Oversigning Makes Mockery of Competitive Equity
By Tony Gerdeman
It's late December and bowl season is finally here. That of course means we actually get a handful of games pitting the SEC against the Big Ten. It also means that we get to hear all about the SEC's domination over the Big Ten—even though there is no such domination, and the truth is simply ignored or unknown by the ones who should know it the most.
After all, knowing stuff is hard!
Did you know that over the last four seasons, the two conferences have met ten times in bowl games and have split those ten games evenly, and since 2002, the Big Ten even has a one-game advantage against the SEC in bowl games.
But don't let facts get in the way of what you've been told.
It's actually pretty impressive that the Big Ten can hold their own with the SEC considering the advantage that the SEC has—and no, for once I'm not talking about the fact that they get to play “home” games in the postseason. I'm talking about oversigning.
We've talked about it before, but there are always people new to the idea, so allow me to quickly explain it for those who have yet to come to know the dooshery known as oversigning.
Every college football team is allowed 85 scholarships with which to fill their team, but only 25 of those scholarships are allowed to be given out in any particular year. Oversigning happens when coaches hand out more scholarships in a given year than they have available to give out.
For instance, if a team already has 70 scholarship players on its roster, they only have room for 15 new players. If they sign more than the allotted 15, then they will have to cut somebody to make room for every player over that 15 mark.
It's a sadly rampant and accepted practice in some parts of the country, but especially in the SEC. Though due to an unusual feeling of shame, the conference has recently instituted a rule that limits the number of signees per year to 28.
There are, however, plenty of ways around this number. That's a whole other discussion, which is fantastically addressed at the SEC's most-hated website, oversigning.com. It is recommended reading, but it will probably make you angry if you happen to care about human beings.
The point of this article isn't to talk about the evils of oversigning. Instead, I just wanted to show you what the SEC and Big Ten would be working with in their bowl games, and compare that to their opponents, then let you draw your own conclusions.
Maybe one day we can even make it a stat that appears in every game preview or breakdown. For instance, something like this:
Tuesday January 4
Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA)
Teams: #6 Ohio State (11-1) vs #8 Arkansas (10-2)
Time (TV): 8:30 pm (ESPN)
Letters of Intent Received Over Last Four Years: Arkansas +30
What does that +30 mean? It means in the four recruiting classes from 2007 to 2010, Arkansas signed 30 more players than Ohio State did. In four seasons, they signed 109 players to the Buckeyes' 79.
In other words, they signed almost two entire recruiting classes more than Ohio State did.
Remember, the NCAA has a limit of 25 players per recruiting class, yet Arkansas AVERAGED 27.25 from 2007-2010. Of course, the NCAA's 25-player limit is a lot like a speed limit—merely a suggestion. After all, if nobody's going to police the situation, who's at fault—the speeders or the lawmakers?
The real number has always been the 85 total scholarships that can be out and about at any given time. This is the number that coaches MUST adhere to, and it's this number that causes coaches to cut the lesser players from their team when they've oversigned.
Looking at the bowl matchups, only one Big Ten team has signed more recruits over the last four seasons than their opponent. On the other hand, eight of the ten SEC bowl teams have signed more players than their opponents.
Here's the breakdown over the last four classes for each bowl game involving the Big Ten or the SEC (the data on BCS teams comes from oversigning.com):
Missouri (99 signed) vs Iowa (88)
Baylor (103) vs Illinois (93)
Texas Tech (92) vs Northwestern (74)
Wisconsin (89) vs TCU (76)
Music City Bowl
North Carolina (98) vs Tennessee (97)
UCF (93) vs Georgia (86)
South Carolina (106) vs Florida State (96)
South Carolina +10
LSU (105) vs Texas A&M (93)
BBVA Compass Bowl
Kentucky (104) vs Pittsburgh (87)
BCS National Championship Game
Auburn (119) vs Oregon (100)
Those were the ten bowls with just one Big Ten or SEC team involved. You can see the discrepancies pretty easily. If you're wondering what's wrong with Georgia, nothing is wrong with them. They just choose not to oversign. Though, in the SEC, that's admittedly crazy.
It's pretty interesting to look at the contrast from team to team. Auburn signed 119 players over the last four seasons—an average of 29.75 per year! Their bowl opponent last year was Northwestern, who has signed 45 fewer players than Auburn over that same period.
The Tigers beat the Wildcats by three points in overtime last season. If Northwestern had 45 more players to sift through over these last four seasons, how much better do you think they'd be in 2010? Instead, they choose not to cut players or chase academic risks. The gall!
Not every team that has signed more than 85 or so players is oversigning. There are always legitimate reasons to sign more than 85 players over a four-year period. Some players transfer for playing time, or to be closer to home, or they may flunk out, or they may even leave early for the NFL. Attrition happens everywhere. The NCAA even addressed it by allowing 25 signees per year. That's 100 players over a four-year period, but they know attrition is going to happen, and they've built their system to allow for it. It's the forced attrition that continues to be the issue.
If you really want to gawk at some discrepancies, let's take a look at the four bowl games involving both the Big Ten and the SEC:
Capital One Bowl
Alabama (113) vs Michigan State (88)
Alabama +25, Michigan State -25
Mississippi State (113) vs Michigan (93)
Mississippi State +20, Michigan -20
Florida (93) vs Penn State (82)
Florida +11, Penn State -11
Arkansas (109) vs Ohio State (79)
Arkansas +30, Ohio State -30
The SEC teams have signed 86 more players over the last four seasons than the Big Ten has. Basically, each of these SEC teams has an entire extra recruiting class to sift through in order to find the talent enough to beat their opponents.
The Big Ten, to their detriment, chooses not to engage in such cutthroatery, and yes, it is to their detriment. Their record against the SEC is even in bowl games of late, but imagine if they had 22 extra players to pore through per team. Do you really think they wouldn't have made the most of their “do-overs”?
But it's to the players' benefit that the Big Ten doesn't oversign, and humanity's as well. There is at least one conference out there that remains convinced (for the most part) that they are comprised of academic institutions, regardless of the money that pours in via their football programs.
Meanwhile, if a player fails to meet the coach's expectations in the SEC, they are deemed to have no further value and pushed out.
That's not college football—that's professional football. It's the biggest difference between the SEC and the Big Ten right now and it will be until the NCAA finally steps in and enforces their pretend rules—or changes them altogether.
Just like they did with Cameron Newton.
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