Scholarship guarantees, early signing would curb oversigning

An early-signing period would've prevented Justin Taylor's disappearing scholarship. (AP photo)

An early signing period would've prevented Justin Taylor's disappearing scholarship. (AP photo)

One week after leading Alabama to its second BCS title in three seasons, Nick Saban reaffirmed that his commitment to winning isn’t necessarily rooted in a commitment to doing things the right way.

Saban informed Justin Taylor,  a North Atlanta High School running back, that he was yanking his scholarship offer from 11 months ago. Eleven months ago. Never mind that Taylor was the seventh oral commitment for Alabama’s 2012 class. Nor that he was a good kid, a terrific player and hadn’t once screamed, “War Eagle!” This is the ugly side of college football that coaches hide between the disingenuous, “Don’t worry, momma, I’ll take care of your boy,” speeches.

The substance of a coach’s word morphs from oak to oatmeal when he finds a faster, stronger player.

This is a form of “oversigning” (or in this case overcommitting) in recruiting, a reprehensible practice we’ve banged on several times before. A coach will accept more commitments than he actually has scholarships to give out. His objective: To fix the scholarship numbers by coercing perceived underachieving athletes to transfer or accept medical hardships, thereby creating space to bring in better players. It’s the quickest route for a coach to lessen his own mistakes or shortcomings.

Forget that whole concept of commitment, four-year scholarships and the mission of college athletics. That went out with 8-millimeter film.

Saban and LSU’s Les Miles are two of the biggest abusers of oversigning. Saban and Les Miles also just faced each other for the BCS title. That’s not a coincidence, coaching talents notwithstanding.

With increasing attention being paid to this topic in the past two years, the NCAA and SEC (where some of the biggest abusers thrive) have attempted to curb the problem by lowering scholarship limits. But that isn’t nearly enough. Lowering the cap doesn’t prevent coaches from bending ethical borders to reach that cap. Case in point: Justin Taylor.

Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich believes, “For the vast majority of coaches, this is not an issue. Ninety percent of coaches abide by the rules and do things the right way.”

I agree. The problem is that the other 10 percent generally are the ones competing for championships.

The NCAA last week announced tougher sanctions against repeated rules-breakers (good), but it did little to close the loopholes on the oversigning issue. Here are a few things that would help:

• 1.) A coach can’t sign more players than he has slots available. If a committed player then fails to qualify academically, gets arrested or the like, that’s on the coach. Go sign somebody else. Every coach would be on equal ground.

• 2.) Scholarships are guaranteed for four or five years. Currently, it’s a series of one-year renewables.

• 3.) Football should have an early signing period, like basketball. If Taylor had signed his national letter of intent in February, it would be a binding agreement. Neither he nor Saban could pull a U-turn.

• 4.) The NCAA should form an impartial panel to oversee any athlete-coach disputes where there’s even the remote possibility of a player being coerced into leaving or becoming a medical hardship. Currently, disputes are settled by committees on the individual campuses.

Seriously, is there a panel in Tuscaloosa that’s going to side against Saban or in Baton Rouge that would go against Miles?

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, among those who has spoken out against oversigning, said: “I think if there were a body that was not a part of the institution, certainly there would be a more consistent ruling or outcome there.”

He said “there are pros and cons” to an early signing period, but that it also might help, noting it works in basketball, volleyball and soccer.

Of course, football coaches are against early signing. They like having the flexibility to renege  on commitments and playing with numbers. They’re going to be against any rule that adds clarity to an issue and eliminates the gray, eliminates their ability to manipulate a situation and get an edge.

As McGarity said, “If a coach makes a mistake in recruiting, that’s not the student-athlete’s fault.”

If college coaches want that freedom, let’s call this what it is: pro sports. Sign players, cut them, trade them — and pay them. But if we’re trying to maintain some illusion that this is still amateur athletics, some safeguards are needed because coaches aren’t going to police themselves.

Previous columns on oversigning

SEC didn’t go nearly far enough with oversigning

NCAA has lost sight of its mission by allowing oversigning

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

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

491 comments Add your comment

Try Harder

January 20th, 2012
3:36 pm

Great article Jeff. Glad you and Carvell are putting this information out there. Do you think there is a rule Saban will not bend or a loophole he will not find?

Heath

January 20th, 2012
3:44 pm

Unfortunately, the NCAA isn’t going to hinder their cash cows.

Tech21

January 20th, 2012
3:44 pm

I totally agree, the SEC is able to recruit very gifted athletes which is fine, but they’re messing with kids futures like the poor kid who made the mistake of committing to the football factory of Alabama that cares about nothing but winning. Put a cap on the scholarships and see what happens when Saban and Miles can’t oversign. The whole SEC dominance would go down some, no doubt they would still be good but you wouldn’t have the same ownership of the BCS. I for one would like to see how good Saban/Miles are if they played by the rules.

Ga./Fl. Stillman Dawg

January 20th, 2012
3:45 pm

Georgia needs to oversign coaches. First

JSS

January 20th, 2012
3:46 pm

Corruption breeds corruption… That is D-1 athletics in a nutshell… The NCAA just piggybacks along and reaps the cash!

sandiegodawg

January 20th, 2012
3:48 pm

good idea Schultze- you were due.

Ga./Fl. Stillman Dawg

January 20th, 2012
3:49 pm

If Saban and Les Miles can’t over sign. I guarantee you THEY WILL NOT WIN AS MUCH/Or THE WAY THEY DO. As you can see (if you are paying attention) they both are exposing their coaching abilities, just as Saban did Urben Meyer. It will not be long before LSU?ALA fall off or are equal to the SEC and NCAA. Mark my words. Neither one will win another national championchip in the next 5 years. GUARANTEE.

lucky21

January 20th, 2012
3:50 pm

Paul Johnson is in favor of an early signing period, and is very upfront in his dealings. Go CPJ and Let’s Go Tech!

Jefferson Davis Hogg

January 20th, 2012
3:58 pm

Great artical Jeff….I wish there were more articles like this that would expose this practice even more instead of our conferences sweeping this problem under the rug. Unfortunately the schools that you mentioned benefit from this practice greatly and find that it is not a problem, even at the expence of the athletes involved….I am a Dawg fan and also a huge fan of SEC football but this practice is’nt anything for our brethren to be proud of, even with the muli chamoinships in a row….I dont think the UGA’s, UF’s, Tenn, and whoever it may be will ever be on par with the Alabamers and LSU’s of the world on a year in year out basis until this is stopped….Bama still has multi schollies out and are at the culling stage now while already recruiting the next years class…For the life of me, why is this action not being pursued by the higher-ups somewhere?

GTBob

January 20th, 2012
3:58 pm

Heath pretty much nailed it. There is no financial incentive in cleaning up college football so it is never going to happen. It will probably get worse.

Old Dawg

January 20th, 2012
4:00 pm

I just love it when sharks swim in their own blood and devour everything around them, including themselves.

Jefferson Davis Hogg

January 20th, 2012
4:00 pm

At least this is a topic that both GT and UGA can agree on and have a healthy conversation about for a change

S'paw_99

January 20th, 2012
4:02 pm

I have a real easy solution to stop Oversigning. For every commitment that you get above the # of Scholarships you have:

You LOSE a Scholarship.

That would quickly stop all of this, there is no way that Miles, Saban, or any other Un-ethcial coaches would risk losing scholarships.

lucky21

January 20th, 2012
4:03 pm

True statement Hogg at least both of our schools have coaches upstanding enough not to participate in such unscrupulous behavior.

Beast from the East

January 20th, 2012
4:08 pm

Jeff,
The only problem I have with your “solution” is the 4-5 year guranteed scholarship. What if a kid comes in and just becomes lazy and doesn’t try? You can’t have that type of kid eating up one of your 85 scholarships for 4-5 years. Other than that, I agree with everything else you propose.
Be ready for the backlash from the “Teabagging Updykes”!

PMC

January 20th, 2012
4:09 pm

George Stein

January 20th, 2012
4:09 pm

The one year renewable scholarship is the biggest impediment to real change. If the coaches knew they couldn’t get rid of a player after a season, they would be forced to operate under the 85 scholarship count.

For example, last year Alabama signed 22 players. Unfortunately, they had 73 on scholarship, which meant 10 players had to be purged. If there was a four year scholarship, Saban couldn’t have done what he did.

Ultimately, it’s important to point out that the biggest reason this happens is because Saban, Miles, and the other oversigners can’t accurately judge talent and they don’t want any accountability for their errors.

George Stein

January 20th, 2012
4:10 pm

Sure you can, Beast from the East. It’s the coaches’ job to to find players that want to play.

If you recruit lazy players, you deserve to lose your job.

Hillbilly D

January 20th, 2012
4:13 pm

Corruption breeds corruption… That is D-1 athletics in a nutshell… The NCAA just piggybacks along and reaps the cash!

And that’s why things never really change. Like most other things in life, it’s all about the money. Everybody is getting well off the system, except a lot of the players.

• 1.) A coach can’t offer more scholarships than he has slots available. If a committed player then fails to qualify academically, gets arrested or the like, that’s on the coach. Go sign somebody else. Every coach would be on equal ground.

I like this idea except for the go sign somebody else part. My idea would be, if your committed player washes out, tough, that’s life, you go one man short. Might give coaches an incentive to see that guys behave, keep their grades up, etc.

• 2.) Scholarships are guaranteed four or five years. Currently, it’s a series of one-year renewables.

Not really sure on this one but if it’s one year, then that year is written in stone, none of the shenanigans like with Justin Taylor.

• 3.) Football should have an early signing period, like basketball. If Taylor had signed his national letter of intent last February, it would be a binding agreement. Neither he nor Saban could pull a U-turn.

I think once it’s signed, it should be binding on both parties. You sign a deal, you ride it out.

• 4.) The NCAA should form an impartial panel to oversee any student athlete-coach disputes where there’s even the remote possibility of a player being coerced into leaving or becoming a medical hardship. Currently, disputes are settled by committees on the individual campuses.

I don’t really see any workable solution here. To much money involved for impartiality.

DIT

January 20th, 2012
4:19 pm

Check out the two recruits in the back drop of the picture. I can hear the conversation now. “Is that really TWO cinder blocks he’s standing on?”

Beast from the East

January 20th, 2012
4:20 pm

George Stein,
Evaluating 17-18 kids is not an exact science. Maybe they can gurantee the scholarship, but not the roster spot??? Not usre what the answer is, but I doubt that will ever fly.

George Stein

January 20th, 2012
4:23 pm

Of course it isn’t, Beast. But I don’t have any problem assigning blame to people who make $2MM or more a year. Big paychecks demand big responsibility.

The issue here is that the LOI that all those kids are gonna sign in two weeks is an atrocious contract and, I think, going forward the risk of error needs to be on the schools and coaches, not the kids that aren’t getting paid (but are getting screwed).

BiggDawgK

January 20th, 2012
4:24 pm

Good article JS. I’m stunned there have not been rabid bama boys whineing about the ajc’s agenda to hurt saban stinking up your blog. Most of them are still sleeping off last nights moonshine I guess.

George Stein

January 20th, 2012
4:26 pm

They’re busy, ahem, assaulting LSU fans at fast food restaurants, BiggDawgK.

Back in my day (60'-70's)

January 20th, 2012
4:28 pm

…coaches could sign as many as they could afford, and those were 4 year guarantees, usually having well over 100 players on ’ship at any point in time – Bear Bryant was the leader of the pack (along with Johnny Majors at Pitt, before he went to UT) – he said he did it so that he would not have to play against those kids – so AL has quite the history with this kind of slime…

Beast from the East

January 20th, 2012
4:28 pm

George Stein,
I don’t disagree with your premise, at all. I do disagree about the kids not “getting paid”. These kids are given a free education that most cannot afford. Not to mention the opportunity to showcase their skills with a chance (albeit slim) of going pro. I think they should recive a stipend on top of that, but that’s another story.

Jefferson Davis Hogg

January 20th, 2012
4:29 pm

Alabamer and LSU currently have 85 or more 1st string players which equals more depth as opposed to the rest of us who have who might have maybe a second string player who is comparible to the first string guy……Its a lot like a guy fishing a Bass fishing tournament…you fill the live well with your limit of fish first then you cull out the smaller ones as you catch more so as to have more weight on board to increase the odds of takin home the money…..silly but true….I know there is always that “coach all of them up” theory but the facts are that some athletes are’nt as good as others….It must be nice to cull the ones who are’nt as good out and just keep the best…

Ron Mexico

January 20th, 2012
4:29 pm

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Nice article Jeff

Mike

January 20th, 2012
4:31 pm

Evaluating recruits is one thing. I think all these guys do a good job of that. The issue here is they are essentially pulling aces out of their sleeves at the poker table. They recruited their allotment of kids. Rather than coach up those kids, they are forcing out the lower end ones for what amounts to some higher rated ringers.

Look at Alabama right now. They are sitting at 27 commits even though they can only sign 25 max and likely don’t even have 25 slots available in the first place.

So is Saban really a good coach or just someone who is good at twisting the system. Like Jeff points out, he is essentially running a pro football operation at the amateur level.

TRUTH BE TOLD.......

January 20th, 2012
4:32 pm

COACH SABAN IS A MASTER OF HIS CRAFT & ALL THE RULES IN THE WORLD WON’T DERAIL HIS SUCESS!!! SOOOOOOOO……….HATE ON HATERS THE BEST IS YET TO COME!!!!

Beast from the East

January 20th, 2012
4:33 pm

Why we all seem to disagree with Saban’s practices, he continues to get the best of the best. One would think that kids would shy away from Bama if he’s as bad as we continue to hear but they aren’t, are they?

Danny O

January 20th, 2012
4:35 pm

Ron Mexico, if you hate Schultz so much, why do you keep reading his stuff?

Matt A

January 20th, 2012
4:38 pm

I couldn’t agree more Jeff. As much as I love watching CFB and rooting for my teams, the seedy underbelly of this sport is simply disgusting. Let’s call the schools ‘franchises’ and the players ‘professional free agents’ and be done with it

Danny O

January 20th, 2012
4:38 pm

It was no surprise to learn that Saban was backing out on Taylor. I’m glad that someone talked some sense into that kid to go somewhere that the coach respects recruits as people, and not as football robots to be warehoused until the school is ready to give them a scholarship.

Jefferson Davis Hogg

January 20th, 2012
4:39 pm

Yeah Beast, thats the strange part!……Great pollitition I guess…

Jefferson Davis Hogg

January 20th, 2012
4:39 pm

Yeah Beast, thats the strange part!……Great pollitition I guess…

bill

January 20th, 2012
4:39 pm

I agree that what happened to Justin Taylor is unfortunate and I feel bad for him, but what about protecting the schools? Since these “commitments” are only verbal and non-binding, nothing prevents the student-athlete from flipping. Gunnar Kiel just did it. Many expect Jameis Winston to do the same. I agree that an early signing period would help somewhat.

Bryant

January 20th, 2012
4:43 pm

iF THEY HAND YOU THE CHRYSTAL FOOTBALL IT MUST NOT BE CHEATING. IT IS LIKE RACING IF YOU ARE NOT CHEATING YOU ARE NOT TRYING. RTR

GeoffDawg

January 20th, 2012
4:45 pm

I’m not necessarily for a rule that requires you to only offer the number of scholarships you have available as it would severely limit the perspective student-athletes’ ability to compare and contrast different schools and programs. However, I do like the way Richt does it where he makes it known up front that they have a certain number of spots open for a certain position and it’s a first come, first served basis for commitments. Once committed, it won’t be revoked unless extenuating circumstances like expulsions or arrests dictate it as such.

Bama4life

January 20th, 2012
4:46 pm

Thanks, Jeff. So the reason UGA is soft and chronically underachieves is because LSU and Bama oversign too much. IF ONLY Bama and LSU played by the rules then UGA would have won all those titles like they were supposed to.

Give me a break! Quit pandering to Dawg fans and tell it like it is. Bama and LSU win more because they outwork UGA. It’s time for Dawg fans to grow up and quit whining like spoiled 3 year olds. Stop crying, accept responsibility for your own failures and make a commitment to winning on the field.

Beast from the East

January 20th, 2012
4:49 pm

Bama4life,
I’ll give you guys credit for one thing….you’ve got balls. LOL!

Mark (another one)

January 20th, 2012
4:50 pm

What other sports have one year renewable scholarships? These kids compete for playing time, and they’re kids. They should get a scholarship until they flunk out or graduate. During that time they get four year’s of eligibility.

Also, Radakovich seems to miss the point. What Saban and others are doing is within the rules. Its just unethical. There is no rule to stop oversigning or over committing (two related but different issues).

With over committing, Saban has verbally committed to more than 25 kids but by rule can only sign 25, so he is pulling his verbal commitments. He could have said up front that he might pull the offer if a better player was interested but I doubt if he did. In any case, the NCAA rule is that a commitment isn’t binding until the offer letter is signed, so the kid gets screwed by the rule, not the over committing coach.

Early signing periods are about the only way to battle over committment issues. Let a school sign up to 15 people during the summer. Those kids who don’t get signed will know the school is holding those scholarships for better players.

Oversigning is where running off players comes into play. Already have 70 players on scholarship but you want to sign more than 15? Run off up to 10 more and you can sign up to 25. To me, this is worse than over committing. The kid is already on campus and has put in at least a year trying to contribute.

There are valid situations with career ending injuries or disagreements with coaching staffs, where a player moves on. Most often the NCAA allows someone with a career ending injury to stay in school on scholarship but no longer counts the player against the 85 limit. That sounds fair to me. The real question is when a player simply quits. Was he forced to or was it his decision?

I think that players need someone representing their interests and a local University panel is not going to do it.

GeoffDawg

January 20th, 2012
4:52 pm

Bama4life must be taking a break between teabagging sessions.

Trojan

January 20th, 2012
4:53 pm

Saban will do anything to win, even if unethical or even if he has to BEND the rules.

Good coach – yes
Man of integrity – no

Cobb Dawg

January 20th, 2012
4:54 pm

Great column, Jeff. Completely agree with your approach.

lay off

January 20th, 2012
4:55 pm

4 year guaranteed scholarship for these pampered players? lay off the weed before writing–they would show up, tank it for 4 years if they don’t start and collect all that easy money.

Beast from the East

January 20th, 2012
4:57 pm

Oh Boo Hoo

January 20th, 2012
4:59 pm

Isn’t Justin free now to choose a new school? Like Auburn or LSU or Arkansas and make Mean Ole Nick pay for not keeping his promise? If Justin is still that good why can’t he go elsewhere? Oh wait! Didn’t I read that Justin sat out this entire season with a injury?(Seriously, someone please clarify that for me) Is Mean Ole Nick coaching a football team or running a day care center? IF Mean Ole Nick is really taking advantage of these kids then the kids will catch on and sign elsewhere.

Jefferson Davis Hogg

January 20th, 2012
5:01 pm

Good points Mark ( another one)…The early signing period would have allowed the 7th verbal commitment of the year for Alabama signed on paper rather than what happened to the kid….It would also force the coaches to really do their homework on a kid before offering as well instead of having all this extra time to let the dust settle before making their final decisions…

Vain Jangling

January 20th, 2012
5:07 pm

“Hey, Sweetie, will you go to the prom with me? You will? Jeepers, that’s great! Hold that thought, and don’t take any calls from any other guys. Be sure to tell all your family and friends we’re going. We’re gonna have so much fun! That is, if we actually end up going with each other. I mean, you’ll be among the first to know if I get someone better looking than you to go with me instead.”