Often times when you see an article title like “Oversigning offenders won’t be curbed by NCAA’s toothless rule” you can safely assume there’s a bit of hyperbole at play. But in the case of Andy Staples excellent evaluation of the issues involved with oversigning in football, his assessment of Proposal 2009-48 and the twin bylaws of 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199.1 is, if anything, generous.
The main problem with 2009-48 and how it affects oversigning is that two documents have been merged in the popular vernacular into a single package. When a prospect is reported to sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI), he or she actually signs two documents: the National Letter of Intent, and a grant-in-aid agreement (GIA), which is the actual athletic scholarship.
The NLI is often said to guarantee an athletic scholarship. In fact, the scholarship guarantees itself. During the period of award (a period that starts as soon as a prospect or student-athlete signs a scholarship agreement), Bylaw 188.8.131.52 allows the scholarship to be cancelled or reduced only if the student-athlete:
- Renders himself or herself ineligible for competition;
- Fradulently misrepresents any information on an application, letter of intent, or financial aid agreement;
- Engages in serious misconduct; or
- Voluntarily quits the team.
The NLI does not include any additional protections for student-athletes above and beyond the GIA. The NLI simply provides a bigger carrot for not canceling a prospect’s scholarship, namely that the NLI is declared null and void and the prospect is free to be recruited and attend another university. Fact is, the NLI does not obligate the institution to do anything it wouldn’t otherwise be obligated to do if the prospect signed just the scholarship itself and tossed the NLI.
The NCAA membership has, rightfully in my opinion, recognized that signing an NLI is not the only way for a prospect to end their recruitment. As a result, different proposals have provided many of the benefits of signing an NLI to any prospect who signs a GIA or even a walk-on who sends a deposit. At this point, the two main benefits of signing the NLI instead of just the scholarship agreement are the NLI recruiting ban and allowing the school to announce a prospect’s signing.
While this isn’t an anti-NLI post, the NCAA members and the Conference Commissioners Association should take a serious look at the NLI. The fundamentals are good in theory: in exchange for a scholarship, the prospect agrees to give the school a fair shake before transferring. In practice neither is the case and unless the bargain for the prospect is improved, the NLI risks a long, slow, but inevitable fade from relevancy.
The point of all this NLI talk is to show 2009-48 is not just a toothless rule, it really doesn’t limit oversigning at all. Bylaws 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11.1 only limit NLIs to 28. The number of scholarship that can be doled out is still unlimited. Programs are still permitted to commit as many scholarships as they want, so long as the NLI is not attached. The twins don’t limit oversigning, they just require some of the oversigned prospects to be free to walk, since the GIA commits the school to the prospect but not the prospect to the school. And by a quirk of NCAA rules, institutions are prohibited from mentioning that they have signed these additional prospects.
For a true oversigning limit, scholarship agreements rather than NLIs need to be regulated. A real oversigning limit puts into force the following math problem:
GIAs to current SAs + GIAs to new SAs ≤ NCAA Limit
The question then is at what point is a scholarship committed to a prospect and student-athlete? Much has been made on websites like oversigning.com of verbal commitments and the Oversigning twitter feed (unaffiliated with oversigning.com) treats decommitments as possible attrition. Considering how fluid verbal commitments are in football, that’s not appropriate. Neither is the written offer referenced in the recently defeated Proposal 2010-74. Here the commitment is easy to see: signed scholarship agreements.
It’s much tricker on the student-athlete side. Proposal 2010-74, which addressed an issue specific to baseball uses “executed financial aid agreements” which doesn’t help limit scholarship offers in February since most student-athletes have signed agreements for next year. But the NCAA rules offer us a natural ending point for a scholarship. It may be only a one-year guarantee, but according to Bylaw 18.104.22.168, you must affirmatively take away the scholarship until the student-athlete exhausts his or her eligibility. The agreement can only naturally expire at that point.
So a true oversigning limit captures this slightly more complicated math:
GIAs to Current SAs with Eligibility Remaining Next Year + Signed Scholarships by Prospects ≤ NCAA Limit
Does that rule eliminate abuse? No, but it requires it to be managed much differently. At no point could a school be over the limit for next year. So in football, a program would need to nonrenew student-athletes right now. At the very least, it means a football student-athlete knows he needs to find a new school before the vast majority of the scholarships are given away.
Andy Staples’ recommendations are good, but are focused on protecting the prospects, potentially at the expense of current student-athletes. Even the most ardent defender of the one-year scholarship limit must agree though that every student-athlete deserves a fair shake to earn that scholarship for the next year and we should work to limit victims of an accounting requirement or the “bright and shiny” problem.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.