College Football 2011: The Time Has Come for the NCAA To Act on Oversigning

Matt MattareCorrespondent IIIMarch 5, 2011

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Houston Nutt of the Ole Miss Rebels watches a play from the sidelines during the game against the Tulane Green Wave at the Louisiana Superdome on September 11, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In what’s becoming a yearly ritual, a major newspaper or magazine has printed an article on the practice of oversigning in college football. The latest one that has created a commotion amongst fans was published in the Wall Street Journal. In this piece, Hannah Karp and Darren Everson essentially give a handful of SEC coaches a platform to defend the practice while weaving in a subtle commentary. 

For those who are unfamiliar with this practice, oversigning is when colleges sign more than the maximum allotted number of scholarships they’re technically allowed to hand out. Typically what happens in these situations is the coach must revoke a scholarship either from a player who is already on the roster or from one of the incoming recruits.

If the player is an incoming recruit he has the option to grayshirt (delay enrollment for a semester so the team can get under the limit), fake an injury so they can receive a medical scholarship and not push the school over the 85-scholarship limit, or transfer.

In the WSJ article, Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino and Houston Nutt all go on the defensive. The trio’s sentiments are relatively similar: they’re planning for attrition, whether it’s kids not qualifying academically, transfers or injuries. They infer they simply cannot be expected to win if they’re not allowed to push that scholarship limit to the brink.

The authors of the article call a spade a spade though and articulates the root of why it happens:

“Coaches love oversigning because it gives them more talent to choose from, keeps it out of the hands of competitors and allows them to replace players who quit, fail to qualify academically or violate team rules. If a spot opens up from this sort of attrition, they have a highly sought-after recruit to fill it.”

These coaches are flagrantly breaking the stated NCAA scholarship rules and the only ones who are negatively affected by it are the kids left out in the cold. The column quotes the president of the University of Florida using words like “reprehensible,” “disgusting,” and “nefarious” to describe the practice.

The million-dollar question then becomes why is the NCAA, an organization whose main concern is supposedly the safety and welfare of its student-athletes, quietly sitting by and not bringing the hammer down on violators? It’s a legitimate inquiry, but there seem to be little more than conspiracy theories offered to answer it.

The reality is that this is something the NCAA needs to crack down on immediately. Coaches in the SEC—and to a lesser extent the ACC—act as if using 18-year-old kids like disposable pawns in a game of chess is no big deal. If the team happens to be over the limit and someone has to lose a scholarship then shucks, that’s just how things go.

Do people really expect these coaches to risk the unthinkable: not being exactly at the 85-scholarship limit? Don’t critics realize that it’s necessary to sacrifice a few teenagers’ well-being and futures to ensure the fourth-string cornerback with high potential gets on-campus? It’s called contingencies!

As the Good Reverend Nutt points out, “You just can't have this perfect world of, we're gonna sign 22 this year.” The fact that in his perfect world he’d still be oversigning (22*4 = 88) is beside the point.

Of course no one should be so naïve to think that college football isn’t a major business. Student welfare is only a top priority when it’s conducive to programs winning and making money. But let’s stop inferring that a big reason the SEC has established itself as head and shoulders above the rest of the conferences is because they’re doing this and others aren’t.

It’s time to cease acting as if being a few scholarships under the limit of 85 is enough to cripple a program.

Guys like Nutt and Spurrier genuinely seem to believe they’ll be sliding back to the rest of the college football world if they can’t continue this practice they’ll be doomed. After all, as The Ol’ Ball Coach implies, a reason the Big Ten has fallen so far behind the SEC is that they’ve placed a hard 25-player cap on recruiting classes which has resulted in them “giving scholarships to quite a few walk-ons.”

That’s complete nonsense. That may rank slightly below “the weather is cold” and right above “the girls aren’t as attractive” in terms of being impactful. It has little to no true effect on why there’s a gap between the SEC and the rest of the college football world.

Putting a stop the practice of oversigning has much less to do with competitive balance and more to do with genuinely protecting the student-athlete. The SEC teams will survive and thrive even if they are forced to deal with a hard cap.

Their insistence and reliance on oversigning is a clear and simple act of greediness, nothing more. If you give a coach an inch, he’ll take a foot…and then deal with having to cut the other 11 inches when he sees which ones are the best.

Kids are being exploited to the highest degree by coaches who are willing to string them along for completely self-serving reasons. It’s an abominable practice that’s garnering more and more national attention as stories of these student-athletes getting the rug pulled out from under the surface.

Simply put, oversigning is something that goes against the core principles of the governing body of the sport. If that’s not enough to make the NCAA turn the barrel of its gun toward this issue then who knows what will.