I oversign players. I accept commitments from the maximum number every year. I cull the roster of underwhelming upperclassmen and cut the weakest incoming freshmen. I’m cynical. I use this strategy to maximize my performance on a Playstation game. SEC coaches do it in real life, to real human beings. It’s cruel. It’s shameful. It’s the dark side to the SEC ascendancy.
SI’s Andy Staples compiled the class sizes for every Division I school over the past five years. Larry Blakeney’s Troy was the most egregious offender, signing an astounding 164 kids over a five year period (enrollment limit per season is 25, total scholarships limit is 85). Blakeney has been praised for his loyalty to Troy, but the way he burns through players may have precluded him from consideration for other jobs.
The real trouble, though, is in the SEC West, which, not coincidentally, is college football’s best division. Embroiled in a veritable arms race for talent, all six schools – Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Alabama and LSU – were in the top 12 in class sizes over the past five years. All averaged classes of at least 26.2 kids, while only being allowed to enroll 25. Houston Nutt signed 37 kids for 25 spots in 2009.
Nick Saban’s Alabama has been accused of trumping up injuries for medical redshirts and booting underperforming players for minor offenses. Les Miles’ LSU cut scholarship offers from two players last year (one from a player already enrolled) after more players than expected met academic requirements. Those were the two least egregious offenders in that division.
Oversigning and roster cutting gives a competitive advantage. Teams can make up for recruiting mistakes. They can string kids along in junior college until they can find a place for them. Pundits ridicule the Big Ten for being woefully deficient on the field compared to these schools. The conference’s more abstemious signing practices are a significant factor.
Coverage of oversigning is minimal. Columnists and bloggers notice, but those with teeth won’t use them. Beat writers won’t risk relationships. CBS and ESPN, with lucrative SEC television deals, trump up the conference’s greatness. Gary Danielson and Co. are riding elephants and beating drums at the head of the parade. They don’t want to burden fans with unsavory details.
The NCAA’s function is to regulate abuse in college athletics and to protect the welfare of the student athlete. The organization has consistently shown neither the inclination nor the fortitude to do so in major college football. This injustice could be easily fixed. The NCAA could implement hard rules, with crippling punishments. It could do away with letter of intent altogether and force schools to offer kids scholarships. It probably won’t happen.