The practice of oversigning is slowly garnering greater national scrutiny, which is good for the Big Ten. But until real reforms are implemented, the Big Ten will continue to be at a competitive disadvantage.
SI.com's Andy Staples examines the oversigning issue in an excellent piece that details how schools from the SEC, Big 12, Conference USA and other leagues continue to use creative math to breeze past the limit of 25 new scholarship players per year. A new NCAA bylaw that limits schools to 28 signees between signing day in February and May 31 isn't going to change anything.
In spite of NCAA bylaw 220.127.116.11, more players will get caught in a similar scholarship crunch this year because the 28-signee limit is so toothless. The reason? The dates. Auburn could sign 32 players last year in spite of the SEC rule because the Tigers brought in five players -- including Heisman Trophy-winning junior college transfer quarterback Cam Newton -- in January. Only 27 players signed between February and May, one under the limit.
More than likely, some signees will be told this summer that there isn't a scholarship for them. Some players currently on scholarship will be forced to accept medical hardships or will be cut outright -- scholarships are awarded annually under NCAA rules; they are not four-year deals -- because so many coaches can't help themselves in the pursuit of the next big thing.
If you're a Big Ten fan who doesn't understand the ins and outs of oversigning, don't feel bad. It's a foreign concept around these parts. You're used to signing classes of 22 and 23, not 32 and 37.
The Big Ten prohibited oversigning in 1956, and while the league now allows schools to oversign by three, it must do so in compliance with the permanent 85-man scholarship limit, not the annual 25-player signing limit.
If a Big Ten program chooses to oversign, Hawley said, it then must document exactly how it came under the 85-scholarship limit. That way, coaches are less likely to cut a player who has done nothing wrong other than fail to live up to his recruiting hype. "If you've oversigned, you're going to have to report back to the conference," Hawley said. "Come the fall, you're going to have to explain how you came into compliance."
As Staples notes, the Big Ten's approach is admirable and should be a model for eliminating oversigning. But as long as there are loopholes in the current system, the league will continue to be at a competitive disadvantage.
Coaches are always looking for a leg up on the competition, and the lack of regulation around oversigning isn't going to stop guys like Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville.
Tuberville, now the coach at Texas Tech, doesn't need to see any numbers to know oversigning offers a competitive advantage. "Sure it is," he said. "But hey, nobody told [the Big Ten] they had to do that."
Tuberville goes on to say oversigning can help players who can't qualify academically for FBS programs. These players then can go to junior colleges and be motivated to improve their performance both on the field and in the classroom. The best of the bunch are brought back to the FBS programs.
This underscores another problem for the Big Ten: several programs don't admit junior college players and the overall number of juco players in the Big Ten is fewer than those in other power conferences.
Needless to say, oversigning is a MAJOR issue right now in college football. It deserves more attention, but until effective solutions are implemented from the national level, the Big Ten will be at a disadvantage.