ATHENS, Ga. – First-year UGA athletics director Greg McGarity is strongly opposed to the practice of oversigning football prospects and in favor of legislation to help curtail such activity among SEC institutions.
When it comes to the debate about over-signing in the SEC, Greg McGarity says UGA "would be an advocate of legislation that would get our hands around that ethical part of our business better."
“It’s just the right thing to do,” McGarity told Dawgs247 this week.
Oversigning, as it pertains to college football, has grown to mean a school extending more scholarships to recruits than the program has available under the NCAA's 85-man limitations.
Coaches often sign those additional players with the understanding that the books don’t have to be balanced until August. Signees can not make it to campus for a variety of reasons, most commonly academic ones. However, if the numbers don’t shake out correctly, certain players must be made expendable, either through delayed enrollment (“grayshirting”) or the subtraction of an existing player through transfer, dismissal or medical disqualification.
More attention has been paid to this issue in recent years, and a recent groundswell regarding the ethics of oversigning has led the SEC to form a “working group” of administrators that are currently studying the issue.
According to McGarity, “I think it will be a topic for discussion (at SEC meetings) in Destin this year.”
“I think you will see controls in place,” McGarity said. “Now what that model will look like will be determined later -- sooner than later. … I think you'll see it being dealt with at the conference level much like the Big Ten (Conference) deals with it currently.”
SEC teams currently are limited to 28 signees in a certain class. But there are technical ways around the 28, such as the ability to count prospects that enroll early to the previous year.
In the Big Ten, teams are restricted from recruiting more than the 85 players. This has led to cries that Big Ten schools continue to play against a stacked deck when it comes to the SEC, which has an ongoing five-year streak of BCS titles.
Mark Richt: 'The goal is to never make a promise you can't keep.'
“No question it gives the SEC a big advantage," former Ohio State coach John Cooper recently told The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. "And let's face it -- they don't need another advantage.”
Technically, an SEC team’s scholarship limit still has to meet 25 for the class and 85 for the entire team ... in August.
February is often a different matter.
Auburn actually signed 32 prospects in Feb. 2010, months before winning the BCS national championship. Alabama, the previous national champ before Auburn, signed 32 players in Feb. 2008.
According to Oversigning.com, a Web site designed to raise awareness of this topic, in addition to Alabama and Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee have all reportedly logged classes of 30 or more football signees in the past five years.
“It’s a head-scratcher,” McGarity said. “I think the thing you focus on is, ‘What kind of conversation are you having with these young men and their parents up front? Are you making them aware of all the dynamics that could occur?’ I think the majority of the time that's probably not the case."
During the past four years, Alabama and Auburn have each signed a total of 113 prospects as opposed to Eastern Division teams like Florida (85) and Georgia (89).
That’s nothing new for Mark Richt, who has long been opposed to the practice of oversigning prospects during his UGA tenure.
Alabama coach Nick Saban fired back against critics on Signing Day, saying the Tide did not have 85 players on scholarship last season.
Because of this, McGarity says he and Richt were on the same page from the start.
“The goal is to never make a promise you can't keep,” Richt said. “That's the big thing for me. If there's a kid that you say, 'Hey look, we are at our number. Those numbers change. There's attrition. Things happen,' but the hard thing is when you sign a guy in February and then you don't have to declare your number until school starts, and you know there may be some attrition in the meantime. … To say that it wouldn't have nice to have one or two other guys that you thought could come in and make an impact on your football team, that's the tough part.”
Richt said he has warned UGA signees before of the possibility of a grayshirt if the numbers fell a certain way, but that “there’s never been a time where we had a guy in that situation where he ended up grayshirting.”
In the case of the Alabama, Nick Saban's 32 signings in 2008 helped create a messy 2009 offseason filled with player attrition. During that summer, at least four players were dismissed, four more went on medical scholarship, two transferred and three signees wound up grayshirting.
Alabama signed 23 – a low under Saban – this year. During his press conference on Signing Day, Saban defended his practices against a growing number of critics, saying he has never grayshirted a player without that possibility being out there from the start.
“Nobody really knows for sure how many guys we had on scholarship last year, but we didn’t have 85. I can tell you that,” Saban told reporters in Tuscaloosa. “… To criticize based on numbers when you don’t have all the facts and you don’t have all the internal information is a little premature and unfair. And for people to go on and use that against you in recruiting is even more unfair.”
There have been modest attempts by the SEC to curb oversigning. The 28-signee rule, which has since been adopted by the entire NCAA, was implemented in 2009 by the SEC.
It was immediately dubbed the “Houston Nutt rule,” since the Ole Miss coach had signed 31 players in 2008 and 37 in 2009.
University of Florida president Bernie Machen spoke out strongly against the ethics of oversigning and grayshirting.
“We knew that eight or nine would automatically not qualify,” Nutt said of that ’09 class, “and so you give them the incentive, you give them a (junior college) home and the motivation of, ‘Hey, I’m going to Ole Miss in a year or two years.’”
Nutt was against the rule at the time. But in a way, he also shrugged it off, saying that, “We’ve been following the rule, because you’ve got to have 25 by August 1st.”
Meanwhile, on the other end of the oversigning debate is the University of Florida. As an institution, UF is perhaps the staunchest critic of oversigning in the SEC, and it goes all the way to the top.
UF school president Bernie Machen, in an open letter to SI.com earlier this month, called the practices of oversigning -- and thus grayshirting signees -- “morally reprehensible.”
“These schools play roulette with the lives of talented young people,” Machen wrote. “If they run out of scholarships, too bad. The letter-of-intent signed by the university the previous February is voided. Technically, it's legal to do this. Morally, it is reprehensible.”
A UGA graduate, McGarity spent the past 18 years working at UF and has a similar view.
“We will not over-sign at Georgia, either," McGarity said.
He also points to Machen’s letter and says, “I'm sure The University of Georgia echoes his stance on oversigning.”
So what can be done to limit the practice?
McGarity’s preference would be a rule similar to what the Big Ten has in place. By instituting that, McGarity says the SEC could then help initiate change on the national level.
“For instance, if you know you're going to lose 20 student-athletes at the end of the year, then you basically should be able to sign that amount,” McGarity said. “I know there's several proposals out there that we'll discuss later. But I think there has to be some controls in place that prevent oversigning from occurring.
“And it should be based on the number of individuals that you're graduating or that are moving on to the NFL or choose to transfer at the appropriate time. We've got a lot of work to do to work through that process, but I think in general, (we should do) whatever we can do to avoid the situations that have developed here recently.”