The issue of oversigning in Division I college football is a complex beast. There is room for reasonable people to have a wide array of views and it is even possible for two people to disagree without one of them being unethical or immoral1. The problem with the current debate — at least so far as the internet is concerned — is that a great deal of nuance is overlooked and people (even those on the same side) often talk past each other.
The key fact that has to be understood before any real discussion can begin is that scholarships are, by rule, limited to one year, renewable obligations2. A school cannot, even if it wants to, promise a recruit a four or five year scholarship. The default mode of operation, however, is renewal and there is a deadline by which the school must notify athletes who were on scholarship the previous year that it will not be renewed3. The NCAA also requires institutional hearings for student athletes whose scholarships aren’t renewed and has some regulations as to who may adjudicate that hearing4.
The chief allegation often made by folks like Oversigning.com and Brian Cook is that oversigning is immoral or unethical because, in the words of Cook, if the numbers don’t work out, “someone gets it right in the ass“. As you might suspect, it’s not that simple.
- Despite certain Big Ten partisans hoping you’ll believe otherwise [↩]
- NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 [↩]
- NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199 [↩]
- NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52 [↩]
This is not to say, of course, that the matter of coaches lying to prospective athletes and then leaving them high and dry is an unimportant one. Nor would anyone suggest it doesn’t happen, but when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail and oversigning zealots have been practicing that for years. Every time a player leaves an “oversigning” team, the worst is assumed. Even players who have a history of injury who spend an entire off-season in rehab are assumed to have been “forced” onto medical scholarship. There’s little in the way of objective analysis — starting with the lack of acknowledgement from most of the club that they actually have no idea what a team’s scholarship roster looks like.
Still, they made a lot of noise2, and the SEC caved. The rules all appear to try to protect players, but many do so at the expense of prospective athletes.
- Cook, a Michigan fan, decided “oversigning” was a problem quite conveniently when his team’s head coach needed a distraction [↩]
- I wish I had a dollar for every time a blogger or commenter pretended to know who was on scholarship at a particular school [↩]
In January, it was revealed that Jim Tressel, Ohio State University’s head football coach, knew about the “tat-gate” players’ wrong-doing in time to keep them from taking the field. He chose to let them play anyway. In addition to letting the infractions happen and not reporting them or stopping them, when they were discovered, he kept his mouth shut about having ever known. Later, he advocated for a suspended sentence, so that the players could play in a bowl game. He did all of this after having signed a document stating that he wasn’t aware of any infractions or possible infractions and sending that off to the NCAA. It wasn’t pretty in January, but that was only the beginning.
Yesterday, the other shoe dropped in the form of a Sports Illustrated piece that laid bare just how dirty a shop Tressel has been running.
Watching Ohio State partisans react to this news has been fascinating, as the gravity of the allegations seem not to have had any impact on them whatsoever. Numerous blog and forum postings continue to revere the man as respectable and trustworthy. Some blame the NCAA, others blame journalism, and a huge portion of them have trotted out the “he made a mistake, no big deal” line. This is misguided, but there’s nothing that can be said at this point to convince them — all we can do is sit by and watch it unfold. All good dramas need a playbill, though, and the one that most accurately sums up the acts we’ll see this time around follows the Kübler-Ross model.
Yahoo Sports is becoming quite the investigative work-horse for NCAA news junkies. Yesterday they ran a piece alleging that Ohio State’s Jim Tressel knew about an NCAA infraction prior to the 2010 season but did not report it. Today, Ohio State acknowledged that as fact1. OSU has decided that a two-game suspension, a $250,000 fine, and attending a rules seminar should be sufficient.
The infractions that Tressel turned a blind eye toward were relatively minor, but it’s the unethical conduct and dishonesty which are the real issues here. The NCAA lacks the enforcement budget and subpoena power of state and federal governments, as a result, they rely to a great degree on self-policing to enforce the rules. It’s important that attempts to circumvent this system be punished severely — the costs of getting caught trying to not get caught should be orders of magnitude larger than owning up to the decision.
To their credit, the Buckeyes did self-report both the original infractions and Tressel’s dishonesty, but only after the institution had gained a competitive advantage by ignoring it. The most reasonable course here is for the NCAA to vacate OSU’s 2010 season.
- Another interesting tidbit from that document: The Department of Justice apparently notifies schools of possible infractions. I wonder how long that’s been going on. [↩]
In an article posted today on OregonLive.com, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian does an excellent job of laying out why schools like Oregon need scouting services. He doesn’t answer many other questions that the NCAA’s inquiry is hoping to settle, but he does make a strong case that schools simply must subscribe to these scouting services in order to compete nationally:
Services help procure game video, transcripts, grade-point averages, test scores, accurate height and weight, addresses and phone numbers.
A national package could include a region, a select group of states, depending on the service.
But it all starts with the game video.
Gilmore said that too often UO, and other college programs, would request tape from a high school and receive only a few games. Through a package, Gilmore said, UO could get a player’s entire junior season and then also be able to watch opposing teams to scout additional players.
It’s easy to read a couple of headlines and determine that of course Oregon shouldn’t be paying for these services, right? We’ve all learned that any time a school makes the news for paying for anything, they’ve probably crossed a line somewhere, right? If this is actually legal, it shouldn’t be, and that’s a loophole that should be closed up right away.
Not so fast, my friend.
Yahoo Sports reported last night that the University of Oregon is under NCAA investigation for their payments of $28,000 to two “scouting services” with connections to recruits.
According to public invoices (see here and here) obtained by Yahoo! Sports, Oregon paid more than $28,000 to two men with personal ties to current Ducks for “recruiting services” – specifically, video of potential prospects. Recruiting services are common and legal (see below), but if either of the recipients in this case is determined to have had a role in a prospects’ recruitment, he could be classified as a booster and bring significant heat from the NCAA.
As one might expect, this has not gone unnoticed and virtually every major college football blog is talking about that report this morning1. The short-form headlines are much more damning — typically insinuating that Oregon was paying for recruits — than the current state of the facts, but it’s not as simple as it might initially appear.
- Just a sampling: Addicted to Quack, Dr. Saturday, SI.com, Maize n Brew, Double-T Nation, and Roll Bama Roll [↩]