While the practice has been common for years, only recently have pointed questions been raised about how coaches put "oversigning" to use--and why, for that matter, the practice is still allowed.
"Oversigning" occurs when a coach recruits and signs more players than he's allowed to have under NCAA rules. When those coaches find themselves with more than the allowable 85 scholarship players, they have to find some way to get back under the limit--and that's where the trouble starts.
Back in August, LSU coach Les Miles came under fire for his handling of freshman Elliott Porter--a kid who, after signing his national letter of intent in February and enrolling at school in June, was eventually told that if he wanted to remain at LSU, he'd have to take "greyshirt" year (in other words, remain on the team without a scholarship). The reason? Miles didn't have a scholarship to give him. Porter, offended by Miles' request, has since transferred to Kentucky.
Miles is hardly alone, of course. Houston Nutt of Ole Miss has been criticized for his use of the practice. So, too, has Alabama's Nick Saban.
Even still, nothing has changed, and while the NCAA limit on scholarships remains in tact, there is no rule specifically targeted at oversigning. It is the stated goal of Oversigning.com--a new blog dedicated to the investigation of oversigning in college football--to change that.
The man responsible for the site recently agreed to answer some questions about oversigning, about his blog, and about what he'd like to see the NCAA do about the oversigning issue. He requested that we protect his anonymity. The transcript of our interview is as follows.
Can you explain why and when you launched Oversigning.com?
The site was launched on Feb. 10, 2010, shortly after National Signing Day, and it was created for the sole purpose of investigating and discussing oversigning, discovering its historical roots and to helping lead the charge to have oversigning removed from college athletics.
If you have been to the site you might have noticed the following quote at the top of the homepage: "It's none of your business. Aiight? And don't give me this stuff about the fans need to know, because they don't need to know." Looking back on how all of this started, I would have to point that quote from Nick Saban back in April of 2008 as the real catalyst for my deep interest in oversigning. That quote has always bothered me. It came from an article, written by Ian Rapoport, where Ian asked Saban directly about his scholarship numbers. Saban told Rapoport that it was none of his business.
That was the first time that I know of that Saban was called out on his practice of oversigning the roster and it was pretty apparent that he didn't take too kindly to the line of questioning. The following year, we saw Houston Nutt sign 37 players, which led to the "Huston Nutt Rule" in the SEC which limited the number of players that could be signed to 28 each year. And from then on I have followed oversigning very closely, which ultimately led to the creation of the website as I mentioned earlier.
You obviously have problems with the oversigning process, which, it should be pointed out, is actually not against NCAA rules. What, in your opinion, makes it "wrong?"
First off, I am not alone in thinking that it is wrong. As I mention on the website, Bobby Dodd and Georgia Tech had such a problem with oversigning in the SEC that they removed Georgia Tech from the SEC in the 1960s'. The Big Ten Conference has banned the practice for decades for obvious reasons. And several other coaches, such as Mark Richt, simply refuse to oversign their rosters. So it's not as if I'm alone here.
What makes it wrong is that it creates the opportunity for kids to get squeezed out and discarded. Furthermore, and more importantly, oversigning creates an environment of professionalism in a sport that is regulated by an entity (NCAA) whose mission is to safeguard student-athletes and protect their amateur status. The NCAA's mission statement is as follows: "Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount."
Oversigning and the issues surround it are not in line with the NCAA mission statement and they must change their recruiting by-laws in order to remove the oversigning loophole, preserve the amateur status of student-athletes and ensure that the educational [aspect] of being a student-athlete is truly paramount.
Who are the worst offenders of oversigning? I'm talking coaches, programs and conferences.
By far, the worst of the BCS conferences in terms of oversigning is the SEC, and it is not even close. SEC schools oversign their rosters more than any other conference, specifically schools such as LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss. The statistic that stands out the most is the number of times between 2002 and 2010 that SEC schools signed 25 recruits or more in back to back years: 54, as compared to the Big Ten's 18. That is staggering. We actually took a closer look at all the numbers and posted them on the site:
With regards to coaches, obviously Huston Nutt comes to mind, but in terms of national championship caliber coaches, Nick Saban and Les Miles top the list.