People across the country have been against the concept of oversigning for half a century now, at least. According to his autobiography, it was one of the reasons that Bobby Dodd pulled Georgia Tech out of the SEC almost 50 years ago. Recently, thanks to web sites like oversigning.com and more national attention from the media, the topic has become a contentious major point of debate in college football.
In short, oversigning works like this. Teams are allowed to have no more than 85 scholarship players each August under NCAA rules. However, they are allowed to sign 25 each recruiting class, with several loopholes available to have more than those 25. Also, no rules (outside of the Big Ten Conference) prohibit exceeding the limit of 85 on National Signing Day. If a team had 75 scholarship athletes remaining on the roster after a season, there is no rule that limits them to only signing 10 new players. Thus, the team would be forced to, in one way or another, whittle 15 players off the roster by August.
I’m not here to take a stance on oversigning (I may do that in a later post). Those who support it say that the kids who are being recruited know the potential dangers and they know what they are getting into. If they are willing to risk more kids than expected qualifying academically and maybe having to sit out a year before playing, then that’s their choice. The detractors say that kids are blindsided with requests to grayshirt or with just being informed that they won’t be on the team. The national media and most pundits seem to lean in the direction that oversigning is wrong.
Enter Mike Slive. The current SEC commissioner has had to deal with scandals and a bad reputation for his conference. He has had to deal with suspicious refereeing mistakes that some claim only favored teams with more likelihood of making the National Championship Game and did not come across so well with that. He had to deal with the Cam Newton situation, ignoring an SEC bylaw to allow Cam to play. He claimed (and in my honest opinion had a good argument) that the rule stating that a player is ineligible at any SEC school if he solicits money shouldn’t apply in a case where, as far as we can prove at least, Cam neither condoned or knew of his father’s actions. The nickname “Mike Slime” stuck. There has been a national perception that the SEC is a dirty conference and Slive did not help that so much over the past few years.
Which is why, in a surprising decision, the SEC made a slight adjustment in their recruiting rules. Slive recognized that oversigning was becoming a major national issue and took a small step in helping the SEC’s image. The slight rule change, lowering the yearly cap for SEC schools from 28 to 25, won’t really affect oversigning. Schools that do it will still be able. But it sent a strong message because the SEC coaches had unanimously voted against this change and the conference made it anyway.
Well today, at the beginning of the SEC media days, Slive dropped an oversigning bomb, without even directly mentioning the issue. He said he wants to make scholarships multi-year deals. The fact that scholarships are renewable (or non-renewable) one-year agreements is what lets oversigning work. A coach has the option to just not renew a player’s scholarship without any reason at all. Making scholarships multi-year agreements means you can’t do that. It wouldn’t stop oversigning completely because nothing will restrict the amount of incoming freshmen a team can sign, but it will mean that those returning from years previous are locked in with the team. This should also raise awareness among those incoming freshmen as to how many spots are available and if they are risking having to fight other incoming freshmen for a scholarship.
Slive also proposed another change which, if implemented, will drastically change the image of the SEC. Another negative public image of the conference is that their qualification standards are lower and therefore they can take in better players who wouldn’t qualify at other schools. Slive proposed raising the required GPA for high schoolers to be eligible to play D-I football. This won’t mean that everyone would need to meet the academic requirements to get into a school like Stanford (he proposed raising the GPA from 2.0 to 2.5), but it would mean that a lot more players would be attending junior colleges instead of SEC schools.
Honestly, this took a lot of guts from Slive. He knows the coaches in his conference like their oversigning loopholes. Even the ones that don’t utilize it, with Mark Richt and Will Muschamp being the noteworthy holdouts, voted not to change the recruiting cap earlier this year. Slive said today he was trying to take college athletics in a new direction, and his other proposed changes in recruiting and scholarships could do just that. What Mike Slive really did today though, with the two proposals discussed above, is take the image of the SEC in a whole new direction. And I think even those that are not fans of the conference will agree that it’s a good one.
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