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National Signing Day: Bernard Machen Is a Hypocrite. But Not for the Reasons You Think

Because we don't do team-by-team coverage of National Signing Day here at Team Speed Kills, let's discuss a related issue a little more than we did yesterday. Check back later for things like the Team Speed Kills 12.

Ever since Florida President J. Bernard Machen unleashed his loosely-informed tirade on oversigning, grayshirting and related practices in a letter to Sports Illustrated, there have been a couple of kinds of reaction. One is to applaud J. Bernard Machen for being a protector of all that is right with college sports, and the other has been to try to find evidence of his hypocrisy by looking for examples where Florida, for example, grayshirted a student-athlete. The former is not without some degree of merit, as oversigning is at best an ethically gray area; the second is misguided in its focus.

Machen is a hypocrite, and you don't need to look into old Florida recruiting classes to make the point. And what makes it all the more infuriating is that Machen isn't just being hyprocritical -- he's pointing to very act of hypocrisy and saying that it's not hypocritical, and by lying about it too boot.

Associated with "grayshirting" -- and equally disgusting -- is the nefarious practice of prematurely ending student-athletes' scholarships. Some are just not renewed even though the student-athlete is doing what is asked of him. ...

No university would allow this for the general student body. Imagine the uproar it would cause!

Well, I would guess that the uproar would be none at all. Because it happens at American universities today -- all the time! (Exclamation point approved by J. Bernard Machen.)

But to help Machen clear up his thinking, let me offer him the chance to prove he's not a hypocrite by phrasing it this way: Is Machen now saying that all Florida students who are getting an academic scholarship will continue to receive that scholarship for all four years, regardless of what grades they make in the first, second and third year of the scholarship? I'm not exactly going to wait with bated breath to see if Machen agrees to the offer, and it's not just because it's unlikely that he reads this blog.

Some of my education at the University of South Carolina was paid for by academic scholarships that I earned. Most, if not all, of those scholarships required me to maintain a certain GPA to continue to receive the scholarship. The logic was pretty clear: If you're going to give a student a scholarship for academic achievement, particularly if there are only so many scholarships you can give for those academic reasons, it makes sense to make sure those holding the scholarships can actually do well academically in college.

The same logic should apply to the finite number of athletic scholarships at universities. Steve Spurrier caused a controversy when he came to South Carolina in 2005 by taking scholarships away from some athletes he didn't think were meeting the program's standards -- less noticed was that these scholarships went to walk-ons that Spurrier thought were doing things the right way.

Machen is also ignoring that athletes can and often do break the scholarship agreement on their terms. A player can transfer to another school with little recourse from the university, unless Derek Dooley has decided he wants to make a pointless stand. And with April just a couple of months away, no one should need a reminder that high-caliber players often stay for just three years.

Personally, I think oversigning should not happen, certainly not in the Houston Nutt "It Takes a Village" sense. And while I generally think there's not a problem with grayshirting if the student and coaches agree -- it's waiting a semester, not a year, as Machen ignorantly writes -- I can see why some people might object to at least some examples of the practice.

But by insisting that schools treat athletic scholarships as "a moral contract" for all four years, Machen is demanding something from the athletic side of his institution that he would never ask the academic side to do. That is not moral clarity or some sort of righteous stand, it's hypocrisy, and there's nothing brave or praiseworthy about it.