if a coach has 18 scholarship openings he can still sign 25 kids, then massage the numbers over a certain period, coerce kids into quitting or taking a “grayshirt” — postponing going on scholarship — or working some medical hardship magic (albeit, the SEC will have some oversight now). In the end, the coach gets the 18 players on the roster he wants and other seven are dropped into a black hole.
Welcome to the NCAA’s mission: Winning and making money, moral compass be damned.
College coaches don’t want to be held accountable for their mistakes. They don’t want to pay the price if a five-star defensive back devolves into a one-star punt coverage guy, or if a recruit fails to qualify academically, or if the kid backs out at the last minute to sign elsewhere.
Get a helmet, coach. Everybody takes the same risks.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity acknowledged in an interview Friday that the lowered scholarship limit doesn’t close the loophole. He also stated there was significant pushback from coaches who believe they would be at some competitive disadvantage in recruiting against other conferences should the SEC adopt tougher standards, like the obvious one: a hard cap, which would allow a coach to sign only as many kids to letters as he has scholarships available.
“That’s the perception some have. I’m not sure that’s true,” McGarity said, alluding to coaches’ concerns.
But he still considers this progress, saying, “There’s no question it was a good day for the SEC. At the end of the day, the presidents’ vote was a move in the right direction. Does it solve the problem? No. But it does help.”
The fix needs to come at the NCAA level. But the SEC could’ve done more and not damaged its product or brand. Commissioner Mike Slive just handed out $18.3 million checks to member institutions. Business seems to be pretty good.
Mark Richt, in supporting elements of grayshirting, wondered the other day about the recruit who just really wants to go to Georgia and there’s no scholarship available. How about this: Go the “Rudy” route. Enroll as a student, try to make it as a walk on and maybe get a scholarship the following year. But no promises, no signatures, no funny numbers.
See how easy that was? And sorry, Nick: Nobody will be denied an opportunity. There are 119 Division 1 football programs not named Alabama.
When asked if he would like to see a hard cap on scholarships, McGarity said: “In a perfect world, yes. But we’re not in a perfect world.”
No. But we could’ve been a little closer.
By Jeff Schultz
Earlier post: SI says Richt has a better job than Saban (Alabama)