Point/Counterpoint: Oversigning and the SEC

Posted Jun 2, 2011

At the spring meetings this week, SEC commissioner Mike Slive is promoting reforms to the oversigning rules. CFN's Russ Mitchell and Barrett Sallee take opposing views on what this means for the conference, the sport and the student-athlete

Barrett Sallee - On keeping the 28 player cap:
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee

The hot button topic during the SEC meetings this week has been oversigning, and in particular SEC commissioner Mike Slive's proposal to, among other things, reduce the number of players allowed in a signing class from 28 to 25. The SEC coaches voted unanimously to keep the cap where it currently is at 28. Bravo to the coaches for not succumbing to public pressure.

Does oversigning need to be addressed? Absolutely, and most of the items in Slive's proposal (SEC oversight on medical hardships and greyshirts, no deferred financial aid and a strict policy on when a player "counts toward the number") should be included in whatever oversigning legislation ultimately passes. The 25-player per class cap, however, shouldn't be.

College football is a multi-billion dollar industry and with that comes the requirement that college coaches have to win bigger and faster than they did a few decades ago. As a result, sometimes coaches have to take some chances on recruits that are teetering on the brink of qualifying academically. If that means that some players take greyshirts or get put on medical hardship, that's fine - as long as the player is made aware and agrees to that possibility beforehand AND the SEC signs off on it as well. Coaches want the four-star recruit with questionable grades more than the three-star recruit with straight A's because their livelihood depends on it.

Some will argue that the pressure to curb oversigning comes from conferences that are jealous of the SEC's five consecutive national championships, and there may be some truth to that (looking in your direction, B1G). But Mike Slive wouldn't have brought a proposal to Destin if felt that it was insignificant.

"I suggest you keep your reservations until Friday," said Slive following Wednesday's coaches vote. If Friday brings added oversight to medical hardships, greyshirts and summer school enrollees, I'm all for it. But if it includes a 25-player per year hard cap, Slive will have gone too far - and made some of his coaches mad in the process.

Russ Mitchell - On setting a hard 25 player cap:
Follow me on Twitter: @RussMitchellSEC

This isn't difficult. If, as many contend, we are in this for the betterment of the student-athlete, and if the student-athlete's wellbeing should be front and center before all else, than oversigning should be curtailed. The sooner the better.

How much money the sport makes should be irrelevant to the issue of oversigning. As long as all teams are playing by the same rules, all remains equal, and the sport continues to generate revenue while better protecting the interests of the student-athlete.

The issue of where to set the cap is, however, a red herring – unless it's agreed it'll be a hard cap. There's a cap today – 28. But as long as coaches are willing to sign classes in February that far exceed the "cap", then whether it's 25 or 28 is immaterial. You will still have the same pressure to "make room" for an excess of players.

And therein lies the true rub: it doesn't end with oversigning. That's just the start of the problem. For with oversigning comes the need to make space. There we find the abuse of medical hardship cases (Alabama under Nick Saban taking particular advantage of this loophole). There's the abuse of greyshirts (LSU's Les Miles and the recent case of Elliot Porter being a rather ugly example, though by no means unique).

What about the simple fact that year after year, players are forced out. Asked/encouraged/brow-beaten into transferring or quitting to make room for "potential" – in the form of a new recruit. While we're here, we might want to consider making football scholarships the four year contract most people believe they already are, rather than the one year deals our kids our forced to enter today.

Finally, there's the issue that this truly needs to be a uniform NCAA decision, not a conference-by-conference one. It cannot be ignored that there is an advantage in having more players at one's disposal. If one conference is forced to sign no more than 25 players, and must ask for written permission to sign up to 28, while another conference can sign 37 – the latter conference is going to have better players. It's simply a numbers game.

Let's restate the obvious – recruiting is the dirty underbelly of our great sport; and oversigning the pimple atop it. There are many elements that jeopardize the wellbeing of the student athlete, and they all need be addressed. But if we can at least begin by addressing oversigning, it will be a good start.

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