Friday, May 29, 2009

Progress, of a sort

If you're a plugged-in SEC football fan, you've probably heard the news that the league has used their spring meetings to agree on a somewhat startling piece of NCAA legislation: a Signing Day cap of no more than 30 28 (see update below) letters-of-intent. Even if the NCAA passes on the SEC's proposal, indications are the league will adopt it on their own anyway.

The news prompted Todd at RBR to come up with my favorite title for a blog post over the past few months: "We Were All Just Fooling Around, then Houston Nutt Had to Take it Too Far." Referring, of course, to the fact that it was Nutt's 37-player "farm system" bonanza that prompted Mike Slive--who acknowledged Nutt's eye-popping total had him "concerned"--to lead the crackdown. To extend Doug's SEC-as-high-school metaphor from the other day, it's very easy indeed to see Saban, Petrino (who's lucky Nutt was around to distract everybody from his own 32-player haul), Miles, and the Ghost of Tubby all sitting on a bench with Nutt waiting to get called into Principal Slive's office and muttering "Way to go, Houston."

It won't surprise you I'm applauding the SEC on this move. I'm well aware I probably care about this more than most, but it would be nice if the rest of the country couldn't look at Nutt's lurid embrace of nonqualifers or classes like Auburn's memorably attrition-plagued 2007 haul and find yet more reasons to think the SEC (and in some ways, the South) sold its educational soul long ago. Further, even if the practical risk of a school winding up with too many kids signed-and-qualified seems minimal--Slive said it had happened just once in his seven years--the unfairness of a kid potentially getting a surprise grayshirt or outright boot is enough that the risk ought to be minimized as much as possible. (Todd correctly points out that recruiting ramifications mean there's some genuine risk for schools who sign past 25 as well as the kids who have signed there.) So the move combines shrewd public relations with some level of decreased risk for the kids who are signing on. What's not to love?

Nothing, really, other than that the actual impact will definitely fall stronger on the public relations end than the "help the kids" end. Because as the "one problem in seven years" tally indicates, the real problem isn't squeezing a 30-plus class down to 25--that happens in the SEC all the time. Troy signed a 40-member class in February, you'll recall. Dr. Saturday took a look at both the Rebels' and Trojans' remarkable excess and found that* ...
(Troy is at least hitting another number that a few schools are going to struggle with again this year: When the latest class is whittled down to the requisite 25 (or fewer), the Trojans should be well under the 85-scholarship limit for the entire roster with room to spare. Ole Miss, once it clears the bottleneck of its latest class, is going to be well under the mark, too. I looked at the old classes and most recent rosters of about a dozen other teams that "oversigned" by some degree last week, and not all of them can say that -- yet.
One guess what team topped the Doc's chart* of teams that have work to do before they can "say that." Friday afternoon's not a good time for rehashing the entire Alabama oversigning blogslapfight from last summer, so suffice it say I believe this situation--like the Kentucky basketball situation I wrote about yesterday--is a Bad Thing, and not ethically defensible. (No surprise there, right?) Signing a huge number of recruits isn't good, but it's a separate issue from the oversigning under Saban and Calipari or Butch Davis--and it's an issue that if the SEC and the NCAA want to really prove its academic chops, they ought to confront.

Which, incidentally, they can do by simply doing more of something the NCAA is already doing** in some nonrevenue sports: ask schools to show where the scholarships they're offering their signees are coming from. Each football and basketball program tallies up the kids that have exhausted their eligibility or otherwise aren't expected to be with the team the following season; that's how many LOIs they get to accept. Simple.

Certainly, this is the kind of plan that has as much chance of becoming reality as my fourth-grade blueprint for a flying robot dog. Coaches will not like at all watching a roster constructed months before the season crumble as recruits fail to qualify and players flunk out or go to jail. To which I respond: Tough. Find kids that won't fail to qualify, won't flunk out, won't get themselves arrested. And if you lose them to spring injuries or family issues or it turns out they had a heroin habit you didn't find out about until they got to campus, well, life's not fair. (It might be worth bumping up the scholarship limit a bit, to 88 or so, to make the sting easier.)

Enact a policy with teeth like that, and then we'll be getting somewhere when it comes to curbing recruiting excess and preserving whatever left of the "college" part of the college football/college basketball equation. Todd wrote that the 30-in-a-class cap was "a good rule ... (but) still an unnecessary one." I agree, to the extent that--in the blissful realm of theory, anyway, if unfortunately not in reality--the SEC could have done even better.

*Auburn shows up in this chart--No. 3 with a bullet!--but I checked with Matt and those numbers included the likes of Tray Blackmon, Chris Slaughter, etc. Auburn's numbers are as fine as we thought they were. Still, it's a close shave. If Auburn's in that same kind of chart next year, Chizik and I are going to have words.

**It's not going to earn this proposal any points with 'Bama fans--not that it had any points with 'Bama fans to start with--but it was first put forth by Brian Cook at the tail end of this, ahem, memorable post.

UPDATE: The cap has become official, but at 28--bonus points to Slive and the league for not going for the 30 compromise. Bonus points also for SI's Andy Staples, who at that link refers to Troy's Larry Blakeney as "the Stephen Hawking of oversigning physics."

1 comment:

Roll Bama Roll said...

Some more comments I should have made on the new rule:

1) This puts far more pressure on the recruits to make sure their grades are in order than it does on the coaches. One of the things Nutt (and to a lesser degree Saban, who's academic cases were all at least on the fence with a fighting chance) is being blasted for is taking kids that have no chance of qualifying. A lot of Nutt's signees were just out and out casualties that weren't getting in ANYWHERE to begin with, but therein lies the beauty of his Mississippi JUCO farm league. They were headed there anyway, at least now he has the inside track to grab them when they do qualify. With this rule, coaches won't risk offering a "sign and place" kid anymore, so now it's up to the recruit to keep his grades in order to make sure he can qualify.

2) This hurts the JUCOs since most (BCS anyway) coaches aren't interested in taking two year players unless they are super studs like Terrence Cody that are going to make an immediate impact. If kids know they aren't getting a scholarship offer because of their grades and that without that offer they aren't as likely to have the coach checking up on him at JUCO and holding a spot for him in two year's time, then, again, it puts the pressure on the recruit to make sure he has his grades in order and is at least on the fence enough to grab an offer.

3) This helps the smaller mid-major schools that don't have the same admission standards. With the rise of the BCS Busters and players from mid-major (and bottom rung BCS teams, I'm looking at your Baylor) programs being drafted on the first day, why not go ahead and sign with Southern Miss instead of Ole Miss if it means you can go ahead and get on the field instead of toiling away at a JUCO or prep school and hoping some BCS team will scoop you up?