06 February 2011
I've started epic posts on "oversigning" half a dozen times now. Maybe more. There's so many people so self-righteously angry about it all over the internet. Kevin Scarbinsky joined that drumbeat today - once again Scarbinsky is a couple of weeks behind the rest of the world in his internet trolling. I expect a column by Clay Travis about it any day now.
Nick Saban is everybody's favorite oversigning whipping boy. It's a role he's no doubt accustomed to - he's been the internet's number two villian (just behind Hitler) since he told reporters he wasn't leaving the Dolphins for Alabama. But here's the thing. There's really nothing to see here. No one has done anything wrong. Let's take a closer look at the rules and what Alabama has done.
Saban and Alabama have broken no rules. No one has even alleged that they have. The process is pretty clear. You put 85 (or fewer) student athletes on scholarship each year, and no more than 25 can be added in a year. You submit those lists to the NCAA and everyone goes on about their way.
If Alabama is fudging those lists (it's not), then the University would be even more of a pariah then SMU (it isn't) and it should receive the death penalty (it won't). No one has alleged any of this - with good reason.To cheat the NCAA this way is the surest path to destruction.
Why they won't release the lists is anybody's best guess. I honestly am not losing any sleep over it.
Last year, the SEC changed the rules to allow member institutions to only bring in 28 student athletes per class. This was mostly in response to the class of 33 Houston Nutt inked at Ole Miss a few years earlier. Big Ten fans are up in arms because the Big Ten only allows member institutions to sign the exact number that they have available.
Why does the Big Ten do this? Moral superiority? Past abuses? The warm fuzzy feeling of getting steamrolled in big bowls? I don't know. But the SEC (and many other conferences) have chosen not to follow their lead. That it disadvantages the Big Ten is a Big Ten problem.
No one gripes that the Ivy League's higher admission standards hurt their football teams. They've chosen their lot, they can either continue to feel morally superior or be competitive. The SEC doesn't allow partial qualifiers. The Big East does. I didn't like seeing Mike Ford (a 17 team Alabama signee - yes, I'm slightly exaggerating) playing for South Florida, but I moved on.
But why does the SEC allow 28 per class? Well, what other conveniently forget is that 28 letters of intent singed does not always mean 28 kids enrolled. Like, for instance, Mike Ford. At least one of the student athletes Alabama signed this year is already enrolled in junior college (Shannon Brown).
Sadly, it's a fact that public schools in Alabama and Mississippi are occasionally lacking. See our national rankings in most test scores, etc. So, more frequently than in richer, more industrialized states, kids in the south fail to qualify. It's not a fact that those in the Big Ten don't know; it's frequently used as a convenient insult. But when it hurts their argument, it is ignored.
Additionally, Alabama is more likely to offer a borderline student than Ohio State, for instance, because they are less limited on the number of kids they can sign. I find speculation about whether a kid is going to make a certain score on his ACTs or final semester of English to be exceptionally creepy, but the scuttlebut is that Bama will have another academic casualty or two who winds up either in prep school or in junior college.
A few years ago, Bama lost two signees to Major League Baseball. Things happen. Auburn signed a kid who didn't enroll because he had cancer. Yes, they should lose a scholarship because of that.
Student athletes should not be lied to. No one here is arguing that. And, for the largest part, no one is accusing Alabama of lieing to student athletes. Saban is notoriously honest - he even reminds the players that the scholarships are renewable on a year to year basis.
And here's the bottom line. Since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama, two student athletes have left the program without a "soft landing" - meaning fre school. Those two kids are Jimmy Johns and Jeremy Elder. They were both arrested for felonies.
Every other kid has received at least some sort of tacit nod to other programs. You can bet if Saban were poor-mouthing departures, less of them would be receiving free rides elsewhere. Either way, these are year to year scholarships. Something that isn't news to anyone. There's no obligation to renew the scholarship.
I was on the debate team in college. It paid my way. I was well aware that if I didn't do what I needed to do, there'd be no scholarship next year. Whether that was a certain amount of research or practice or keeping my grades up, I knew that there were expectations. I knew if I failed to meet those, I'd have to pay my own way. Why is a football scholarship any different?
My final thought is really this. Oversigning is legal. No matter the scenario, kids are getting free college tuition (barring felony arrests). Oversigning does, unequivocally, give a competitive advantage.
If it's legal, and no kids are harmed in the process, then the guy who's getting paid upwards of $4 million dollars a year to win football games ought to be doing it. If he's not, he's not doing everything he can - within the rules - to win football games. And that's not acceptable. That's the cold, hard, unfeeling truth here.