The news that 2015 football signee Jamel Dean would be leaving Ohio State after refusing to take a medical scholarship was poorly received in some quarters. His transfer could lead to negative press for Buckeye football – understandably so.
Dean's story starts with a commitment to Ohio State in December 2013. A surprising early commit to the 2015 class, Dean was expected to waver in his commitment. He never did; Dean stuck with the Buckeyes and even enrolled early to get a head start on the other 2015 recruits.
The central issue of this case is the status of Jamel Dean's knee. Dean tore his ACL toward the end of 2013, but he remained a Buckeye commit in spite of the injury; Ohio State doctors did not survey his knee until a physical in January 2015. After the physical, the team doctors refused to let Dean play. Dean's high school football coach in Cocoa, Fla. says Dean was treated wrong by Ohio State, and that it will affect the recruitment of future commitments from his school.
In a case like this with conflicting arguments and hurt feelings, there's not much an outsider like me can do to discern who's right and who's wrong. Instead, I'd like to address the argument that Dean was forced out of the program wrongly.
Under NCAA rules, Football Bowl Subdivision teams can have a maximum of 85 active scholarship players on the roster. Teams are permitted to go over that 85-man cap with incoming freshmen and transfers – a process known as oversigning – but they must be down to 85 by the start of the season. When a team is over the limit and gets down to 85, fans tend to be suspicious about whether the players who left the team were forced out to make room for other players (forced attrition) or if they would have departed anyway (natural attrition).
Sometimes, it's really easy to tell when teams are discarding players. In 2010, LSU was over the cap, so it cut freshman Elliott Porter's scholarship in August – after he had moved into his dorm. Medical hardship scholarships, the type Ohio State offered Dean keep players on scholarship but take them off the active roster. They're supposed to be uncommon, but between 2008 and 2010, Alabama awarded medical hardship scholarships at a rate ten times higher than the rest of the SEC.
Is Ohio State forcing attrition? That's less clear. Much has been made of Ohio State signing more players than it has in the past, and that's true: the Buckeyes have signed 99 players over the last four classes, compared to 88 players from the previous four classes. That in itself is not evidence of forced attrition, though: the Buckeyes were oversigned with the 2015 class, but they are at the 85 limit now, as one player is expected to grayshirt (delay enrollment to 2016) and another to not meet academic eligibility requirements.
Ever since Florida defeated Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, Ohio State and SEC fans have been clawing at each other's throats. Disregarding the argument about players being paid under the table (a moot point, since it happens everywhere), Ohio State fans' primary argument has been that the SEC accumulated an enormous advantage through oversigning and forced attrition.
Now that Ohio State has won the national championship, that argument is pointing the other direction. Given the polarization on the issue, coming to some generally agreed-upon conclusion is unlikely.
In Ohio State's favor, it wouldn't make much sense for the Buckeyes to recruit so many players at his position (OSU signed seven defensive backs in 2015) and risk the scorn of forcing out a player if they thought Dean wouldn't be able to perform. If they were so callous, they would have cut bait in January and signed another player in February.
Until we have more evidence, we have to rely on the word of the people involved. It's unsettling that there's such contradiction in the case of Jamel Dean; in the next couple of years, we'll see where he transfers and if he's able to overcome his knee injury. Until then, it's hasty to say.