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Oversigning: A Solution

Poseur did a terrific job of highlighting the partially hidden agenda of some advocates of oversigning reform.  But as Poseur states, just because some of the criticisms against the practice are self-serving or ignorant, does not mean that the current system can't be improved.

I most definitely have misgivings about the current system, and have thought for years that the way major college football works can be detrimental to the athletes, in particular as it regards the scholarships, which can be canceled at any time if the player's performance is not what someone in charge thinks it should be.  To that end, I propose a solution.  It is a solution that addresses all of the problems with oversigning, which I identify as follows:

  1. The problem of initial oversigning, which is signing more players than you can possibly enroll (i.e. more than 25), banking on one or more of them failing to qualify academically and/or some agreeing to "greyshirt;"
  2. The problem of signing more players than you have room on your 85-man scholarship lineup, expecting some players to go to the NFL or to transfer or otherwise leave the program; and
  3. The problem of players coming to school expecting to get an education only to find that their scholarship is no longer available to them.

I don't know if my solution is "radical" or not, but it would certainly change things.  In particular, I think it would allow coaches to adjust their roster as they see fit, empower players who are under-performing on the field to continue their education or their football careers or both, and do away once and for all with the little-discussed but troubling practice of dubiously putting players on "medical scholarships."  After the jump...

Here is my proposal, completely replacing the current 85/25 rule and the 1-year renewable scholarship:

  1. Schools be allowed to accept a maximum number of National Letters of Intent per year.  That number can be 25 or 26 or whatever, but cap it at a certain number, whatever is agreed to be wise.  I am careful here to expressly state that it is the National Letter of Intent that is limited, because I will also be changing what this NLI means to the school and to the player. 
  2. Every player who signs (and has accepted) a National Letter of Intent has a scholarship for 6 calendar years.  That's right.  Six.  No more year-to-year renewable scholarships.  Every scholarship for a player who signs an NLI that is accepted by a school has the scholarship for six years, conditioned only upon the player (I really should say "student" in this context) remaining in good academic standing with the university.  The student need not continue playing football, need not maintain constant enrollment, need not do anything other than obey the student code of conduct and maintain his grades sufficient to stay in good stead with his university.  I'm not proposing changing the "5 years to play 4" rule.  I am suggesting that the scholarship should last beyond the player's eligibility to play.  I would not be opposed to allowing this scholarship to be renewed past 6 years in cases of hardship or if the student is making progress toward a post-graduate degree.
  3. Any player who is allowed on the team without a National Letter of Intent may be given a one-year renewable scholarship.  This is your standard walk-on situation.  If you have scholarships left over after all your regular players have gotten one, you can give it to a walk-on without being held to it year-to-year.
  4. Each team may have a maximum of 85 Active Scholarships.  I have introduced a new term.  The "Active Scholarship".  Everyone who has an NLI accepted by the school is immediately put on "Active Scholarship" status.  If time passes and the coach decides the guy is a discipline problem, can't cut it on the field, or whatever, the player can be moved to "Inactive Scholarship" status.  In other words, he can be cut.  The difference is that even if he is cut, he continues to receive a scholarship, for as long as 6 years if he so chooses.
  5. Once moved to Inactive Scholarship status, a player may never return to Active Scholarship status and may not be involved with the team.  The player is cut from the team.  He will never count against the 85 player limit again, and if the team has less than 85 scholarships accounted for, it may give one to an incoming player or to an existing walk-on player.  The key here is that you can only move from Active to Inactive once if you signed an NLI, and doing so removes you from the team forever, but you still have your scholarship for the full six years if you want it.  This is not true of players who do not sign an NLI, who can be moved on and off of scholarship status at will, but get no promise of six years of school paid.
  6. Any player moved to Inactive Scholarship status after signing a National Letter of Intent may transfer to any school that will have him that is not scheduled to be an opponent of the original team in the next year, and will be immediately eligible to play.  This is where the player really has power.  If he signs the NLI and has it accepted, but is "cut" he can go wherever he wants without needing anyone to sign off on it, without requiring permission of the original school, so long as he is not going to a team that will be an opponent in the next season.  There would be no more need to sit out for a year.  It seems unfair to me that a player can be cast off from one institution, lose his scholarship, yet still not be able to go where he wants to continue his football career/education without having to sit out a year.  This way, if School #1 decides you aren't good enough, but School #2 thinks you are, you can go to School #2 at will.
  7. There is no limit to Inactive Scholarship status students.

That's my proposal.  The overall effect is that any player who is signed for his football prowess will have a full opportunity to complete his education for free, even if his football prowess diminishes.  He will also have less resistance to continuing his football career if that is what he would prefer to do.  Coaches will also have the flexibility to adjust their rosters based on merit without having to ruin a kid's education prospects.  If a player is "cut", it will still be sad, but in reality any kid who isn't one of the 85 best players at LSU or Alabama or wherever probably isn't going to make a living playing football after college, and at least he would get an opportunity to get an education.

Also, after a player's eligibility is over, he will still have an opportunity to continue his education, on the Athletic Department's dime.  Of course, he does not have to do so, but he can if he wants.

This proposal decouples football from academics.  One need not continue to excel at football in order to finish one's education.  Also, at the end of football eligibility, education need not end.  Economically disadvantaged kids who go to school for football won't have to leave their educations behind if their eligibility runs out before they get a degree.  It emphasizes the STUDENT in student-athlete, and improves fairness to the athlete in all respects, while at the same time allowing a football coach to make roster adjustments he needs to make to improve his team.

What would this mean for JUCOs?  Nothing.  Teams would still be free to utilize JUCO transfers and place kids in friendly JUCOs.  They just should not accept a National Letter of Intent from that student until he is ready to enroll.

What does it cost?  A little more money.  It might hurt programs that are operated on a shoestring, as they would not necessarily be able to afford to have tons of students getting free educations after their football days are over.  For programs like those in the SEC, the extra cost would be chump change, and it would be chump change that would be going to actually EDUCATING players, a novel concept.

Who's with me?