Point/Counterpoint: Oversigning & the SEC II

Posted Jun 4, 2011

As the SEC spring meetings wrapped up, conference presidents overruled their football coaches by drafting reforms to the oversigning rules. But did they? CFN's Russ Mitchell and Barrett Sallee take opposing views on what their decision means for the conference, the sport and the student-athlete

Barrett Sallee - Changes are material:
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee

It was plainly clear that even before SEC coaches and administrators arrived in Destin for the spring meetings, some sort of legislation on oversigning was going to be instituted. The policy that the university presidents agreed to on June 3 might not be the complete overhaul that oversigning zealots desired, but it will make quite an impact on how SEC schools manage their football rosters.

Three of the points - more oversight on medical hardships, elimination of the graduate transfer rule and the extension of the calendar to encompass early enrollees, are material and ok (although the elimination of graduate transfers did surprise me). It's the fourth point, which caps the number of signees at 25 per year, that will make recruiting very difficult for SEC head coaches.

Capping signees at 25 will put significant additional pressure on coaches to make sure that all of their recruits will qualify academically, which is easier said than done. Coaches already put a lot of trust in players once they step foot on campus; but with this rule, coaches will be putting added trust in high school kids that aren't even on campus yet.

There's no doubt that oversigning needed to be addressed. That was apparent when Houston Nutt signed a medium-sized village to attend Ole Miss a few years ago, and became magnified when SEC commissioner Mike Slive announced that he was bringing a proposal to Destin.

But the most stringent oversigning policy isn't necessarily the right policy, and allowing a little wiggle room for players that are teetering on the brink of qualifying would have been nice.

Remember, adamant non-oversigner Florida won two of them, but if the SEC wasn't home of the last five national championships, would oversigning have been this B1G (pun intended) of a deal? I don't think so.

Russ Mitchell - Changes aren't material:
Follow me on Twitter: @RussMitchellSEC

The issue is less about whether oversigning leads to better teams - the issue is whether it's ethically repugnant and contrary to the interest of the student-athlete. Sure, if we let coaches recruit extra players they're going to have better teams - that's a given. Which leads us to the largely toothless policy enacted by the SEC presidents.

Rome wasn't built in a day; which is the best that can be written about where we stand post-Destin on the issue of oversigning.

Don't expect to hear much crying from SEC head football coaches, for not much is really going to change with this decision. There's still considerable wiggle room even after the presidents weighed in – and don't think for a moment that's by accident.

It's not like this is a hard 25 cap – coaches will still be able to back-count players (sign them in one class and if they fail to qualify that year, bring them to campus in a future year but have them count against the year they signed). So academically challenged kids, come on down. And you can bet coaches will continue to sign at least 25 players every class, regardless of the true number of spots that are actually available in a given year (due to graduation). There will be surplus players.

Which takes us to the real crux of the dilemma… Oversigning is only half the problem in that it provides schools with too many players. The other half of that equation – and arguably the uglier side – is that the abundance of new players means teams must make room on the roster. And herein the SEC presidents were largely toothless.

They made few real changes at all to the institution of greyshirting, and they gave but lip service to the issue of medical hardship scholarships; without any concrete guidelines, I want to know who on the SEC oversight committee is going to look Nick Saban in the eye and tell him he can't have what he wants.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the pressure to succeed combined with a glut of players created by oversigning has led to a material increase in the culture of roster turnover – either by persuasion, peer-pressure or downright brow-beating. Basically running off players who have "underperformed" in favor of "potential" in the form of a new recruit. (By the way, potential largely over-hyped by online recruiting services and the increase in media attention around recruiting teenagers, but we'll save this factor for another column.) This ugly aspect of our sport wasn't even on the drawing board in Destin, and yet it has mushroomed liked an unchecked fungus in the past half-decade.

Still, Rome wasn't built in a day. This is a first step – we can't bring ourselves to say a good one, but at least it's a start. Cutting down on the surplus of players even somewhat will have the effect of curtailing the volume of unethical behavior associated with roster turnover.

While we're at it, please stop with the Pollyanna "woe is my coach" argument. Any additional "pressure" put on coaches to not sign 8-15 extra players who are academically questionable pales in comparison to the ethical quagmire we've gotten ourselves in by simply ignoring these roster turnover practices – which have by nearly everyone's admission gotten out of control, and there's no reason to believe would have done anything but continue to worsen.

Our conference and its coaches did just fine before oversigning began to run amok - and we'll do just fine once it's back under control. The quality of recruit coming into the SEC today is based far more on the healthy state of our conference (in terms of the quality of facilities, play, coaching, passion, television and hype) than on oversigning. And even to the extent oversigning does provide a handful more players, it's not worth the ethical/morale handicap - particularly if all teams are working with a level playing field.

And on the issue of a "level playing field", we're pleased to see the conference working closely with the NCAA. Clearly whatever rules are eventually written around oversigning, greyshirting and medical hardships, they will need to be uniform across the entire sport, not individual to each conference as they have been – and remain – to this point.

They say accepting there's a problem is the first step towards fixing it, and if so we're at least on our way. But don't kid yourself – we've a long road ahead if our goal is to truly protect the interest of the student-athlete, and in so doing, the integrity of our sport and universities.

Point/Counterpoint: Oversigning and the SEC
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