No aspect of college athletics is as dirty as recruiting. Coaches often lie to players about opportunities for playing time. They spread false information about other schools and other coaches. Players sometimes lie to coaches and sign with one school after being committed to another. And then you get high school coaches, street agents and relatives involved. It’s a mess.
The question is: How can it be fixed?
The SEC attempted to end the practice of oversigning this past spring when it voted in a soft 25-man signing cap for its football programs. In the case of Justin Taylor it worked. Technically.
Alabama coaches informed Taylor over the weekend that the scholarship he thought was his… won’t be. Due to the 25-man cap, Bama couldn’t sign him and then tell him he would have to grayshirt. Win. But telling a kid who’d been committed for 11 months that he’s suddenly going to have to make new plans — either go elsewhere or wait a full year to play in Tuscaloosa — less than 20 days before signing day is hardly a feel-good win. (Taylor says he’s going to go elsewhere rather than wait it out at Alabama.)
By the letter of the law, Bama acted correctly. By the spirit of the law, well, here’s guessing the SEC presidents who tried to nuke oversigning last spring aren’t smiling about this story getting pub today.
And before we go further, this isn’t just an Alabama issue. Other schools pull scholarship offers, too. Taylor’s example is simply the latest one to get attention. Tennessee has pulled a couple of kids’ offers in the past month and the Vols have gotten some bad publicity, too.
Remember, when put to a vote, all 12 football coaches in the SEC voted to keep oversigning on the table.
What can be done to prevent schools from yanking scholarship offers for any reasons other than academics or legal issues? Perhaps schools could be put on the hook to guarantee scholarships when they accept players’ commitment. That would prevent a school from offering a scholarship to a kid only to pull it if someone with a faster 40 time comes along.
Ah, but the commitment is not binding for the player, either. See: Gunner Kiel’s situation. The star Indiana quarterback initially committed to Indiana. Then he had a change of heart and picked LSU. Set to enroll early this week, Kiel no-showed in Baton Rouge. It turns out — if the stories are correct — that his mother was so distraught over her son going far away that the player has decided to attend Notre Dame and stay closer to home. (What a shame that a young man isn’t being allowed to choose his own path in life. Here’s hoping things work out in South Bend because if they don’t, Kiel will remember who kept him from going elsewhere.)
In LSU’s case, they thought they had their quarterback of the future (after they’d dashed the Hoosiers’ dreams and poached Kiel from IU). Now, less than 20 days til signing day, the Tigers have five-star sized hole to fill.
There is no clean way of changing recruiting. If you end oversigning, coaches can still tell a prospect the day before signing day that he’s unwanted rather… than on the day after. That’s hardly a resounding victory. (And trust me, Big Ten fans, your schools — though they hate oversigning — have no problem backing out of commitments when better players fall into their laps, either.)
So should the commitments of schools and players be made binding? Should the schools be held to a higher standard than the players — meaning players could change their minds but schools could not?
Personally, I would align myself with the teenagers versus the multi-million dollar football coaches and programs. Better to have a coach scrambling to fill a slot than to have a recruit’s entire life thrown into chaos at the last minute before signing day. But setting up a mechanism to prevent scholarship-pulls would require more pages and more options in an already too-thick NCAA rule book.
At the same time, many folks will view things from their favorite coach’s perspective. Anything’s fine and dandy so long as State U. wins 10 games next year. So if a faster, stronger kid becomes available, oust the slower, weaker kid.
Either way, the same dirty coin continues to spin. On one side, players get discarded or have their plans delayed by millionaires. On the other, schools get blindsided by players who change their minds at the last minute.
It’s a crummy system. That’s why I usually leave the commitment and scholarship stuff to Josh Ward over on our Recruiting Page. I don’t enjoy getting down in the signing day mud.