The Big Ten's take on oversigning, Part I

Big Ten fans are furious about oversigning in recruiting, and rightfully so.

What does the league office think about the questionable practice?

As most of you know by now, the Big Ten banned oversigning in 1956. The league in 2002 implemented a rule that allows schools to oversign by three players as long as they document how they fell below the 85-man scholarship limit for football and how they came back into compliance. But the Big Ten avoids the type of oversigning that often occurs in leagues like the SEC and Big 12.

I checked in with Chad Hawley, the Big Ten's associate commissioner for compliance, to get the league's take on what has become a very hot topic in college football.

Here's the first part of our discussion.

How do you approach this issue nationally when the Big Ten has long prohibited the type of oversigning we see elsewhere?

Chad Hawley: We're pleased that it is getting more attention, but it's not been an issue we've gotten out in front of and tried to push nationally. For us, it's something that we've really been doing for as long as we've been giving athletic scholarships. It's been ingrained in our culture, something we're used to. We have provided limited exceptions in the past few years, but with those exceptions we have monitored to see just how institutions are coming back into compliance.

Do those exceptions relate to the rule that allows three over the [scholarship] limit?

CH: Correct. This is the difference between our rule and what the NCAA rule is. If you have 20 scholarship slots available, our rule would allow you to sign 23, where the NCAA is a firm number. We allow oversigning by three in football. Some have used it, not everyone has. On a year-to-year basis, there are fewer than use it than not. And even within those instances, we may be looking at oversigning by two or even one.

Illinois' class this year looks to be at least 30. How does that work under the Big Ten's rules?

CH: You look at it first glance and you think the math is curious, but if you have a number of individuals that are recruited in the total recruiting class of 30 who had enrolled mid-year, had enrolled right now, it could count back against last year's limits. Let's say if you've got 30 and you had three enroll at midyear, you're able to count their scholarships against the 2010-11 academic year, a limit of 25. Let's assume that you have room within the 85 to have 30 [total]; heading into next year, you're looking at 55 returners.

If three that enrolled midyear are able to count against this year's academic limit, that drops it down to 27 and you only oversign by two. When the number gets up to 30, 31 even, what's happening is you've got some included that total of the upcoming class that are already enrolled and are counting in the present academic year's limits.

You mentioned that you're happy oversigning is getting more attention but you're not going out of your way to bring light to it. Who needs to do that? Is it the media, or can it come from other conferences?

CH: Just because something makes sense philosophically to us, it doesn't exactly translate to an expectation that everyone else thinks the way that we do. That's part of it. We look at it not just as a football issue but an issue in all sports. For this past year's NCAA legislative cycle, we actually did submit a proposal that would have imposed signing limits in the sport of baseball, and that proposal went down in flames a couple of weeks ago. It didn't get any national support. Part of it's looking at whether something would be adopted nationally. The other part of it is just because something makes sense philosophically to you doesn't necessarily mean it's right for everybody else.

How do you think a similar proposal in football would be received?

CH: It's tough to say. On one hand, just because someone oversigns, does that mean they're abusive in what they're doing? Not necessarily. With what our exception does, you're pretty limited to the extent you can oversign. So it's not inherently evil. I think you might find some who would keep allowing it nationally. On the other hand, if we're all on the same page, it wouldn't really be an issue. We have not gone through the process of gauging where folks would be nationally if we were to sponsor legislation.