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Location, Tradition Have A Lot More To Do With Winning Than Oversigning

Oversigning has become the issue of Summer 2011, just as expansion was the story of Summer 2010.  The media has jumped on the issue — spurred on by Big Ten backers — and the SEC’s presidents even made changes to their league’s oversigning policy just last week.

While we at MrSEC aren’t big fans of the practice and would just as soon see it done away with across the country, we don’t believe the practice of oversigning is the sure-fire advantage than many anti-oversigning zealots make it out to be.  And let’s be honest, most of those folks are against oversigning only because they believe it gives the SEC a football advantage over their favorite league and not because they find the practice to be morally reprehensible as Florida president Bernie Machen recently dubbed it.

Since other sites have done the research on oversigning numbers across the nation — with special attention paid to the signing day results in the SEC and Big Ten — we thought we would go in a different direction.  If oversigning is supposed to be the reason the SEC thrives and the Big Ten doesn’t, then it’s time someone provide the proof. 

Using the numbers provided by the site Oversigning.com, we examine the 2002 through 2010 seasons in the SEC and Big Ten.  If the theory is, “The SEC is better than the Big Ten because they sign more players each year,” then the same must hold true when applied at a smaller level.  So, when looking at the SEC and Big Ten in those nine seasons, the teams that signed the most players should be the teams with the best records.  After all, if oversigning is the difference between Alabama and Northwestern, then it should also prove to be the difference between Florida and Mississippi State and between Ohio State and Purdue.

So is that what we found?  Is the theory provable?

Uh.  Not exactly.


SEC Oversigning

School
2002-2010 Signees
Rank in Signees
2002-2010 Wins
Rank in Wins
Auburn
253
1
86
4
Miss. State
247
2
40
11
S. Carolina
242
3
60
8
Arkansas
239 4
68
7
Ole Miss
237
5
53
9
Alabama
235
6
69
6
Kentucky
226
7
52
10
LSU
224
8
92
1
Tennessee
216
9
70
5
Florida
210
10
88
2
Georgia
207
11
88
3
Vanderbilt
191
12
31
12



Hmmm.  If the number of signees has a direct correlation to winning, we don’t see it here.  Since 2002, five teams have won SEC championships.  Four of those teams rank in the bottom seven in terms of signees.  Auburn ranks at the top in terms of oversigning, but they rank only fourth in terms of actual wins.  In fact, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Arkansas and Ole Miss rank very high in total signees but they rank just seventh, eighth, ninth and 11th in total victories.

Well, it’s Big Ten backers who make the biggest stink over oversigning.  Perhaps they’re used to looking at conference whose own numbers are skewed heavily in favor of those teams that have inked the most players.  Let’s check:


Big Ten Oversigning

School
2002-2010 Signees
Rank in Signees
2002-2010 Wins
Rank in Wins
Purdue
218
1
57
7
Minnesota
217
2
55
9
Mich. State
216
3
59
6
Illinois
214
4
37
10
Wisconsin
204
5
83
2
Indiana
202
6
36
11
Iowa
197
7
78
3
Michigan
195
8
71
5
Penn State
183
9
74
4
Ohio State
180
10
99
1
Northwestern
170
11
56
8



Okay, now wait a second.  The four programs that signed the most players rank between sixth and 10th in wins?  And the five winningest programs in the Big Ten ranked between fifth and 11th in total signees?

Something must be off here.  According to — ya know — actual data the number of signees a school inks doesn’t even provide much of an advantage inside a conference where each team plays similar schedules.  We’re comparing apples to apples here and we’re not seeing the “oversigning equals wins” theory being proven out.

Overall, both leagues had one program that won 90+ games over this span.  And both leagues had five programs that won 70+ games (the SEC had more 80+ win teams, but the Big Ten also had the most dominant winner from both conferences in Ohio State).

It makes sense that oversigning is an advantage.  If I buy 20 lottery tickets and you buy 17, I’ve got more chances of hitting the jackpot.  But that’s assuming the tickets I buy in the South are just as likely to win as the tickets you might buy in the North… and that might not be the case in recruiting.

To show you what we’re getting at, let’s look not at the number of signatures each school has signed but instead at the schools’ talent bases.  (UPDATE — These numbers have been corrected.)


Big Ten or SEC State
Number of 2002-2010 NFL Draft Picks from that State
Florida
212
Georgia
101
Ohio
100
Louisiana
84
Alabama
65
S. Carolina
62
Pennsylvania
59
Michigan
58
Illinois
48
Tennessee
37
Mississippi
34
Indiana
26
Arkansas
25
Iowa 
21
Wisconsin
21
Minnesota
19
Kentucky
17



Over the same span of years that Oversigning.com examined with regards to signatures, the nine SEC states produced a total of 637 NFL draft picks from their high schools.  The eight Big Ten states produced  352 draft picks from their high schools.  That’s a difference of nearly 300 pro athletes over a nine-year span.

You don’t think location and homegrown talent might have something to do with the difference between the leagues do you?

And just for kicks, let’s split the 23 schools in the SEC and Big Ten in half (or as close as we can).  Below are the 11 schools that recorded the most wins from 2002 through 2010:


11 Winningest SEC/Big Ten Programs from 2002-2010

School
Wins 2002-2010
Signees 2002-2010
Signees Per Victory
Rank In Win. % Since 1950
Ohio State
99
180
1.81
2
LSU
92
224
2.43
14
Florida
88
210
2.38
17
Georgia
88
207
2.35
13
Auburn
86
253
2.94
16
Wisconsin 83
204
2.45
59
Iowa
78
197
2.52
72
Penn State
74
183
2.47
7
Michigan
71
195
2.74
5
Tennessee
70
216
3.08
6
Alabama
69
235
3.40
4



Ranked by wins, six of the top 11 programs come from the SEC, five from the Big Ten.  All of the teams fall in the same range when it comes to signatures per win — so you don’t see the SEC with some ridiculously skewed number.  In fact, the one team most out of step with the others is Ohio State and if you’ve been keeping up with current events you probably know that the Buckeyes might’ve been bending a few major rules over this span.

When you toss in each team’s winning percentage over the last 60 years you find that nine of the 11 winningest SEC and Big Ten schools of the ’02 to ’10 period just happened to rank among the 17 winningest schools from 1950 through 2010, too.  In other words, tradition has a little something to do with recruiting and winning as well.

And before you say it, let’s also look at overall athletic budgets from 2009 just to give us an idea of where these schools rank nationally in terms of overall athletic expenses:


2009 National Athletic Budgets Rank
2.  Florida
3.  Ohio State
4.  LSU
5.  Tennessee
6.  Auburn
7.  Wisconsin
9.  Alabama
10.  Michigan
12.  Penn State
14.  Georgia
19.  Iowa


Let’s sum all this up, shall we?  Many Big Ten backers claim that oversigning is the work of the devil because it’s the only thing keeping the Big Ten from competing with the SEC.

However, when you look at the numbers, you find that the number of signees has very little to do with the number of wins a program rolls up.  Is there some advantage?  Sure.  SEC teams from 2002 through 2010 averaged 3.42 signees per victory.  Big Ten teams average 3.11 signees over the same period.  Hardly the night and day difference one would expect.

But while oversigning isn’t the magic bullet Big Ten fans would want you to believe, things like local talent base, tradition and spending serve as tried and true differentiators. 


We at MrSEC.com aren’t fans of oversigning.  As noted above, we would have no problem if every school went to a hard cap at 25. 

But the argument that oversigning is the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten?  Well, that doesn’t hold water.  And as you can see above, that argument doesn’t even hold water when you make comparisons within the same conference. 

In theory, signing more players than your neighbor should be a big advantage.  But in reality, it’s not.

 


13 comments
jwinslow
jwinslow

First of all, the SEC is not superior because of oversigning. It has a benefit, but it is secondary to the main causes. Local talent is superior in the SE for 2nd/3rd tier teams (vs what Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota work with), and their recruiting is better than their counterparts in the Big Ten and elsewhere.

The premise is not that oversigning magically, and by itself (which is what evaluating W-L does), makes Purdue equal, superior or in the ballpark of Ohio St.

The premise is that oversigning makes Alabama better than Alabama without oversigning. A roster can be improved when it has more athletes to choose from, particularly grayshirts & medical redshirts are used to help avoid exceeding scholarship limits.

Oversigning allows the school to transfer some of their risk in recruiting and place it on the backs of the student athletes. Verbals are not binding, qualifying is sometimes uncertain, and most of all, many players simply don't pan out. Allowing a bigger throughput of athletes to protect against those negative outcomes enhances your roster.

The premise of the oversigning argument is whether a team is better with just 25 signees (risking decommitments, non-qualifiers) or 28-30 signees, particularly if they find ways to open up new scholarships or delay enrollment when their scholarship gamble busts and they go over their limit.

Thanks for the work on the article, I appreciate the work that went into it and the conversation it started.

A different Mike
A different Mike

I disagree. Athletic scholarships on a year to year basis should be based in part on athletic performance. The NCAA's cap of 85 creates a demand for these spots that far exceeds the supply. I'm sympathetic to the athlete, but he or she needs to understand that they are entering an extraordinarily competitive marketplace for these spots. If they want a more secure path to a free education, then they need to focus on an academic scholarship.

Even the NFL, which has a better body of work to judge, more resources for evaluation, a smaller pool to evaluate, and less issues to evaluate (such as likely classroom performance and continued growth) has a hit-and-miss record in the draft. Evaluating college kids becomes that much more complicated -- more kids to look at, fewer eyeballs to evaluate them, and more issues to consider. The NCAA has mechanisms in place to identify and punish coaches who fail to recruit kid who can be academically successful, and the Internet has dozes of websites that identify coaches with high rates of attrition. The system has accountability, despite protests to the contrary.

I would love to the see the NCAA simply go with a hard signing cap every year and stop worrying about the total number on aid. That eliminates the pressure on a program to "maximize" their roster by moving kids out to create more room for kids coming in. I understand that concept has real costs associated with it and that Title IX magnifies those costs. I also understand that BCS conference schools are spending collectively hundreds of millions on stadium renovations, such as video boards twice the size of my house.

But capping the roster at 85 GIAs, combined with locking a program into kids who simply cannot compete at a certain level, means deserving kids will be left on the outside looking in. That's unfair, too.

Mike Pemberton
Mike Pemberton

Second part of comment

I have personally argued this with several D1 coaches who are friends and have told them that they, the coaches, should be responsible for their own judgments as to ability, etc. when they sign the kid. If the kid plays by the rules, does everything asked of him/her and simply does not progress enough to contribute, then the coaches made a "mistake."

My bottom line is that scholarships ought to be for 4 years provided the kid plays by the rules and everybody, including the coaches, are responsilbe for their own errors in judgment.

Final point (albeit unrelated and not to be considered a criticism of Mr. Task): The reason I put my real name and hometown below is that I believe a person ought to stand behind what they say and not "hide behind" anonymity.

Mike Pemberton
Rockwood, Tennessee

Mike Pemberton
Mike Pemberton

Broken into 2 comments because it would not accept the length in one.

Good work by John & interesting points by Mr. Task. Statistics are simply that, statistics, but an excellent job by John in assimiliating relevant stats and making an argument from them. Are John's conclusions drawn from those stats all correct? Perhaps not, but they do make a compelling argument. Mr. Task's also raises some good points.

I have no problem with signing 25-28 per year. Attrition (academics, injuries, unacceptable behavior, failure to comply with rules) in the 18-22 year old age group is simply higher than other, older age groups. Therefore, I see NO problem with signing 25-28 per year. What I do have a BIG problem with is "running off" players who have abided by the rules and done everything that has been asked of them simply because they have not turned out to be as "good" of a player as was hoped.

Mike Pemberton
Rockwood, Tennessee

Connor
Connor

Great article. One small point, and I don't think it changes much, but your draft numbers are off. I realize you got all this from oversigning.com, but I'm pretty sure those are the number of draft picks from colleges in those states and not high schools. There's no way Indiana produces more draft picks than Georgia. USA Today has a pretty good tool to look at this: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/draft...
If you look at the draft picks produced by the high schools in those states, the SEC advantage is even more pronounced. From 2000-2010 SEC state high schools produced 824 draft picks compared to 423 for Big Ten State high schools, very nearly a 2 to 1 advantage.

SecMan
SecMan

Good article, point well made. Just as interesting in my opinion are the political winners and losers within the conference and how the battle was played out. It seems to me the press decided that a system of letting a recruit know the risks up front in order to make a decision and live with it was somehow immoral. Florida and Georgia exploited this dubious argument to stake out the “moral high ground”. Of course it is purely coincidental that those two states are the most talent-laden in the conference and thus will be benefited significantly. Other SEC schools who have been successfully recruiting those states will now be leaving a few on the table, giving Georgia and Florida the inside track to even more talent. With the new ruling, the deck has been re-stacked and the rich got richer courtesy of a guilt-ridden commissioner.

johnmrsec
johnmrsec

Sisyphean Task...

No issues. Just pointing out that we weren't looking to debate what is oversigning and what isn't... we were just taking the argument -- albeit oversimplified -- and showing that signing X amount of players doesn't guarantee success over another school that signs Y. And that's the basic premise of the argument made against oversigning, regardless of how exactly oversigning is defined. It boils down to a numbers game in the eyes of most complainers, but a look at the numbers suggests it's not the magic bullet many folks would like to believe.

I view your request as a totally different type of study.

Agree to disagree... and again, thanks for reading the site.

John

kyallie
kyallie

Great read, good job!

Dave
Dave

Without commenting on the accuracy/inaccuracy (just scanned it heading out the door) - what a huge amount of work. Kudos on the effort, and seems well presented. Will look over in more detail later tonight.

Sisyphean Task
Sisyphean Task

As with most of the discussion on this topic, there is a fundamental flaw in the above post: Namely, zero discussion or even attempt at disambiguation between (1) "oversigning," defined by the website Mr. Pennington relies on as "the act of accepting more signed letters of intent on National Signing Day then you have room for under the 85 scholarship limit," and (2) the total number of players that a school has signed in a given year or a given period of years. To wit, if I sign 28 in Year 1 and 29 in Year 2, does that mean I've got 7 more players on my roster than I have room for under the scholarship limit? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Thus the fallacy in associating gross signing numbers with some sort of disreputable or rule-bending behavior.

If you're going to write about this issue with the pretense of using statistically or methodologically sound figures, you at least incur an obligation to explain what those numbers stand for, and the relationship between those numbers and what you mean when you invoke the term "oversigning." If anyone buys the argument that signing 28 players in a year is, by definition, always and everywhere, normatively "worse" than signing 25 players, he/she is a sucker. Unless and until some better research is done to explain specific outcomes in specific years at specific institutions (such as, to take one example, the number of grayshirted players and whether they were dealt with dishonestly), then any analysis like the one conducted in this post (and encouraged by the misleading displays of gross signing numbers at Oversigning.com) is little more than tabloid fare.

That said, I appreciate the effort to show that those in the Big Ten who would cry "unfair advantage" have no basis for doing so EVEN IF we grant them the misguided premise on which their argument is based.

Mike Pemberton
Mike Pemberton

I understand your points and they have validity. I believe in personal responsiblity and believe the lion's share should rest on the shoulders of the million dollar coaches much more than the shoulders of a 17-18 year old kid. The coach's responsibility is to evaluate the kid from athletic, academic and personal "behavior" standpoints and, if he/she meet the criteria of that coach and or program, then the coach/program should be held responsible for that decision. The kid's responsiblity is to do the best he/she can do in academics and athletics and play by the rules, stay out of trouble, etc., etc. If the coach/program misjudged the kid's abuility to produce from an athletic standpoint a couple of year down the road, that's on the coach and the program and should not be on the kid, assuming the kid has done everyting he/she has been asked to do.

johnmrsec
johnmrsec

Connor....

Good catch... Used the same tool to grab my numbers on NFL picks from 2002-2008 but must have had the "college state" button clicked accidentally. Correcting the issue now.

John

A different Mike
A different Mike

I understand your point, and it's a fair perspective. However, the theoretical athlete in question by definition is not doing everything they are being asked to do. They're certainly attempting, and the lack of results may be in no way related to lack of effort. But it's an athletic grant-in-aid to a student-athlete. We're certainly willing to end the arrangement for athletes who do not perform as students, but somehow we want to exempt students who do not perform as athletes.

I know it sounds harsh, but sometimes, doing our best isn't enough. You don't get passing grades simply for effort. You have to perform. If you want to accept an athletic GIA at one of the top programs in a sport, then you had better be ready to perform spectacularly well. If I go to MIT, the academic competition's going to be intense. I know that when I accept their offer.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] you can imagine my reaction to John Pennington’s analysis of exactly that point. … Let’s sum all this up, shall we?  Many Big Ten backers claim that [...]

  2. [...] Read more of “Location, Tradition have a lot more to do with winning than oversinging” o… 6.9.11 [...]



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