Sunday, July 24, 2011

No, No, I *Strenuously* Object to Oversigning

This is apropos of not much besides a single wayward tweet in my queue this morning, but I think it's time for Big Ten fans to let the oversigning issue go, especially in regards to the complaint that oversigning creates a competitive imbalance between the conferences. Is the charge true? Yes, probably, at the margins; it's better to have 88 players on scholarship than 85, and if the coach gets to cull the worst three on the roster after personal evaluation rather than having to choose based on high school tape, then there is surely some advantage.

But at this point, after beatdown and beatdown and beatdown with only a few morally ambiguous counterexamples, the complaint rings a little hollow. Oversigning is an issue of marginal improvement, not massive programmatic change. The last three or five or even twenty players on Alabama's roster didn't account for the 42 point loss Michigan State suffered. The difference that mattered was the difference in quality between the top twenty players on both teams, and the gap was every bit as significant there as the gap at the bottom. Alabama could have signed 15 players each of the past four years and still won that game by two touchdowns.

In the meantime, some of the worst offenders don't appear to be reaping much in the way of rewards. The 37-player 2009 Ole Miss class set off much of the firestorm. As redshirt freshmen or sophomores, that class lost to Vanderbilt and failed to make a bowl game; as redshirt sophomores or juniors, that class is predicted to finish last in the SEC West.

Oversigning matters because kids are potentially getting cheated out of promises. It matters because letters of intent are currently only one-way commitments, leaving players at the mercy of coaches who themselves are increasingly at the mercy of fan bases calling for wins at any cost. But bemoaning that the Big Ten is *thisclose* to breaking through yet held back by its scrupulously scrupulous practices has more than a little bit of whinyness about it. The three star linebacker in Jackson who signs up to play for Houston Nutt and gets cut next year is the real victim, not Michigan State or Ohio State.