So, How do you define Oversigning?

Catch 5's picture
January 22, 2014 at 11:28a

Here we are in late January with National Signing Day just around the corner.  One of the topics that usually rears its ugly head this time of year is Oversigning.  Many of you know I will often dive into these conversations when it surfaces – and being an Alabama fan, I rarely share the popular opinion (or at least I don’t subscribe to the hivethink).  I’ve often wanted to start a series of discussions on the topic here and see where it takes us, but during my conversations with various fans and in reading articles on the subject over the last few years, it has become clear to me that there is not a clear definition of what Oversigning is.  Depending on who you are talking to / reading, the meaning of the word could be two (or more) vastly different things.  One person could argue that Alabama is the worst offender of Oversigning out there, another could say they don’t even do it, and another still could say they do, but no worse than anybody else – and they could all be correct given the different definitions they may be using.  So as an exercise in trying to clear this up a bit, and as a start to maybe a series of discussions on the topic, let’s look at 5 of the common definitions for Oversigning I have come across. 

1.  The first definition of Oversigning is rather vague:  You count how many LOIs a team has acquired over a number of years and if it is higher than most, then that team has oversigned.  There isn’t really a particular number or benchmark, it is purely subjective where the line is drawn.  It doesn’t matter how many players the team had room for, or how many of those signed actually make it to campus, or for how long.  It solely looks at LOIs signed vs. an arbitrary norm.

2. When recruiting, teams may have no more than 85 scholarship players in any given year, nor more than 25 new players in any single recruiting class.  This second definition deals exclusively with the 25-rule.  There is little to no consideration given to the 85-man limit.  If a team signs 26 or more players on National Signing Day (NSD), then that team has oversigned - simple as that.

3. The next definition is the inverse of the previous one:  It looks mostly at the 85-man limit, giving little care to the 25 limit on class size.  Oversigning then, is the act of accepting more signed LOIs on NSD then you have room for under the 85-man limitHow many you have room for is strictly taken from the team roster as of NSD.  Basically, remove seniors, juniors who declared for the NFL, and any other attrition made public beforehand from the previous year’s roster, and subtract the remaining number of players from 85.  That is how many LOIs can be accepted without Oversigning.   For example, if you have 65 players returning on scholarship as of NSD, and you sign 23, you have oversigned by 3 because 85-65=20 (even though you are still below the 25-LOI limit discussed in #2).

4. This definition is very similar to #3, except in how you calculate how many LOIs a team can sign before oversigningThis definition also looks primarily at the 85-man limit, but allows a coach to look ahead through the summer and account for expected attrition such as graduating underclassmen not returning, players who are going on medical hardships, players who have expressed their desire to transfer after the academic year, and for players who will not have their scholarships renewed for any other reason.  Instead of looking at the roster as of NSD, this version allows the coach to project his roster to the end of the signing period (end of July / beginning of August) and use that as the baseline for how many he has room for.  Using this version, the coach in the example given in #3 could very easily not have oversigned.

5. The last definition I will provide is one that doesn’t really deal with numbers.  There are some who use Oversigning as a description of a recruiting style.  Like for an overly aggressive recruiter who offers scholarships to too many players with no real plan and little evaluation or consideration given to the team’s needs.  Or for a recruiter who lies to the recruits, stringing them along with the promise of an offer that likely never comes.  Or when a coach signs too many players per one of the definitions above, and has to tell a kid he can’t enroll until the next spring (greyshirt) even though this was never discussed previously.  There is not really one set definition for this:  it can be whatever the accuser wants it to be in order to deliver the negative connotation toward the offender.

So which of these do you subscribe to?  Did I miss one?  Let me know in the comments.

In the next couple of days, I plan on posting a follow-up to this that gives a little more detail on the definitions (where they all came from and links/examples/problems) and maybe we can kinda come to an agreement which one to use in discussing it moving forward.

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JKH1232's picture

Personally, I'd come in somewhere between 3 and 4- if you're signing guys in February with the intention of cutting guys off scholarship to make 85 by summer camp, or whenever the NCAA says you have to be on 85, and at least some of those cuts aren't a mutual decision- someone transferring, taking a hardship, or becoming ineligible.  If you know that's coming in February, you can pick up some extra recruits, even if it puts you over 85 for that day- some transfers won't be public/paper work done until the summer or that kind of thing.
To me, oversigning really kicks in when you're actively managing who is on and who is off- like, most famously, when Les Miles called in guys a week before camp started and told them they were off scholarship, and good luck, or Nick Saban sending guys to the hardship line and off the team when, in fact, they haven't had career ending injuries.  Basically, if you're cutting kids you promised a scholarship because they aren't panning out and you want another freshman to maybe make the team, you're oversigning.

Catch 5's picture

See, I actually agree with you on the definition.  The problem I have are the assumptions you make in your accusations of wrong-doing - or more likely you're going off of what others have said, which is assumption / drawn conclusions. 
IE, Miles never commented on that situation.  It is possible that they discussed the possibility of a grayshirt with Elliot Porter beforehand and it looked like there was room until a late qualifier (who didn't have a greyshirt agreement) happened.  That scenario is not likely, and given Miles' demeanor it likely happened as most believe, but when all you have is one side of the story, you must temper your conclusions.
What is worse is the common accusation against Saban that you echoed.  In fact, there are no accusations from anyone that he forced them onto medical hardships (if you think this article does, read it again), and every player that went on medical had been injured.  I may very well do an article on this very subject as it is misrepresented often.  

if you're cutting kids you promised a scholarship because they aren't panning out and you want another freshman to maybe make the team, you're oversigning.

You realize that by this rule, I can accuse Urban Meyer of oversigning when guys transfer out of the program in December and January just as readily as everyone accused Saban of doing so in June and July?  How do you determine when a kid has been cut and when he just wants to go somewhere he can get playing time?

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

buckeyedexter's picture

I know Meyer sits down with players not living up to expectations (like he did with Rod Smith and his parents), and discusses their future with the program.  But I don't think that's the same as cutting, the player has a choice to stay or leave.  Many kids do leave because they don't want to stuck on the scout team, but some like Rod decided to stay.
I think it's a honest conversation not like asking a coach to retire when they're really getting fired.

Catch 5's picture

I agree completely - any good coach does the same thing, including Saban.  Don't misunderstand my previous comment - I don't think Meyer does that, I was just trying to illustrate that if you hold your own coach to the same standard you do Saban, you come to the same conclusion.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

allinosu's picture

You lost me at being an Alabama fan.

Catch 5's picture

Yet you took the time to respond?...

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

hetuck's picture

I vote for #3. And give it teeth by basing APR to include LOIs. That will prevent coaches from playing eligibility games. Next make JUCOs meet the entry requirements or take a mandatory redshirt. Both of these requirements will help ensure bona fide students are given scholarships.

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

UrbanAssaultVehicle's picture

I'd have to agree that the definition should fall somewhere between 3 and 4, while also encompassing 5. When you promise a player a scholarship the only things that should keep him from receiving the full 4 years of schooling should be contingent on that player's actions.  This would include but is not limited to academics, legal issues, and team rules violations.  I really don't understand the process enough to point fingers at specific coaches, but I think once you offer a scholarship it should be upheld regardless of how the recruit pans out.  That is one of the inherent risks of recruiting, and is also why the universities pay the coaches so much to recruit the correct players.

d5k's picture

I think when coaches give the better player an extra chance or two over the benchwarmer you start creeping into the ugly territory.

Nick's picture

To me it's over signing when you sign guys when you know you don't have a spot open and will have to force someone out.

d5k's picture

I think reasonable people think the line is somewhere around #4 but expected "natural" attrition and attrition you expect because you are causing it to happen are different somewhat subjective criteria.  If you have a problem with toeing that line then look right at Urban as he toes the line.  With little to no transparency about why a player transferred or took a hardship or did not have their scholarship renewed it is hard to identify the difference above.

CptBuckeye24's picture

Four is probably the best option.  Transparency is a major issue on this subject.  Look at James Jackson several years ago, he accused Tressel of oversigning. 

Jackson, a wide receiver, says he was asked to transfer after last season, two years into his college career.
"They had an oversigning issue," Jackson said. "They had to free up a few scholarships, and coach (Jim) Tressel told me I probably wouldn't play and maybe Ohio State wasn't the place for me."
Fair or not, there are two sides to every story, Jackson could be bitter, who knows, we don't know. 
Who's choice is it to leave?  Coach/University's?  The players?  This is why 4 year scholarships are becoming the way of the future and was something Coach Meyer wants.  Fortunately, Ohio State offers these.  At the same token, scholarships must be earned, and why many want them to be renewed each year.  What if a player is not working hard and is not taking care of their responsibilities? 
Option four is probably combined with option 5 being the tactics of many in the SEC (cough,  Saban, cough Miles, cough)


The real advantage of oversigning is how teams choose to implement it within the rules of their conference. BIG schools must be at the 85 limit with an allowance of up to 3 more with permission of the conference. It kind of puts them in-between definitions #3 and #4 above. To my knowledge no other conference has such a rule. They adhere only to the NCAA rule of an 85 man roster when camp starts. So, a school like Alabama could take 10 over the 85 limit last year and “manage” their scholarship players down to 85 by the time camp started in August. I agree that this may happen through normal attrition like medical hardships, transfers, suspensions, etc. The questionable part comes in when certain schools seem to have an abnormally large amount of attrition every year. Then it starts to appear like an unfair advantage because those schools get to essentially try out an additional 10 players and “manage” 10 lesser players off their roster every year.
For the record, I am a fan of the BIG rule over all of the definitions given above. It’s more strict than #4 but more lenient of #3. I realize those schools that are able to take advantage of it may prefer definition #4 where there is no limit on how much attrition is allowed to occur.

Catch 5's picture

This is a great answer - but please keep your eyes out for part 2 of this blog (probably this afternoon).  I think You will be slightly surprised by part of it.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

cdub4's picture

I keep it simple. I agree with your premise that many people throw out the term too loosely. It is hard to really know who is oversigning as a casual fan. For example, I hear a lot of Tennessee and their 34 verbals, but no one really knows if they have done anything wrong.

Numbers don't mean a whole lot to me. Oversigning to me is having to force a kid out, or having to tell a verbal commit that you do not have room for him. Grayshirting if there is an agreement doesn't bother me.

Basically, if you aren't forcing kids to leave, or telling a verbal late in the process to look somewhere else, and are honest with the is OK IMO.

Catch 5's picture

Thanks everyone for your feedback.  I kind of get the feeling that everyone is giving me their opinion when things become wrong - and for the most part I agree.  But what I'm looking for here is simply the definition of the word "Oversigning" - not a determination of whether it is right or wrong.  Part 2 should be up by this afternoon where I explain this a little better...

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Wesleyburgess1's picture

I agree with number 4. Sign 3 to 5 players over the limit of 85. This is only ok if the coach knows who is going to leave and they have talked previously about them transferring. Its oversigning when a coach takes 5 kids without knowing exactly where the attrition will come from. It may never happen and the coach has to do sketchy things to get down to 85. To me this is oversigning. 

yrro's picture

I think that's the real difference.
Signing a guy because you expect a guy to be academically ineligible, but you don't know if he will - oversigning.
Signing a guy because you've talked with one of your players, and he wants to transfer, and you're arranging for him to transfer but it hasn't become public yet - not oversigning.

FitzBuck's picture

When 85 + 33 - 12 somehow = 85

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

Indy_Buck87's picture

Simple if you have room for x so that you do not exceed Y than do not bring in more than x! In the sec their Y is not 85 at signing day like the Big and they bring more than x.  They sort this out via medical hardships and pro style roster cuts to get to Y by camp. 

I know of only two things that are infinite, space and human stupidity.....and I'm not sure about space". Albert Einstein.