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On oversigning «

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On oversigning

If you have never heard Tim Wilson’s “I Could be Wrong,” you are missing a pretty good ditty about being tired of Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, Martha Stewart, and others.  While it’s a funny song/video, it is laced with profanity and is offensive to some.  If you might be offended, don’t bother; if you can take it, Google Tim Wilson and the song’s name and you can catch it on YouTube.

The song came to mind as something appropriate to describe my feelings regarding college football and oversigning, a situation in which Ole Miss and Houston Nutt are dead in the middle.

Nutt signed 38 players a couple of years ago.  That’s really no big deal to Ole Miss fans as Tommy Tuberville once signed 41 prospects in a year in which Ole Miss was on probation and could only put 13 of those 41 on scholarship.  Tuberville’s strategy was nothing short of brillant.  There’s no NCAA restriction on how many prospects a school can sign, only the bylaw that says only 25 can be placed on scholarship at the beginning of a school year.  And, to show how uninformed the general college football fan is; there’s nothing that says a school can’t exceed the 25 rule,, it’s just that if you enroll one player over the 25 initial counters, the following year you have to pay back the NCAA – in double.  So, allow 26 initial counters this year and next year you can only bring in 23. 

But back to Tuberville.  He told many signees they would not get a scholarship during their first two years at Ole Miss, but if they contributed for two years, they’d be placed on scholarship their third year.  You see, once on the team for two years, a student athlete can be placed on scholarship and not counted against the initial 25 allotment, only against he overall 85 players allowed by the NCAA to be on scholarship at any give time.  Tuberville had a lot of takers, including Matt Luke (his brother had played QB at Ole Miss). Luke, now the offensive coordinator for David Cutcliffe at Duke, was an outstanding center for the Rebels and part of the team’s resurgence after several probation strapped years.  Many kids signed with Ole Miss simply to be given a chance to win a scholarship along with the lifetime bragging rights that comes with signing with a major college program, especially one in the SEC.

Nutt didnt’ have to deal with probation, but he was trying to achieve something else – relationship building with coaches and high school prospects in-state.  Evidently, it worked to some degree as Ole Miss just achieved its best signing class from within state in years, if not decades.

Media focus, of which I’ve grown tired of, including an ESPN story today about Ole Miss’ “disappearing players” has generally been critical of colleges where a player has to wait a year to enroll (known as a grayshirt) or in situations where a player here or there may lose his scholarship.  Let’s be straight about one thing – when a prospect signs a letter of intent and grant-in-aid, that is for one year and is subject to review from year to year.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Granted, most student athletes who take care of business in the classroom and on the field, and keep their nose clean with the law, have their scholarships renewed.  Others who don’t care for getting up in the off season at 5:30 a.m. to head to the weight room, prefer lifting televisions to weights, and occasionally puff the magic dragon are also at risk of losing their scholarship regardless of talent or on-the-field achievements.

But make no mistake, some players are cut lose or encouraged to transfer simply because they’ll never contribute to the program.  A head coach once told me the hardest part about evaluating high school players was to look at a 17-year old kid and try to figure out what he was going to look like in three, four or five years.  Mistakes are made.  Coaches don’t make millions of dollars a year to live with mistakes; they must correct them, and unfortunately, that means back tracking on a promise.  For those media types who treat college football like it’s above business rules, get a life, grow up, and face reality.  Business leaders make hard decisions to be profitable and being profitable in college football has always meant winning more than you lose.

Ole Miss is probably no more guilty or innocent than most others when it comes to managing it’s roster.  The Rebels changed coaches in late 2007 and the first couple of recruiting classes under a new head coach are sometimes subject to higher attrition as the new coach comes to understand several nuisances, including those of an administration that often can say yes or no to prospects who have anything less than a pristine academic and conduct record.

While there is no NCAA rule (that could change soon) about oversigning, the SEC did pass a rule that went into effect for the 2010 signing class that limited schools to signing just 28 prospects.  There is, of course, rules around that, such as signing midterm transfers in December if certain conditions exist.

Perhaps that will stop some of the “concern” from mainstream media over the situation, where they love to focus on a player who has been “wronged” by a coach, that without the benefit of knowing the full story, as coaches are too smart to get into a discussion in the media as to why a prospect was dismissed.

At least I hope the rule has that effect because I beginning to have the same feeling about oversigning as Tim Wilson does about Oprah.

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