Mon. Sep. 22 11:12 am
Sunday, May 29, 2011

Long addresses oversigning issue in college football

By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Oversigning, grayshirting and roster management will be popular topics when the Southeastern Conference spring meetings begin in Destin, Fla., on Tuesday.
No one has to tell Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. He, like everyone else involved in college athletics, has listened as the hot-button issue picked up steam the past several months.
But Long made something clear late last week before the expected oversigning battle begins in Florida. He’s certain Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino is doing nothing wrong.
“I think oversigning only becomes a problem if, one, you signed way too many and, two, if you’re not honest with those student-athletes when you signed them in the first place,” Long said.
“That’s why I have great respect for coach Petrino. He’s very clear with those student-athletes before they sign them.”
Oversigning is the practice in which programs sign more student athletes to scholarships than they can accommodate under the NCAA’s limit of 85. It’s a practice that, if done well, helps SEC programs like Arkansas maintain a full roster of scholarship players in the face of defections, injuries or players who don’t become academically eligible. On the flip side, it can cause a numbers crunch that can lead to players being asked to grayshirt (delay their enrollment for a semester), take medical hardships or transfer.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and Alabama’s Nick Saban have been the most common faces linked to the issue on the national scene, receiving criticism for some controversial practices.
Petrino has faced some as well. Especially after six scholarship players were released last month with a medical hardship being sought for another. It was no secret before the departures the Razorbacks would be above the 85-scholarship limit if every 2010 player returned and Arkansas’ entire 2011 signing class made it to campus.
Petrino declined an interview request to discuss the recent departures and oversigning.
But Long believes his coach is doing things appropriately when it comes to roster management by being honest and timely with his players.
“I can’t defend what some schools have done, dropping kids right before the beginning of camp or in the middle of the summer when they have no options. When they have nowhere else to go,” Long said. “That’s unfair. That’s my position.
“I think we’ve handled it well here at Arkansas and I think coach Petrino has handled it well.”
There’s no doubt Arkansas’ roster has undergone its share of turnover under Petrino. The Razorbacks announced 81 total signees on signing day in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Of those signees, 32 (or roughly 40 percent) are not at Arkansas now.
Some are for obvious reasons: nine signees didn’t qualify, four were junior college transfers whose eligibility expired after two years, one left for the NFL Draft and one was dismissed from the team.
That leaves 17 others who either quit football because of injuries, left the team, transferred or were released from their scholarships.
Long said attrition is nothing new. Players leave or fail to qualify for a variety of reasons every year. So oversigning can be vital.
But if it results in a numbers issue, Long said Petrino is not purposely running players off the team to clear space for others to arrive.
“Running players off is not something we would condone here,” Long said. “That’s not something we want to engage in. But being honest, being sometimes brutally honest with a young person about where they stand and where they fall on the depth chart, how much playing time. ... Many of them dream of playing in the NFL. That dream dies hard. So if they want to go some place somewhere else to play we want to help them do that.”
It’s clear Arkansas is on one side of the fence regarding oversigning, believing flexibility is needed to remain competitive. It isn’t alone.
Saban said he didn’t know what “everybody is so up in arms about,” according to the Birmingham News, regarding oversigning. Nutt told the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger he plans to fight to maintain the current rules this week.
But there are outspoken detractors, too.
“These other coaches have been oversigning, trying to make sure they never come up short of that 85 number, but in doing so have they done it in an ethical way?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, according to the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald. “I’d say the answer is probably not.”
It’s all destined to lead to an interesting week for SEC presidents, athletic directors and coaches. SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the Birmingham News proposed legislation also will consider early admission, medical exemptions and summer enrollment and grayshirting.
“We’re trying to tie all that together to put together a package that makes some sense,” Slive told the newspaper. Slive also told the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph the entire package will be “an important discussion item in Destin.”
In the end, some form of legislation is expected to be adopted, according to ESPN.com. What and how much remains to be seen. But Long has no doubt there will be some “strong discussions” as oversigning takes center stage this week.
“It’s different institutions with different missions,” Long said. “We serve different constituencies. We represent different states. So when you take a 12-member conference and spread across the states we have it’s difficult for one size fits all. ... (Our position) is one that we think we need a certain amount of oversigning to be able to function appropriately in this state.”