Oversigning is a hot topic this time of year. The chatter about oversigning gained even more steam with the fact that the BCS Championship game featured the two worst offenders in LSU and Alabama. What exactly is oversigning and how does it help a team gain a competitive advantage?
In a nutshell, each FBS program is allowed to have 85 players on scholarship. This number includes a maximum of 25 per new class. NCAA laws allow a team to sign 28, or 3 over this number. Regardless of this law, that still leaves 3 people in the class who cannot be included in that aid year. Never mind the fact that each class prior to that may have also signed 28. As most of our readers were likely told there would be no math, this means that in a 4 year span there could be 112 commitments. That’s 27 guys who can’t be on scholarship, but could have signed their National Letter of Intent to the school.
There will always be a little bit of attrition. Some kids leave school early for the NFL, for one. There are other reasons for attrition, too. Some of those reasons have sparked questions as to their legitimacy in some cases.
Let’s take the case of former Alabama linebacker Chuck Kirschman. Kirschman’s tale was told in a scathing Wall Street Journal article on Nick Saban and oversigning. Kirschman had a back issue and Saban pushed him to take a medical scholarship. These scholarships are perfectly legal in the eyes of the NCAA. They allow a student athlete to receive the aid they were expecting in order to keep them in school when they are unable to play the sport they had committed to play. It’s a great policy, really.
Oh, and they don’t count against the 85/25 allowed to each team. This is the reason some feel they were asked to take them, including Chuck Kirschman.
Three Alabama players who’ve taken these exemptions say they believe the team uses the practice as a way to clear spots for better players by cutting players it no longer wants. These players said they believe Mr. Saban and his staff pressure some players to take these scholarships even though their injuries aren’t serious enough to warrant keeping them off the field.
“I’m still kind of bitter,” said former Alabama linebacker Chuck Kirschman, who took a medical scholarship last year. Mr. Kirschman said Mr. Saban encouraged him to accept the scholarship because of a back problem that he believes he could have played through. “It’s a business,” Mr. Kirschman said. “College football is all about politics. And this is a loophole in the system.”
These medical scholarships have basically allowed coaches to cut players for new, promising young studs. To be fair, many of these are legit. There are numerous players who have used this opportunity to get their degree even though they cannot perform on the field. Those players are not generally running to the press to cry foul, however, and many go largely unnoticed.
There is also the option of grayshirting. A player who has grayshirted will delay their enrollment to the following winter or spring and are, therefore, counted against the following year’s class numbers. This allows the school to receive a commitment from a top player, hold them to their commitment, start the 4 year clock a year after they would normally have enrolled and keep the number trimmed.
Grayshirting might not seem to offer an advantage at first glance, but it keeps your rivals from getting them. Also, if they choose to not enroll on their own dime they have a nice amount of time off to work on training on their own. The kid could be a more mature, more physically developed specimen. They might also get lazy and never enroll or decide to transfer, thus freeing up another spot.
As I’d mentioned earlier, the NCAA has stepped in and limited the number a school can go over the limit to 28. This should effectively end the days of the classes of 30+ kids that Bama has seen thanks to the SEC’s lax policing of this policy over the years. But is 28 even an ok thing? Should the number per class not matter as long as you are under the 85?
Other things have been done within various conferences in an attempt to stop the process of casting off kids who have the hope of playing for the school they have committed to for 4 years. Jim Delany has stepped up for the B1G and encouraged schools to offer 4 year scholarships instead of those renewable yearly, as is common practice. This would guarantee a kid protection from being tossed aside for a 5-star guy down the road.
Even if you don’t believe that oversigning is a problem competitively, there are questions of fairness to the student athlete. Did the coach lie to lock them up only to cast them off? Would this kid have had a better opportunity elsewhere? Who knows.
By the way, Miami currently leads in the number of commitments at the top of the rivals.com rankings with a whopping 32. Alabama and Saban have 27, as does Texas.