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2012's First Oversigning Controversy Comes At Alabama, But It Won't Be Last

In 2011, the topic of oversigning and roster management in college football hit a critical mass. The presidents of Florida and Georgia wrote op-eds condemning schools for aspects of it, and the SEC adopted new rules regarding graduate transfers, medical exemption scholarships, and the number of players that can be signed each year.

In 2012, the first big controversy comes from the newly crowned national champs. Nick Saban told running back Justin Taylor over last weekend that he would have to grayshirt in order to play at Alabama because the Tide had collected a 26th commitment. One of the SEC's new rules states that teams cannot sign more than 25 players per year to national letters of intent (NLI). Taylor, a consensus three star back, had been committed to Bama for about 11 months, though he had missed his senior year to an ACL injury.

On the face of it, this is an improvement over the old system. Saban was forced to break the news about the grayshirt ahead of National Signing Day because of the SEC's 25 player cap. It's possible that, under the old system, Alabama could have signed Taylor (because there was a 28-player cap) and then converted him to a grayshirt after signing day if it had too many players heading into fall camp. Taylor would then have to sit out a year as a transfer if he didn't want to grayshirt this coming fall (as he doesn't want to do). Instead, he now has a few weeks to re-open his recruitment and find another place to go where he can at least practice with a team if not participate on the field.

However, the new system is not completely vindicated here. It did work well for Taylor, but he is not likely to be the last player to find himself in an oversigning controversy in 2012.

In November, I tried to come up with an estimate for how many slots Alabama would have open for its upcoming recruiting class (I did this for five other schools too; I just ran out of time on finishing out the rest of the league). I used the roster on the school's website and the Rivals and Scout databases to try to figure this out. Keep in mind that Saban and Alabama are adamant about never releasing scholarship information, so we can't know precisely how accurate this is.

By my count, Alabama had the maximum 85 scholarship players this fall. Of them, 17 were seniors that exhausted their eligibility when the clock hit 0:00 in New Orleans. Three more players have declared for the NFL Draft early. Therefore, the Crimson Tide has approximately 20 slots open for this recruiting class.

Taylor's comments and Bama's voluminous 2012 commit list indicate that Saban intends to sign a full, 25-member class this year. That means (barring dismissals and SEC-approved medical exemption scholarships) about five additional players will have to be trimmed from the roster between NSD and fall practice. The new rules have not prevented Alabama from being in position to have to either drop players from scholarship or issue post-NSD grayshirts, a situation that is the primary objection of oversigning critics.

I don't mean to pile on Alabama here. Of the other schools I've looked at (Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky), Arkansas is also going to be over the 85 limit by my count. I have Arkansas with 85 scholarships last fall, 18 seniors, and no early draft entrants. It then has 18 slots open for this class, but it has 21 commitments according to Rivals. Three players will have to find their way off the roster after signing day if my numbers are correct and all the commitments stick. Because Arkansas is not over the 25-player limit though, Bobby Petrino does not have to offer any pre-NSD grayshirts like Alabama did with Taylor if he doesn't want to.

I also have Kentucky being one player over the limit. By my count, UK had 78 scholarship players last fall (though I couldn't find any information on walkons getting scholarships; I assume none did) and 16 seniors. That would give the Wildcats 23 slots available, but they have 24 commitments according to Rivals. It's worth noting that because Kentucky football isn't followed and covered as obsessively as other SEC programs, my figures on UK are more likely to have errors than others.

Nothing described here is against any rules, so yes, oversigning is still 100% legal in all of college football. It will take stricter rules than what the SEC implemented to wipe out the practice entirely, if that's what the powers that be intend to do.