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Oversigning in College Football: Should It Be Stopped?

By

Les Miles

Les Miles came under fire for his handling of freshman Elliott Porter this summer. Porter, a victim of oversigning, has since transferred to Kentucky.

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Because I know people are going to want to know, do you have any horse in this race? In other words, are you a player who was burned by oversigning? A friend of a player who was burned?

Not really. I am not a former player and I don't know anyone personally, outside of those who I have talked to through the site who have been casualties of oversigning. I just think it is a slime-ball tactic used by desperate coaches that are willing to do anything to get a competitive edge and who are not in the business of being educators and mentors, but rather in the business of serving their own interests.

Because I know the SEC people are going to want to know, did you go to an SEC school? A Big Ten school?

I am not an alumnus of a Big Ten school nor did I attend an SEC school. I was born in the South, raised in the North and then lived in the South as a young adult, so I have ties to both regions. But at the end of the day the team(s) I root for, where I live, or any other personal information is really irrelevant in my opinion.

Ultimately, what do you hope to accomplish with the site?

The end-game for oversigning.com is to see the NCAA seriously address the issue and revamp their recruiting by-laws to prohibit all teams from the practice of oversigning recruits. If we can play a small role in helping that happen then oversigning.com will have been worth the time and effort. In the meantime, I hope we can continue to chronicle the activities of coaches that oversign their rosters and share the stories of the kids that [lost] scholarship opportunities in the process—kids like Elliott Porter at LSU who had his scholarship yanked at the last minute because LSU’s Les Miles oversigned his roster and had to cut players in order to get down to the NCAA-mandated 85 scholarship limit.

You mention the Elliott Proter situation. For those not familiar, can you explain exactly what happened to Porter? Also, I'm hoping you can you clarify one point: Given that Porter signed a letter of intent (LOI), why wasn’t LSU obligated to honor that LOI? How does the institution get out of its commitment to these players?

The Elliott Porter situation speaks to the very reason oversigning.com exists. Elliott Porter was one of the first verbal commitments to LSU’s 2010 recruiting class and signed a letter of intent with LSU on National Signing Day. Elliott enrolled early and was on campus for summer conditioning when he got the news that Les Miles had made the decision that there wouldn’t be room for him in the 2010 recruiting class and that the only way that he could remain at LSU was if he would accept a greyshirt, pay his own way and rejoin the football team in January of 2011.

Porter, outraged and disappointed at the news, refused the greyshirt offer and asked to be released from his letter of intent, which is a one-way binding agreement, so that he could find another school to go to on scholarship. He eventually landed at Kentucky on scholarship, but not before airing his grievances with Les Miles and LSU. According to Porter, he was never asked or warned about the possibility of having to take a greyshirt; he was completely caught off guard at the last minute.

The Letter of Intent that high school recruits sign is a one-way binding agreement that prevents players from changing their mind and going to another school between the period that they sign the letter, which is in February of their senior year of high school, and the time they actually arrive on campus, which sometimes is as late as August of the same year. Once a recruit signs the letter of intent, they “belong” to the school so to speak, and the only way they can get out of that agreement is to ask the school to sign a release. The issue with this agreement is that the school is not obligated to give the recruit a scholarship; in fact, they are not obligated to do anything as a result of accepting a signed letter of intent. It is simply a signed agreement by the recruit to attend a certain school and it prohibits the recruit from being able to accept grants-in-aid from another university.

Certain coaches, such as Huston Nutt, Les Miles and Nick Saban, have used the LOI as a tool to keep recruits from going to other schools despite not actually having room for them. The NCAA by-laws state that a school can only have 25 new scholarship players enter the program every year and a max of 85 total players on the roster, but there is nothing that limits the letters of intent they can accept and nothing that binds the school to honor the letter of intent with an actual scholarship. Coaches can technically sign as many players as their conference will allow them and prior to 2009 the SEC had no limits on the number of players the coaches could sign. This is only part of the problem. In addition to being able to accept an unlimited amount of signed letters of intent, coaches have found that they can hedge their bets against future attrition (medical, grades, arrests, etc) by oversigning their roster, which is done by accepting more letters of intent than you have room for under the 85 scholarship limit.

Let’s say a school has 67 scholarship players set to return, giving the school 18 openings for new scholarship recruits (85-67 = 18). Coaches that oversign will accept 25 to 28 signed letters of intent despite not having enough room should all of those guys make it to campus. These coaches are hoping for or expecting to have a certain number of players leave the team in order to make the numbers work. In LSU’s case with Elliott Porter, all 27 of the players they signed made it academically and they didn’t have enough natural attrition to allow them to honor their “verbal” commitment to give him a scholarship in August.

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