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Friday, February 15, 2008

Swearing herein. Save the children.

Wednesday: at the Fanhouse I pick up an article from Tim Gayle and expound, once again, on the dodgy practice of oversigning, using Alabama's class as an exemplar of shady behavior. The past two days: everyone in the state who can write and has an internet connection responds.

Awww, that's not fair. I can't make a joke about Alabamans' inability to count or read when the Joe Cribbs Car Wash put up an excellent post about the situation. No, it appears the disease is restricted to Tide fans. Maybe that's why they have numbers on their helmets.

There are two separate issues here.

Issue #1. Alabama is unlikely to actually have the nation's top recruiting class because a large chunk of it isn't going to get to campus. This is an irritation I have with the guru rating services and not an issue with Alabama per se. The best example of this phenomenon was Auburn's class last year, thirty-strong and top-ten on signing day but reduced by a third by the time fall practice rolled around and decidedly not top-ten.

This is indisputable. We even looked up the numbers last year. SEC teams often sign guys with little or no chance to qualify, and their swollen classes end up looking better than they actually are. The average SEC team experiences an attrition rate double that of the average Big Ten team, but this is not accounted for.

Issue #2. Nick Saban has taken the concept of oversigning and stretched it unto its breaking point. This is a nasty, filthy practice only undertaken by a program that couldn't really give a crap about the idea of a mutual commitment between player and school.

Issue #1 is a personal quarrel with the recruiting sites and doesn't have anything to do with Alabama. Some of the angry hornets went "LOL" and contested that in unconvincing fashion; I'll let that drop. Issue #2 is what really riled, and I'll attempt to address some of the claims put forth by "coachbots," as the JCCW eloquently dubs them.

I don't see any substantive points in the posts at Third Saturday in Blogtober, the Capstone Report, or Tide Druid and won't address them directly. Since they're all chock full of personal insults and insights into my "obsession" with a guy who coached Michigan's third-biggest rival a decade ago, let me point out that each of the above-linked posts is a tribute to Alabama's fine educational system and its constant focus on things like grammar and knowing how to use spell check. Gentlemen, there are typos and there's you.

The voodoo math over at Roll Bama Roll, however, deserves a response:

Actually, this class really only included 30 signees, not 32. See, this is where, you know, actually following Alabama football closely -- as opposed to following it via the headlines and then heading off to your computer to piss and moan on your AOL blog -- really pays off. Two of our signees, wide receiver Chris Jackson and kicker Corey Smith, graduated high school early and actually enrolled this past January. Those two signees are thus back-counters, and are part of the 2007 recruiting class, not the 2008 class. As a result, just doing the basic math, our 2008 class effectively consists of 30 signees, not 32.
I love it when someone condescendingly makes a moronic "point." Yes, early enrollees are permitted to count against the previous class. No, that does not mean they are fairy players who don't take up a scholarship spot. The issue is Alabama loses fifteen seniors and brings in thirty-two players. This means 17 slots have to appear from nowhere. Early enrollment doesn't help that.
And that is even if you don't consider the fact that Wesley Neighbors may very well end up on a Bryant scholarship -- since he is most likely not going to play in his first two years on campus anyway -- and therefore he will not count against the scholarship limit this year. If that is indeed the case, as many expect, this class suddenly goes down to 29 players.
Anyone on scholarship and on the football team counts against the 85 limit.
Moreover, you act like Alabama and Miami are the only two programs to sign that many players, completely ignoring the fact that signing 30 or more players is a relatively common occurrence. This year alone, aside from the aforementioned two schools, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Ole Miss, and Kansas State also signed 30 or more players. In 2007, Tennessee, Auburn, and South Carolina all signed over 30 players, just to name a few. In other words, if you really think signing that many players is an aberration, you haven't been paying attention.
The fucking point is that fucking Alabama is going to kick kids off the fucking team for no fucking reason. The point is not that violating the NCAA's made-up limit is evil. The NCAA limit is there because the NCAA would like you to not kick kids off the fucking team, but for various reasons the rule's pretty easy to skate around. The issue is not 32 > 25. The issue is that 70 + 32 > 85.

There's more not easily blockquoted, but OTS contests the idea that many kids won't qualify by saying that "everyone has a very legitimate chance to qualify" and then immediately asserts three or four won't make it, then further asserts later that the estimate -- Tim Gayle's estimate, not mine -- that four to six guys won't qualify is "completely bogus" and "laughable."

Attention asshat: five players in this Alabama class will not be on the team this fall. That's that NCAA maximum thing. Maybe there's a grayshirt or two in there, but a about a sixth of the class is going to JUCO... whether they qualify or not. More kids qualifying only makes the oversigning dirtier.

There is a stupid paragraph about medical scholarships intended to combat the idea that they're shady, something I never advanced and don't think.

And then there's this:
And "forcibly extracted"? What are we doing here, pulling teeth? It sounds like it, anyway, with terms like that. In reality, players are going to leave and we all know it. Many of the former staffs' previous signees, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, do not fit with the current scheme and may very well end up going elsewhere. I guess since you are a Michigan blowhard, we'll call this Ryan Mallett Syndrome so it will hit a little closer to home. Others will simply leave because they cannot handle the Fourth Quarter Program. Either way, no one is being "run off" or anything sinister of the sort.
There is a difference between what's likely to happen at Michigan after spring practice -- a few transfers from kids that no longer fit in the offense -- and what has to happen at Alabama. Michigan will be operating under the 85 scholarship limit this fall and has every incentive to keep those players around. They will be leaving of their own volition. Alabama has every incentive to dump guys. They flat out have to. If a kid is struggling with his academic eligibility how motivated will Alabama be to help him? If a player commits a petty offense how eager will Alabama be to boot him? If Nick Saban knows that by August he has to say goodbye to six kids and it's July and he's only got four down, then what?

I'll tell you what: someone gets it right in the ass.

That's why oversigning* is scummy. Attrition is bad, but tolerable when it's clear a kid who's transferring away is doing so voluntarily. If Mallett transfers to Arkansas because he likes the offense better, fine. Without oversigning we know that if he stayed the scholarship would be there for him. When you have to cram 91 kids into 85 spots, the very real specter of a push hovers over every jumper.

Though all scholarships are technically one-year commitments, in practice players are guaranteed four years as long as they remain eligible and keep their noses clean. There is one legitimate way to remove a kid from your team without some sort of malfeasance on his part: fourth-year juniors are commonly not offered a fifth year unless they are contributors.

'Bama has a few of these, but some of them are already accounted for and others are obviously going to return. By situation:
  • Ezekiel Knight, Will Oakley, and BJ Stabler are all mentioned as medical scholarship candidates by Gayle; the six scholarship gap is only a mere six because they've been removed from the calculations already.
  • Rashad Johnson, Nick Walker, and Antoine Caldwell are starters and will be back.
  • OL Cody Davis is a candidate.
  • WR Jonathan Lowe has academic issues; he's a useful returner who would normally return.
I went over the roster closely; these appear to be the only redshirt juniors on scholarship. Potential non-shady departures not already accounted for are, at most, two.

So what's Saban's motivation here? He has somewhere between five and a dozen scholarships to free up (the latter will only happen if the NCAA repeals the limit next week and OTS's prediction that I'll "eat my words" about players failing to qualify comes true). Is he going to help Lowe stay eligible? Is he going to shuffle the deck so that guys who could be eligible this fall are not?

The JCCW sums up:
So unless six guys have a fantastic conversation with a representative from their local congregation of Latter-Day Saints and take off for a two-year mission in Estonia, Saban's going to have to, well, tell six guys they're now responsible for their own $12,000 a year if they would like to continue receiving a college education from the University of Alabama. Given that any player Saban chooses to cut is likely to also be the sort of player he can't find a use for on the field (given that if you are useful, he will find a way to get you on the field, by golly), those scholarships and the education attached possibly carry even greater importance to the players in question than most of the team.
(And should take heart that the "whoops, seeya!" given to four Auburn players isn't as bad as it looks, as three of the four are fourth-year juniors.)

Maybe oversigning by one or two is reasonable, but not in the quantity seen at Alabama.

Now, Saban is not alone in this. In the blog post by Bruce Feldman cited in the Fanhouse post, Feldman asserts that schools can make incoming kids ineligible if they want to. I know of at least one player this happened to: erstwhile Michigan defensive end Eugene Germany, who signed a letter of intent with USC but "didn't qualify." He did nothing the fall semester, then USC asked him to take some classes at a local JC. He declined, did nothing further, and enrolled at Michigan the next fall. Germany got jacked because USC ran out of spots.**

This is a widespread issue. Unfortunately, I do not have convenient summary articles for Miami or LSU or USC. Oversigning should be halted. You should not be able to sign a player to a letter of intent unless that player is qualified and you can demonstrate where his scholarship is coming from. No one should ever be locked into a commitment that doesn't go both ways.

Does this happen in the Big Ten? Not really. Though oversigning was sort-of approved, you have to explain where the scholarship is coming from:
When the Big Ten made the change in 2002, it instituted a policy where teams could oversign by no more than three players, and DiNardo said a detailed explanation behind the oversigning had to be submitted to the Big Ten. The SEC is among the conferences with no guidelines.
As a result, very few Big Ten teams even attempt to oversign, and none by the margins seen here. (Minnesota and Illinois have brought in large classes the last couple years but had been operating well short of the scholarship limit before that.)

This should be universal NCAA policy, and already is in some sports: Michigan hockey could not sign probable first-round pick Brandon Burlon to a letter of intent this fall because they could not demonstrate where the scholarship money would come from. Football should follow suit. Now.

*(just to be clear for any morons reading this, we're not talking about going over the NCAA limit here, we're talking about signing so many guys that you are forced to remove a number of players from the team to meet your obligations.)

**(Germany got tackled from behind by a cop after stealing some chick's phone and then had a series of team rules violations; he transferred to a JC and is now at Arizona State, but he could have gotten his malfease on at the same time the rest of his high school class entered school.)