Derek Dooley does not like the SEC’s new “roster management” rules to address over-signing, and the Tennessee coach is not afraid to let everybody know it. Over-signing is when a school signs too many players than they have scholarships available.
Dooley, the son of UGA coaching legend Vince Dooley, spoke out strongly against the new rules this week to the AJC after wrapping up Tennessee’s 2012 class of 20 signees, which included five players from Georgia. Over-signing and related issues are one of recruiting’s hottest topics after Alabama coach Nick Saban told a couple of longtime commitments at the last minute that they couldn’t sign with the Crimson Tide this year. One of those was North Atlanta RB Justin Taylor, who was committed to Alabama for around a year and had plenty to say about the Crimson Tide’s tactics after he signed with Kentucky [Click on story link].
Tennessee's Derek Dooley (pictured): "I know Nick Saban feels the same way I feel. He may not tell you that. But a lot of us are at the mercy of our school presidents. Where we failed as coaches is we did not do a good job of communicating the positives of over-signing and being on the front end of the argument. So now we find ourselves in a real defensive posture." (AP photo)
Dooley basically blasted anything and everything associated with the SEC’s new rules, repeatedly emphasizing “the good things about over-signing.” He supported his argument with examples, told us what Nick Saban really thinks, and explained the connection to the SEC school presidents. Dooley also pointed out that that the SEC’s coaches (himself included) did a “poor job” of communicating the positives of over-signing, and he freely admitted he didn’t have all the answers. Even if you agree or totally disagree with Dooley’s comments on over-signing, you have to give him credit for going public with his strong opinions on such a sensitive issue, unlike many of his politically-correct peers. Here’s the Q&A with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley:
- How did the SEC’s new over-signing rules impact you this year at Tennessee? “I think it had a big impact. It was very challenging to manage down the stretch because, as you know, most of our schools are recruiting some of the top players in the country. And the reality is some of the players don’t make a decision until signing day. And so it really puts stress on you [as a coach] on what to do because the odds are, in my experiences, you’re going to get one out of four down the stretch. If you’re recruiting 8 guys, generally you’re going to get two of them. Here’s the problem. If I have 21 commitments at this point and I only sign 25, that’s four spots. What do I do with those 8 that I’m still recruiting? That’s the challenge. So you say, well you only better recruit four down the stretch. If you do that and you only get one, now you’ve come up short on your roster. And that’s the challenge you have as a coach. In the past, when you could over-sign, it allowed you to go into that last weekend and come out no matter what happened – whether you got normally what you get, or maybe you got lucky and got a couple of more guys than you thought you would. It allowed you to get the best possible players you could get.”
- So you want to do away with the new rule? “I thought the rule we had in place before was a great rule, a fair rule. I think the perception is that over-signing is bad for the student-athlete. I would argue the opposite. I think over-signing is good for the student-athlete. Let me give you some hypotheticals: Let’s say a a guy gets hurt his senior year, and there’s a good chance he won’t play his freshman year of college. He has got to do surgery and rehab. What could we do in the past? In the past, we could sign him, grayshirt him and put him in next year’s class. That allowed him to come to the type of school he wanted to come to, whereas now those kind of guys have to go to a different school. So that’s the first scenario. The second scenario is let’s take a guy who academically not eligible. That situation happened to me this December. You look at their mid-year grades and you see that they’re going to be an academic risk, or there’s a good chance that they won’t qualify. Well, then you have to make a decision. Because in the past, you could sign them and if he didn’t qualify, place him in a junior college, help him get into a junior college and give him the motivation to come back to your school one day. Now you can’t sign him, or you’re not willing to take that risk because you can’t be short on your roster. So now they’re more on their own, and they don’t get to sign with the school that they want to go to. So there’s a lot of good things about over-signing that gives more opportunities for good players. When you eliminate that, now you’re providing less opportunities for them.”
- So you think there’s a lot of good things about over-signing? “Here’s the comedy of all of this. What we’ve done is not really eliminate over-signing. Here’s why I say that: if you have only 20 spots to give on your roster, you can over-sign by five. The only schools that can’t over-sign are the ones that have 25 openings [Note: SEC schools can sign more if they have early enrollees that are counted against the previous year’s class]. So we try to say in the media that we’ve stopped over-signing in the SEC but we haven’t. And I would argue that over-signing is not a bad thing, and it has been a healthy thing for college football, and it has been a healthy thing for the student-athletes. It just has been painted negatively by one or two exceptional cases that happened over the last five years.”
- What do you think about the topic of grayshirting or asking a player to delay his enrollment until the following year? “We had one player last year [in 2011] that we signed. We grayshirted him and he’s enrolled right now. He’s doing great, and he still has four or five years to play for us. And you know what? That’s the best situation for because he wanted to play to come to Tennessee. If we couldn’t have over-signed [in February 2011], I wouldn’t have signed him, so he would’ve been at a place that he didn’t want to be at … So there’s a lot of positive things in over-signing and we as coaches have done a poor job in getting those stories out in the media. There’s just a real negative association with the word ‘over-signing.’”
- A counterargument would be, if a high school senior committed to Tennessee gets injured, wouldn’t you want him to go ahead and sign him to get him on campus as early as possible so he could be under the daily supervision of Tennessee’s doctors and trainers? “Well, he can get the same medical care and rehab at home. What you’re going to get into by putting him in next year’s class is that it doesn’t shortchange you for this year’s class just to rehab a guy. You can get the same medical care anywhere you go, as long as you go to the right doctors.”
- So you think that an injured kid who takes a grayshirt and sits at home will really get the same medical care on his own as if he was under the daily supervision of a college football team’s medical staff? “Well, I think it’s important that the high school coaches and people in that young man’s community are involved with that. You know, that’s a decision that the college has to make. If they don’t feel comfortable in letting him rehab on his own, they don’t have to over-sign him.”
- Then there’s the “trust” factor. What if a kid agrees to takes a grayshirt and enroll the following year, but the college coach doesn’t save a spot for the kid for the following year because he can upgrade with a better player or for other reasons? “That’s a fair argument. But if there was a way to bind it … But I don’t know of any coach that didn’t promise a guy a gray-shirt and didn’t follow through with it. Because what’s going to happen, and that’s what I always say, let the market take care of the coaches who are abusing it. If a coach lies to a player, who is going to want to play for that coach? We’ve created a real negative association with over-signing, and the positive things for the players have not been publicized, and that has been real disappointing. That is what led to a reactionary piece of legislation that every coach has been against. We didn’t eliminate over-signing. The school presidents think we eliminated over-signing and we didn’t. If I only have 18 scholarships to give on my roster, I can over-sign by seven. The only rule is that we can’t sign more than 25. So we’re playing this game in the media that we’re trying to look like we’re changing. The fact of the matter is that we’re not really looking at it from the student-athlete’s perspective. We’re taking one or two exceptional cases that happened and made reactionary legislation. We don’t look at the 98-percent of the other times where the student-athletes have benefitted from over-signing.”
- If you say every coach is against the new over-signing rules, why aren’t they all speaking out about it like you? “I can tell you more feel that way. It’s a matter of if they are willing to say it or not. I know Nick Saban feels the same way I feel. He may not tell you that. But a lot of us are at the mercy of our school presidents. Where we failed as coaches is we did not do a good job of communicating the positives of over-signing and being on the front end of the argument. So now we find ourselves in a real defensive posture. I think the important thing is that we need to find a way to allow over-signing and eliminate the abuses that came with it. I’m not for putting a young man in a bad situation. If there’s a way we can maintain over-signing and eliminate any of the abuses that caused the concerns, then that’s what I would be for. Because there are so many positive benefits of over-signing for the players.”
RELATED: Sandy Creek DB Shaq Wiggins, who committed to UGA last weekend, was offered by Vanderbilt on Monday. “I got to talk to about four coaches, including the head coach [James Franklin]. They all knew that I committed to Georgia but they wanted to let me know that I had an offer from Vanderbilt, and they invited me to their Junior Day.”
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