Derek Dooley's Defense of Oversigning is Self Serving

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 26: Derek Dooley the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers watches the action during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Derek Dooley isn't happy about the SEC's new rules that attempt to restrict oversigning. He feels that the practice of oversigning has a bad rap and needs to be defended by coaches who want to do it. He attempted to do just that in the AJC yesterday, but he came off sounding entirely self-serving. Let's go through it, shall we?

"...[the new rule] really puts stress on you [as a coach] on what to do because the odds are, in my experiences, you’re going to get one out of four down the stretch. If you’re recruiting 8 guys, generally you’re going to get two of them. Here’s the problem. If I have 21 commitments at this point and I only sign 25, that’s four spots. What do I do with those 8 that I’m still recruiting? That’s the challenge."

Dooley doesn't like the rule because it forces him to make tough decisions about who and how to recruit down the stretch towards National Signing Day. Guess what? You're making around $2 million per year. I don't feel sorry for you if a new rule that helps protect players makes your job harder. That's why they pay you the big bucks. If you end up one or two players short of your goal, well, you're paid about $2 million per year to make that not matter.

Tennessee has been down on numbers as of late, and I'm sure that has worn on Dooley. However, it's been due to attrition from a rapid series of coaching changes. It has nothing to do with him not oversigning. Continuing...

"I think over-signing is good for the student-athlete. Let me give you some hypotheticals: Let’s say a a guy gets hurt his senior year, and there’s a good chance he won’t play his freshman year of college. He has got to do surgery and rehab. What could we do in the past? In the past, we could sign him, grayshirt him and put him in next year’s class."

When asked by interviewer Michael Carvell in a good followup question why he shouldn't just sign such a player and have him get healthy under the watch of team doctors, Dooley responded:

"Well, he can get the same medical care and rehab at home. What you’re going to get into by putting him in next year’s class is that it doesn’t shortchange you for this year’s class just to rehab a guy. You can get the same medical care anywhere you go, as long as you go to the right doctors."

Are you kidding me? Dooley sounds like he's more concerned with his roster numbers than doing right by the injured player. Sure, just let the kid and his family pay for the doctor visits and rehab for a few extra months instead of letting him get it free of charge through the school as a scholarship athlete. That totally sounds like you're doing what's in the kid's best interest. And for what? To possibly sign one extra player who, as a true freshman, has a pretty decent chance of redshirting anyway.

Here's an even stranger example where he stops making sense. Dooley brings up sign-and-place as a positive for players who can't make it academically directly out of high school:

"You look at their mid-year grades and you see that they’re going to be an academic risk, or there’s a good chance that they won’t qualify. Well, then you have to make a decision. Because in the past, you could sign them and if he didn’t qualify, place him in a junior college, help him get into a junior college and give him the motivation to come back to your school one day. Now you can’t sign him, or you’re not willing to take that risk because you can’t be short on your roster."

That's a fair point taken in isolation from the rest of his comments, though he still sounds more concerned about his roster numbers than anything. There's a pro league he might want to look at coaching in if meeting a roster number is his primary consideration.

But anyway, why can't he just promise to sign the kid out of the JUCO the next year? That's not too far off from how grayshirts work, and he sees no chance whatsoever of that particular concept being exploited by coaches:

"...I don’t know of any coach that didn’t promise a guy a gray-shirt and didn’t follow through with it. Because what’s going to happen, and that’s what I always say, let the market take care of the coaches who are abusing it. If a coach lies to a player, who is going to want to play for that coach?"

Why are promises good enough with grayshirts but not with kids who have to spend a year at a junior college? This just doesn't make sense.

There is one point on which I am 100% in agreement with Dooley on though, and it's this particular snippet:

"We didn’t eliminate over-signing. The school presidents think we eliminated over-signing and we didn’t. If I only have 18 scholarships to give on my roster, I can over-sign by seven. The only rule is that we can’t sign more than 25. So we’re playing this game in the media that we’re trying to look like we’re changing."

He's 100% correct. The SEC's cap of no more than 25 signed players per year only addresses one kind of oversigning. The NCAA only allows a team to bring in 25 new scholarship players per year from high schools and junior colleges. A coach used to be able to sign more than 25 per year if some of them were going to take grayshirts or be placed in a junior college. That's why Houston Nutt was famously able once to sign 37 players: many of them weren't going to qualify and would be placed in a junior college. For all of the new rule's limited utility, it did work this year.

The other kind of oversigning is what Dooley is talking about here: when a coach signs more players than he has room for under the 85-scholarships-per-team cap. As long as a coach is at or under the cap by fall, he can have plenty over the cap as Dooley describes. A real, strong oversigning prevention rule is not like what the SEC has but rather like what the Big Ten has.

The Big Ten doesn't allow a coach to sign more players than can fit under the 85 cap unless he gets a waiver from the league office, and even then, he can only go up to three spots over it. That's a more effective rule for protecting a larger number of players. With something like that in effect, there doesn't need to be a 25-player cap like what the NCAA and SEC have implemented. If a coach has 28 spots open under the 85 cap, he should be able to sign 28 if he so chooses.

So why does Dooley want to be able to sign players who get grayshirted or placed at a JUCO when he thinks promises from coaches are good enough anyway? The advantage of the old way is not that it forced the players to go to the school they signed with the next year, as the NLI they sign doesn't bind them to it. Instead, it illustrates a commitment from both sides and creates a bond with the school in the players' minds. It's not about making sure the coaches keep the commitment, but rather increasing the likelihood that the player will keep the commitment. Once again, it's all about making the coach's job easier.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh on Dooley here, but my first concern will always be for the players well being rather than the millionaire coaches' well being. The players are ostensibly at college to get an education, and NCAA rules forbid them to make money off of their likenesses and restrict their ability to move (via the year of sitting out after a transfer and coaches' ability to restrict transfer choices by only releasing them to certain places). They can even be dropped from scholarship at the coaches' whims if they're not one of the lucky few who signed four-year scholarship agreements this year.

Once kids are in the system, everything is tilted away from them. Real oversigning reform is one way to make things a little better and more fair to them, and that's a good thing no matter how much harder coaches have to work as a result.

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