The practice of oversigning has become a hot button issue in college football. It’s also the grenade lobbed most oftenat the SEC by supporters, coaches and even commissioners of other conferences.
In the eyes of the football world, the Southeastern Conference is the clear leader when it comes to signing more players than a roster has room for… and then asking some of those players — after the fact — to either delay enrollment or go elsewhere.
With the SEC’s advantages in talent pool, coaching acumen and monster budgets/facilities, count MrSEC.com among those who feel the league could nix the practice and still be wildly successful. After all, if oversigning were that big of an advantage, Houston Nutt and Steve Spurrier would be competing for national titles right alongside Nick Saban. And they’re not.
Still, the SEC’s five-straight national titles will be used as proof positive that oversigning is the key to success. And when the SEC Meetings begin in Destin in a few weeks, you can be sure those schools in favor of oversigning will be making that point both loudly and clearly.
Tony Barnhart of CBSSports.com wrote earlier this week that he doesn’t believe this spring’s battle over roster spots will lead to any major changes in the SEC’s rulebook. “There are too many coaches in the SEC who don’t want to give up that power.” As usual, he’s right about that. But of the league’s 12 schools, who would be for and who would be against a more stringent signing day cap? And can we be sure how all 12 schools would vote if it came to such a point this spring?
Below are some guesses as to how each SEC institution — and the commissioner’s office — views the practice of oversigning. Some have made their feelings quite clear already.
The Commissioner’s Take
Mike Slive recently told Mike Herndon of The Mobile Press-Register that this spring’s discussions will center on more than just oversigning. “It’s a question of looking at all these issues that comprise how teams develop their ultimate roster. We have put together a group of our athletic directors who have been working on this now for several months and we anticipate looking at their report in Destin, when we do our business. We expect the First Amendment to be alive and well in Destin and I actually anticipate that we would do something more than we have done up to now.”
Slive is nearing the end of his reign. His contract expires next summer and he will be 72. He has already overseen what he himself has called the SEC’s “golden age.” What better way to cement his legacy than to help take away one of the greatest attack points other conferences use against the SEC? And if you think Slive doesn’t have some pull, you haven’t been paying attention these past few years.
Pay heed to that final sentence: “I actually anticipate that we would do something more than we have done up to now.” Does that mean an overall nixing of oversigning? It’s probably way too soon for that, but you should probably expect some changes to be made at the spring meetings.
This would be a pro-oversigning vote. Saban has been held up as one of the leaders in the oversigning frenzy. He refuses to give reporters clear information on who is being redshirted, grayshirted, etc, and then uses that withheld information to defend his practices.
“When you look at the numbers without knowing all the facts and internal information, I think that is a little premature and unfair.” So said the man who withholds all that internal information back in February.
“I really don’t know what everybody is so up in arms about,” he also said in February. “This is something that people have done in college football for a long time and it’s not illegal.” That’s true. It’s only frowned upon my most schools outside the Southeastern United States.
Alabama would be a “No.”
Bobby Petrino is the most popular man in the state of Arkansas today. He has turned the Razorbacks into a national player and he’s done so in three short years.
In March he told The Wall Street Journal: “I don’t see (oversigning) as a bad thing unless you’re being dishonest or waiting until the last minute, which eliminates (players’) visit opportunities with other schools.”
According to Oversigning.com — a website that does its best to track programs’ roster numbers — the Hogs finished fourth in the nation this year in the number of oversignees… behind only LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss.
Arkansas — most likely — would be a “No.”
According to Rivals.com, AU has inked 113 signees over the past four years. That’s an average of more than 28 signees per signing class.
According to Oversigning.com, the Tigers signed more players between 2002 and 2010 than any other SEC school.
Now, if Auburn’s administration came to believe that oversigning benefits Bama more than it does the Tigers, AU would probably vote “Yes” on making changes.
But with history as a guide, Auburn would most likely be a “No” vote.
This is a definite “Yes” vote. In February, President Bernie Machen went so far as to write in an editorial in Sports Illustrated: “These schools play roulette with the lives of talented young people. If they run out of scholarships, too bad. The letter-of-intent signed by the university the previous February is voided. Technically, it’s legal to do this. Morally, it is reprehensible.”
Will Muschamp might be an acorn from Saban’s tree, but he doesn’t yet have the clout to sway UF’s president on this matter. “Again, at Florida, we don’t grayshirt,” the new coach said recently. “That’s not something that we do; it’s not a policy of ours. We don’t place students; that’s not a policy of ours. That’s not something that I’m going to cross that bridge on right now because it’s not something that we do or is part of what we’re going to do.”
Florida would be a “Yes.” (Of course, Florida also happens to sit on top of the SEC’s deepest talent pool.)
Mark Richt is no fan of oversigning kids and then backing out on those scholarship promises. In February he said: “Our intention is to have integrity when we offer a kid and be able to follow through.”
Just this week, he said that oversigning is “an awful thing to do, I think it’s the wrong thing to do.”
New UGA athletic director agrees with his head coach. He has said that he’s in favor of new legislation that would curtail the practice in the SEC. “It’s just the right thing to do,” he said in February.
Georgia would be a “Yes” vote for change.
The Wildcats have been at the middle of the SEC pack when it comes to oversigning since 2002, according to Oversigning.com.
Also, UK actually welcomed in Elliott Porter who lost his spot at LSU last year. However, Porter later transferred back to Baton Rouge.
While the jury is out on Joker Phillips, AD Mitch Barnhart might have tipped his hand when he defended John Calipari’s right to come in and blow up many of Billy Gillispie’s players and commitments upon his arrival in Lexington.
In 2009, Barnhart said his new coach was honest with Gillispie’s guys, telling them whether or not they fit into his plans. “We have a spot for you or we can help you go someplace else.” Nice.
While Barnhart sounds like a man who’d have no issue with oversigning, it’s way too soon to know the feelings of incoming UK president Eli Capilouto, who was just tabbed for that position.
All that said, Kentucky is not a state that is deep in college football talent. If UK administrators believe the Alabamas and LSUs hold an advantage over the Cats through oversigning, it’s likely they would favor a true signing day cap.
For now, we’ll tag Kentucky as a very loose “Yes.
Like Saban, Miles is viewed as a leader of the oversigning movement. The Porter situation mentioned above touched off a national debate on the topic. CBSSports.com’s Gregg Doyel even referred to Miles as “a bad guy” in a column last August (though Porter’s eventual return to LSU might take some air out of that balloon).
It’s safe to include LSU as a definite “No” vote.
From 2002 through 2010, Mississippi State ranked second in the SEC only to Auburn in terms of signed prospects, averaging 27.44 per class. In February, Dan Mullen and State finished 9th in the country in oversigns according to Oversigning.com.
Interestingly, Mullen complained about oversigning this past February when several Bulldog recruits went elsewhere at the last minute. “You hear about how unethical some of those things are. It’s hard for me to tell our guys that we’re going to be men of our word, and then I’m not a man of my word during the recruiting process of these young men.”
As long as Houston Nutt is passing out schollys to Ole Miss like business cards, expect MSU to be a “No” vote for changes.
Nutt actually drove the SEC to cap recruiting classes — in theory — at 28 after he inked an astounding 37 players in his 2009 UM class. After the fact, Nutt apologized for causing any embarrassment for the league and said that he knew ahead of time that several of his signees would be going the junior college route. That didn’t stop America from pointing fingers at Nutt, Ole Miss and the SEC.
CBSSports’ Doyel may have called Miles “a bad guy,” but he said Nutt is “the worst serial offender” of grayshirting. Fans will no doubt say, “Who cares what Doyel wrote?” but sports fans across the country do read him. And that hurts the SEC’s image.
In his defense, Nutt said in February: “I’ve never had one parent come to me and say, ‘Coach Nutt really deceived me by saying, ‘Here’s a scholarship. And then say, peekabo, uh-oh, you don’t have one.’” But Ole Miss led the nation in oversigning this past year according to Oversigning.com’s numbers. And oddly enough, the Rebels are still expected to be under the scholarship limit this fall.
Mississippi would be a solid “No.”
Steve Spurrier made the most surprising comment regarding oversigning that we’ve seen to date when he told The Wall Street Journal that oversigning is very helpful to the SEC’s cause… thus validating every barb tossed at the league by outsiders.
Spurrier said that the practice is necessary in his state because so many players from South Carolina come from underprivileged backgrounds. (Apparently recruiting players from better schools with better grades is not an option.)
The Ol’ Ball Coach went so far as to say that the Big Ten has actually made a mistake by trying harder to curb oversigning. “I think that really hurts them a lot. They end up giving scholarships to a lot of walk-ons.”
That’s just amazing. And his handling of Lorenzo Mauldin also took a toll on Spurrier’s reputation.
While the school’s administration appears to have stepped on Spurrier’s toes regarding Stephen Garcia’s most recent suspension, it’s hard to imagine them at this point — with Carolina on the verge of its greatest success — undercutting their coach on the recruiting trail.
South Carolina would vote “No.”
Derek Dooley does not have a talent-rich state in which to recruit. And while he is a Saban accolyte and he did inherit a program very low on bodies, he has not shown himself to be an oversigner yet. As a program, Tennessee ranked ninth in the SEC from ’02 to ’10 in overall signees.
New Tennessee president Joe DiPietro and new chancellor Jimmy Cheek are too new to the mix to figure out where they stand on the controversial practice. But if Dooley were ever going to bring in 30, 31 or 32 recruits, the past two years would have been the time to do it. And he didn’t.
Tennessee — we think — would vote “Yes.”
Really? Do you need some background on this one?
Vandy has signed fewer players than anyone in the SEC over the past decade. With its academic requirements, VU is more often struggling to find guys who fit than it is looking for ways to tuck players into junior colleges.
Vandy is at a disadvantage in the nation’s toughest conference to begin with. If the Commodores feel that putting a hard cap on oversignees will help close the gap between themselves and their conference mates, they would back such a move.
Vanderbilt would vote “Yes.”
We aren’t trying to give you a definitive view on who would support and who would oppose a movement to cap oversigning in the Southeastern Conference. We’re simply looking for a ballpark guide as to who has previously made their feelings known.
And we’re also certain that many coaches and administrators — at different times — have probably sent mixed signals over the years.
But our initial impressions show that the SEC West schools (plus South Carolina) would likely be in favor of keeping the status quo while the five remaining East Division schools would probably favor a hard limit on 28 signees per year. That’s 28 period, not 28 plus back-counting.
The SEC’s commissioner sounds like a man who expects something to be done in Destin. The question is, who can be swayed to move from the “do nothing” crowd to the “do something” crowd?
UPDATE — Slive has prepared legislation on oversigning, Seth Emerson of The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and The Macon Telegraph reports today.
“There will be action because (the proposals) will come forth as proposed legislation for the presidents, the ADs and the other groups to opine on. But I feel good about them,” Slive said. “So I think the goal is to make sure that our prospective student-athletes are treated in a way that is as they should be treated, like students are treated. And I think this package does that.”
Slive did not give away what the package includes specifically, saying only that it will address “roster management.”
Get ready for Destin, folks.