The Southeastern Conference will consider legislation this week to address over-signing, the controversial recruiting action that Georgia football coach Mark Richt has called "an awful thing to do."
Enlarge photo Curtis Compton, firstname.lastname@example.org
On the issue of over-signing football recruits, UGA's Mark Richt says, "I think that's an awful thing to do; I think that's the wrong thing to do."
Over-signing is when a college signs more recruits than it has scholarships available. Schools that over-sign benefit from a steady supply of players ready to take roster spots vacated when recruits don't meet NCAA academic requirements, players suffer injuries, players have off-field issues or players transfer.
Colleges that over-sign run into problems when there isn't enough roster attrition, forcing coaches to ask recruits to delay enrollment, current players to take a medical hardship or players to leave the program.
The SEC, which has won five straight BCS championships, has a reputation for over-signing. An Alabama newspaper columnist wrote that "the SEC wouldn't be 5-for-5 if it weren't for over-signing." It allows coaches to tinker with college rosters as if they were operating with an NFL waiver wire.
Over-signing appears to be the hot-button issue for SEC school presidents, athletic directors and coaches who attend the conference's annual spring meetings, which begin Tuesday in Destin, Fla.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive will introduce a legislation package this week to address over-signing.
"There will be action because [the proposals] will come forth as proposed legislation for the presidents, the ADs and the other groups to opine on, but I feel good about them," Slive told The Macon Telegraph.
"So I think the goal is to make sure that our prospective student-athletes are treated in a way that is as they should be treated, like students are treated.
And I think this package does that."
Slive hasn't revealed the specifics of the proposed measures, but has thrown his political weight behind it. He also told the Telegraph that it goes beyond over-signing, addressing what he calls roster management.
“In other words, it’s more than just the question of over-signing or grayshirting,” Slive said. “It’s a question of over-signing, grayshirting, early admissions, summer school admission. We’ve put together what we call a bit of a package to address these issues, that will give our people a chance to think about these issues in a more global fashion."
It's unclear how much support the legislation has entering the SEC meetings. In an unofficial survey by ESPN, SEC football coaches were 8-4 in favor of not drastically changing the rules.
South Carolina's Steve Spurrier has said the Gamecocks must over-sign because of his state's poor academic record, and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt remains a staunch supporter of this recruiting method. Nutt impulsively signed 37 recruits in 2009
, leading to SEC and NCAA legislation capping the limit at 28.
Alabama's Nick Saban is concerned about future restrictions in the SEC, telling ESPN, "In my opinion, it would really affect the quality in our league."
On the opposite side of this issue is Florida president Bernie Machen, who has called over-signing and related matters "morally reprehensible."
Richt sounded off on the topic at a booster club meeting last month in Greenville, S.C.
“If you bring them in in the summer, and you work them and you let your strength staff work with them, and you kind of decide which ones you like best, and you tell five of them, ‘Hey, we know we signed you and we expected you to be able to come in; we don’t have the space for you, we’re really sorry about that but we don’t have space for you -- you’re gonna have to leave and come back in January.
"I think that’s an awful thing to do; I think that’s the wrong thing to do. And it’s nothing that we’ve done since I’ve been at Georgia."
However, Richt admitted he uses the method of "grayshirts" with roster management, as long as the recruit is informed in advance of the situation. With a grayshirt, a player signs in February, but does not enroll in the summer with his teammates. He delays entry until January and counts against the team’s scholarship total for the following year.
Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson is also outspoken against over-signing.
“We just don’t do it," Johnson said. "It makes it hard sometimes to hit your target number, but it is what it is. I don’t see how you can do that to kids, weed out guys for whatever reasons. No matter what anybody says, if you’re over-signing, some of that has to happen on occasion.”
Johnson said colleges that over-sign have a competitive advantage. “Sure they do," he said. "It’s just like you take 25 kids every year and then cut the ones you don’t want."
Over-signing was one of the main reasons Georgia Tech left the SEC as a member school in 1964.