This week, the hyperbole has kicked into full gear as the top two teams in the nation play each other in what must certainly be the “Game Of The Millennium!!1!11!!”.
Granted, both LSU and Alabama are amazing teams, and deserve their top rankings. Each program is led by a coach that has won a national championship; with Coach Saban doing it at both schools. Both come from the tradition and experience laden SEC, winners of the last five national titles. Heck, there’s even speculation that this may only be a precursor to the National Title game; that the tubes and wheels inside of computers might match them again in the Sugar Bowl for another go at it.
So, in many ways the extreme coverage is warranted. Given that both teams have had a week off to prepare, and that their conference has exclusive coverage from the network that creates news stories, I’m actually surprised at how understated the buildup to this game has been. And yes, I will be watching.
That being said, though, there’s one set of stories that won’t be covered in all of the leadup to this spectacular matchup. I’m on record as being very “anti-human interest angle” pre Super Bowl, and my perspective here is why I refuse to watch the Olympics. However, there are student athletes who have been forgotten and cast aside here, not just by the media coverage, but by the programs themselves.
I’m referring, of course, to those players who have ‘left’ the active rosters of each team for what might be considered questionable reasons.
If you’re a knowledgeable college football fan or regular reader of tBBC, you’re aware of the practice of “oversigning”. Here’s eSECpn’s best (and to my knowledge, only) coverage of the issue:
The most notable school/coach for this practice is Alabama and Nick Saban, but this year the spotlight shone on South Carolina and the decision to not renew the scholarship of Bryce Sherman and to withdraw scholarship offers that had been accepted by two other recruits. They still found room for the top recruit in the country, now freshman starter JaDeveon Clowney. Watching that video makes the decision to find room for him understandable.
To be fair, it’s not the entire SEC, nor limited to that conference; Florida and Georgia have both come out against the practice. In fact, it almost appears that South Carolina is the only SEC East team where this might be a regular issue… the majority of the critique (even within the conference) is aimed at the Western Division. While some would say that was “sour grapes” due to the West’s recent success, it’s important to remember that the other SEC team to win two National BCS Championships did so without the spectre of oversigning- and is the only team from the Eastern Division to do so.
It should be pointed out that Ohio State has been criticized of this practice as of late, although the numbers don’t seem to match the account. That’s due, in part, to a B1G conference rule that places a hard limit on the number of students that can be signed on National Signing Day; any variation of that number (the number of student athletes on scholarship minus the 85 scholarship limit from the NCAA, with a maximum of only three oversigned to be approved after clarity on how the 85 target would be reached) must be approved through the conference office. That’s much different than the “We’ll only sign 25, even if there are only 13 openings!” media event that the Southeastern Conference put on earlier in the year.
While some in recruiting circles have been talking about this for years, the greatest champion against this practice, and the one that I believe forced it into the national narrative, are the folks at Oversigning.com. To be completely forthright, they’ve been not only an inspiration for this article but have served as a resource as well; allowing me to pick their brains during its formation.
So, what does this have to do with Saturday’s epic clash? Well, as Ramzy at Eleven Warriors will remind you, this practice creates a significant advantage for teams that choose to use it, and both the Tigers and Crimson Tide are among the most prolific at this practice, according to recent numbers. The staff at Recruitocosm (Texas/BigXII centric) agree, and also project what this might look like at their favorite program-
Signing three additional players a year is akin to having a 95 to 100 scholarship limit as opposed to the 85 scholarship limit non-oversigners work with. Obviously Bama and LSU don’t actually get to carry 100 scholarship players, but they’ve got 100 players from which to find 44 players to fill their two-deep with as opposed to the 85 players Texas works with. It gives them more margin for evaluation error and allows them to take a few more fliers on raw but talented prospects. If you’re a Texas fan who follows recruiting, you know that there are plenty of worthy recruits that Texas has to turn away each year because of scholarship limits. An additional 3+ scholies per year could net the Horns some pretty nice talent.
In fact, Brian Cook at MGoBlog has even suggested that Michigan not play Alabama next year due to the advantage that the Crimson Tide have due to the numerical gymnastics involved in filling out their roster.
So- this game should be one for the ages; proud programs, storied coaches, and a numerical advantage that has the possibility to tip the scales even further in their favor. And, it should be noted, it’s all within the rules… to paraphrase Pete Carroll, it’s doing whatever you can to find that competitive edge.
But what about those people who end up being cut by that razor’s edge?
Which brings us to the meat of this reflection- How might those that have left Alabama and LSU impact this event? Is there even enough to make a difference?
First, a note about methodology: Given that most students and student athletes take 5 years to graduate or complete their eligibility, we started by looking at the recruiting classes for each school from 2007 through 2011. After compiling those names, we then compared them against the current rosters at both programs, and created a list of persons who were not currently members of the team.
After that, we did a little googling to see if there was any information regarding these folks. Those who had gone pro early or had graduated after completing their tenure with the Tigers or Tide were removed from the list.
What we have left is the list of people who have left their teams during that time- some may have transferred, stopped playing football altogether, or graduated since they were with the squads. However, if they didn’t complete their eligibility or go pro, they are on this list- even if they didn’t pass academic qualifications to enroll at their schools (my opinion is that these students shouldn’t have been offered scholarship opportunities to begin with).
Here are the names/positions as best as I could surmise, with any notes from my cursory review. And it was a short review- I’m not a recruiting guru, and have even less expertise in the states where many of these students call home. If there are names that shouldn’t be on here, if there are stories/circumstances we should be aware of, or if there are people that I’ve forgotten please let me know in the comments.
Louisiana State University: 2007- 2011 recruiting numbers: 128 signed (25.6 per year)
2008-2011: 102 signed (25.5 per)
University of Alabama: 2007- 2011 recruiting numbers: 136 signed (27.2 per year)
2008-2011: 111 signed (27.75 per)
Another note- this is not a commentary on “why” these student athletes are no longer with their teams, but only a numerical examination of what might have been possible in this weekend’s matchup. Every program has attrition; heck, Ohio State is well below its scholarship limits for the current year due to the students leaving midst the controversy swirling around the offseason and due to injuries and so forth. In addition, there is sometimes tragedy involved- Alabama lost a player to an untimely death; many students have issues in their personal lives that keep them from being able to return to campus, and this includes student athletes.
However, for the people who argue that there’s no advantages to oversigning, I offer this- it would be possible to play a game between these two schools using only the athletes who signed on National Signing Day but did not complete their careers for both schools. The exception are those players who chose to play another professional sport- they remain on the list, but won’t be used for this exercise.
I’ve got to admit, this would be a pretty good matchup, based on what we knew of them on NSD. When LSU was on offense, it would look like this:
The Crimson Tide could respond with the following:
That’s a pretty good set of athletes, some of who actually saw the field for their programs. It’s important to note that all of them had multiple offers from BCS programs before choosing to end up at their temporary homes. For LSU, Jeremy Hill was a four star ranked recruit, while Alabama’s Petey Smith mirrored that assessment by high school scouting services. This would be the premier matchup in our hypothetical contest.
Alabama’s Offense could take the field led by these players:
While the Tigers would match up thusly:
This is where the game is lost- Alabama’s roster of disenfranchised players simply does not have enough members of the offensive line to adequately respond against the Tigers. For the sake of respect, I did not include Aaron Douglas in this lineup.
However, the talent is still there… Keiwone Malone, Devonta Bolton, and Kendall Kelly were all highly touted coming from high school to Tuscaloosa, and the Tigers linebacker and secondary were also among the nation’s best prep athletes at their position. Personally, I’d hope that Alabama would punt, just to hear our imaginary announcers talk about Todderick Bajoie.
Both rosters are deep- even beyond this lineups listed above, each would have enough at most positions to give a breather to the players on the field; particularly at the “skill” positions. LSU would have an additional six players on their sidelines, and the Crimson Tide would have ten backups available.Read that correctly- over a 5 year period LSU has had about 5 student per year “move on” to other opportunities; Alabama’s numbers are closer to seven per year. New athletes to replace the old- either incoming freshman or transfers with stellar pedigrees (Duron Carter, anyone?).
You’d think that, given the caliber and qualifications of each coach, and given the huge amount of money they are earning each week, these extra players could be “coached up” to fill in at positions they are not used to playing. Although, it’s interesting to wonder how much “coaching” goes on when each year you have the possibility of merely replacing someone that’s not working out… particularly when their “working out” might impact your ability to profit as a part of your contract.
While this is a commentary on the roster management at these two institutions, it’s also a bit of an overview of the “scouting services” (legitimate, not otherwise) and rankings that fans can be so infatuated with- they are nowhere near perfect. Each of these students helped their school “win” during the National Signing Day events, but what their lasting impact was isn’t measured by Scout/Rivals/ESPN… they only care about selling subscriptions and “insider information”.
With all the buildup for this week’s clash, it’s not surprising that this aspect of the college football landscape is being over looked. I’m certain that there are persons named in this article that would love to talk to someone about their thoughts on the matchup and why they weren’t eligible to be a part of it- you have to look no further than the video above to know that this is true.
While I strongly believe that LSU would emerge victorious in this hypothetical contest, the larger question remains- are there really any winners in a world where young adults are sometimes pushed aside for the next sure fire recruit? If the opportunity is one that’s seen as a “professional” endeavor, then this behavior is understandable and acceptable (similar the capitalist ideology of “outsourcing” to keep costs down). But given that this happens under the auspices of being an “amateur” event at an institution of higher education, the travesty gets compounded.
Because, ultimately, the chance to play in the “Game Of The Century” isn’t the biggest loss for students who are no longer granted scholarships and must take their academic and athletic careers elsewhere. Given the short lifespan that the athletic career of any person has, the fact that this may be done without thought to the longer implications on a person’s experiences post-university is a shame. Students who are no longer with a program may have to sit out one year if they choose to transfer, are often responsible for the financial burden of their academic careers, and might find that interest in their abilities on the field have waned once they do start thinking about life after football.
But, by then the crowds will be screaming someone else’s name during the next “Game Of The Century”.