Let me just come out and say it: I'm not overly bothered by oversigning. Recruiting is, at its very core, a numbers game. You play the numbers and build a team through quantity. Now, I don't think you should run off every second or third stringer, but I do believe that some attrition is healthy for everyone involved. Yes, even the players.
What bothers me most about the oversigning argument is that I don't honestly believe that the majority of oversigning advocates give a damn about the players. I think a lot of it is typical Yankee elitism towards the south. Yet another way for them to look their noses down at us and call us dumb rednecks (and don't for an instant believe there is not a racial component to this either --the "we have to protect those poor black kids who are too dumb to read a contract" is beyond offensive). Now, I agree with TSK that Andy Staples recent SI article was "tough but fair". I don't agree with Staples, but I do think he's attempting to honestly address the issue. In fact, he quoted Tommy Tuberville's defense of oversigning:
"I always liked to oversign seven or eight just to sign kids, to motivate them, and then we're going to put you in junior college," Tuberville said. "Once you sign, then we can continue to call you and motivate you to go to class, get your grades higher. Then you go to junior college, and you'll be in a lot better shape. Now, you're not going to be able to do that."
One of the signees Tuberville's Auburn staff placed in a junior college was defensive tackle Nick Fairley. After a stint at Copiah-Lincoln Junior College in Wesson, Miss., Fairley went to Auburn, where he helped the Tigers win a national title. He now is considered the top prospect in the 2011 NFL draft by many analysts.
How does oversigning.com address this defense? Well, let's see.
Memo to Tommy Tuberville, you're right, no one had to tell the Big 10 that they had to ban oversigning, they already knew it was bad for the student-athletes and decided to be proactive instead of reactive. Being that the Big 10 banned oversigning in 1956, 8 years before Georgia Tech decided to leave the SEC because of oversigning, you would think that the SEC would have figured out that this was bad for student-athletes and not worth the human expense to allow it to continue. Nonetheless, here we are 55 years later and still trying to get the SEC to come to its senses and put some real teeth into its oversigning rules.
One of the major contributing factors to the oversigning issue, and why it is so prevalent in the SEC, is the academic aspect of recruiting a student-athlete and the JUCO farm system the resides in the Southeastern portion of the country. As Tuberville mentions, when he was at Auburn, he would sign 7-8 extra and place them in JUCO in hopes that maybe one day a guy like Nick Fairley would come back.
Here's a news bulletin, Nick Fairley is not going to Notre Dame, Michigan, USC, Penn State, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, etc., etc. Academically he would have not been admitted into Notre Dame - Notre Dame has never had a JUCO player, ever. Yet the BCS wants everyone to believe that their National Championship is legitimate and that everyone is competing for it on a level playing field - guess what, they are not, and oversigning along with the JUCO farm systems of the south play a major role in explaining why the playing field is not level.
Let's break that argument down.
First, he alleges that Georgia Tech left the SEC "due to oversigning." This is partially true, though I believe (as do most people) it's largely due to Dodd's bitter feud with Bear Bryant. It's no accident GT tried to get back in the SEC after a few years. Of course, how many players did Dodd wish to sign per season? 32 players and a total roster (combined with basketball) of 140. Dodd, by today's standards, wanted to sign a lot more players than anyone can today. He also didn't propose to make it against the rules to cut a player, just to cap each class at 32. It's a little bit misleading to apply 1950's arguments to today. But, really, we can let that slide. It's just rhetoric.
It is a bizarre wish for there to be "some real teeth" to the rules after 55 years. Considering rosters have shrunk from an absolute limit of 140 to 85, that's just a bizarre claim. And considering we've gone from literally no signing limits per season to 28 signees and 25 enrollees, the rules HAVE considerably tightened in 55 years. To suggest otherwise is completely dishonest. I'll let the bit about the SEC not caring about people slide.
Also, asking for an "even playing field" is just wrong. There is an even playing field. All schools operate under the NCAA rules. Despite oversigning.com's claims this is a "loophole", the site does not and CANNOT argue that the SEC is violating the rules. Because teams aren't. you can argue that the rules should be changed, but to argue they need to be uniform completely ignores the fact that they are uniform. The Big Ten has even tougher rules which they operate under, but that is their own choice. No one is forcing the Big Ten to have those stricter rules, and given the tone of the oversigning advocates, they like the stricter rules. You can't trumpet your conference's moral superiority by advocating its tougher rules, and then turn around and complain about the uneven playing field. It's completely dishonest.
Then comes to the attack on southern education. He attacks the JUCO system as being inherently unethical, and creating an uneven playing field. then he plays the "we're smarter than you" card by stating that Fairley couldn't get into "good" schools (read: the Big Ten plus Vanderbilt). He's not just attacking oversigning, he's attacking the very concept of Fairley getting a second chance at college admission.
Does anyone honestly believe that Nick Fairley's life would be better if there was no JUCO? This argument is essentially that giving an academically challenged player a conditional shot (hey, f you don't pass JUCO, you're still not getting in college) is worse than an absolute bar. This is elitism at its worst. I'll use the LSU example of Chad Lavalais (though he never went to JUCO), who also initially failed to qualify. He eventually got in to LSU and had an outstanding career, but even more important, earned his college degree. Would his life be improved if we adopted a policy in which Lavalais was absolutely barred from going to college?
Also, I don't think it's an accident that oversigning.com goes straight to the "we only play smart kids" argument. It's not true, for one. But, really, it's just another way to call southerners, particularly black southerners, stupid.
*ED NOTE: PodKatt tells me I can't say what I want to say right here because it's a family website. I will try very hard to be civil in response to this dishonest, morally repellent argument.
I don't believe oversigning.com cares about these kids at all. Two paragraphs earlier, the post was waxing about the "human expense", and then it suddenly shifts in tone to argue against JUCO transfers. Those initially non-qualifiers get placed in JUCO, work hard on the field and in school, and get a second chance at getting a college degree. How is that an "uneven playing field"? Do we really want to mock those players for not being good enough, academically, to go to Michigan? Nick Fairley's not my favorite player in the world, I think he's perhaps the dirtiest player in SEC history, but to belittle "a guy like Nick Fairley" (whatever the hell THAT is supposed to mean) for working hard and making the most of his second chance is repugnant.
Notice how the site runs so quickly from an argument about what's best for the kids to what's best for the Big Ten schools. Notice how the tone turns on a dime from defending the poor put-upon student-athletes to belittling them for being a bunch of dumb kids who couldn't possibly hack it outside of the South. Because we're all a bunch of dumb rubes down here. We all look up to the academic achievement of Ohio St., an institution which has produced great thinkers such as Andy Katzenmoyer.
This is a key to the argument, really. Because if the SEC was truly abusive and the players were being taken advantage of: kids would stop signing with SEC schools. The elephant in the room is: why aren't these kids flocking to the Big Ten, with its more restrictive rules on oversigning? High school recruits hold almost all the power during their recruitment period, so why are they going to the schools which are being so publicly derided as being hostile to their interests?
By arguing that "a guy like Nick Fairley" could never get into the typical Big Ten school, it absolves the Big Ten of their recruiting failures.* The oversigning bit is really the ultimate in negative recruiting, but the players themselves aren't buying it. The sour grapes argument that they couldn't have gotten in anyway is a way to rationalize why the players themselves aren't buying this bill of goods.
*ED NOTE: I don't think every Big Ten fan makes this argument, this is specifically addressing oversigning.com's dishonest and abusive arguments. I also think the Big Ten does just fine in recruiting, but if oversigning was really a big deal to the players themselves, there would at least be SOME movement to the Big Ten due to its more restrictive rules.
Look, oversigning.com has already demonstrated it is a propaganda site that isn't all that interested in facts. I'm not going to go through all of his numbers, but I know his LSU numbers are simply wrong. Oversigning lists LSU has signing 29 players in 2010, and lists Rivals as its source. Well, click on the LSU signee list from 2010, and what do you see? 29 players listed, for sure, but only 27 who signed the Letter of Intent.
Furthermore, on the homepage, LSU is listed as having 85 players on scholarship. Which is wrong. Since LSU got down to 85 scholarships, Zach Lee has left the squad to play pro baseball (it's not like that made news or anything), pushing us back to 84. He also lists only 1 junior leaving early, which is also wrong: Ridley and Peterson are both leaving early. Oversigning has LSU's "budget" as 12 scholarships, when it is 14.
Look, if you're going to run a website which attacks teams for their roster numbers: GET THE NUMBERS RIGHT. These kind of errors show me that he's not the least bit concerned with accuracy. I mean, how do you miss 2 juniors declaring for the draft? It's entirely about attacking the SEC. And that's just LSU. I wonder if his numbers on other schools check out. Somehow, I doubt it.
What bothers me most is that people use this is a chance for people to stand up and beat their chest and talk about their own moral superiority, which is a topic that always makes me cringe. This isn't about the athletes, this about the ability of some people to look down on us and tell us how awful we are. Do they care about the players?
Well, take the case of Elliott Porter. Now, I'm not entirely thrilled with how things went down, but the problem was not offering a greyshirt to a kid. Guys like Trindon Holliday managed to have a nice career despite a greyshirt. The problem was likely a lack of communication, though none of us know exactly what was communicated as Les Miles has wisely said nothing about the whole thing. Here's what oversigning said:
Note to the NCAA: Elliott Porter was screwed out of his scholarship because of the loophole in YOUR by-laws that allows coaches to accept more signed letters of intent then they legitimately have room for under the 85 scholarship limit. YOUR loophole allows coaches to hedge their bets against academic attrition and injuries, essentially giving coaches free rein to gamble with the scholarship numbers.
So, why did we not have that scholarship for Elliott Porter? Because Brad Wing unexpectedly qualified, as the NCAA accepted his trasnfer credits from Australia. LSU did not believe Wing would qualify. Why? Because that's what the NCAA told them. But Miles and LSU kept lobbying for Wing and got him qualified, creating the numbers crunch. Oversigning's stance is that trying to get Wing qualified was morally and ethically wrong because it lead to Porter's greyshirt offer. Life isn't that black and white. I think LSU was right to stand by Wing, and should have communicated with Porter more effectively. But we're told that it would have been better to simply cut ties with Wing, and let him navigate the NCAA on his own. Because teams shouldn't be allowed to "hedge their bets against academic attrition." Not 100% qualified? No offer for you.
Miles released Porter from his LOI and he was able to transfer without sitting out a year. Which, as we heard, was a real dick move. Now, after a year in Kentucky, what does this cause celebre of the oversigning movement do? This symbol of how players are treated so poorly? Yeah, he transferred back to LSU and is now walking on.
If he had taken the greyshirt, he'd be on scholarship now. But now, NCAA rules prevent him from getting a scholarship until next season. Porter was told by the media how abused he was and how he was done so wrong, and he was publicly pressured to leave LSU. Now, when he's no longer useful to their propaganda, Porter comes back to LSU because it's where he wants to be. Again, life is more complex than this "evil SEC" storyline.
What does Porter say about the whole ordeal? Glad you asked.
"I'm great (with being here)," Porter said Wednesday. "I love it. This is my home. I don't hold any grudges. I want to get on with my career."
"It would have been better if I had (taken the grayshirt), but I don't regret anything I've done in the past. I'll just keep moving on."
Funny, I didn't see that article on oversigning.com.
I'm all for an open and honest discussion on oversigning. I think Andy Staples column is a good place to start. But oversigning.com should have no place in this discussion. They aren't interested in facts or even the welfare of athletes. It's a site which exists solely to attack and insult. Let's stop treating them as legitimate.
I would like to be the first to correct an error in this piece, before it is pointed out, to show the sort of intellectual honesty that escapes oversigning.com. My numbers are wrong because I completely forgot about LSU's self-imposed 2 scholarship reduction. So, despite getting the number of Letter of Intent in 2010 wrong, the number of scholarship players on the team wrong, the number of players leaving wrong, and the number of players we're allowed to sign wrong... all of these errors combined to make oversigning get the "margin" correct. Congratulations, they got one number correct. Well done.