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Friday, Feb. 03, 2012

Joel A. Erickson commentary: A shift in college football recruiting has begun

- jerickson@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Nestled somewhere in the stream of national rankings, televised announcements and letters of intent being faxed into coaches across the country on national signing day, another piece of news emerged.

A shift in college football recruiting has begun.

And it’s another shot at the practice of oversigning that has been so highly publicized in the SEC over the last couple of years.

In October, the NCAA pushed through a plan to make multi-year scholarships permissible, although not required. For years, schools have been offering recruits renewable one-year scholarships.

Big Ten schools got most of the publicity for changing over to the multi-year model. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska led a highly-publicized shift to the new scholarships.

Both Auburn and Florida made the shift in the SEC.

The change came so quickly that Auburn coach Gene Chizik initially indicated to reporters Wednesday that the Tigers offered the same one-year renewable scholarships.

An Auburn athletics spokesman clarified Chizik’s comments later by saying that the 2012 recruiting class was signed to multi-year scholarships that cannot be cancelled for athletic performance. Off-the-field transgressions by the player can still lead to a revoked scholarship.

Auburn, Florida and the rest of the schools made the right move in the middle of a nationwide push to limit oversigning that resulted in the SEC limiting its schools to bring sign only 25 recruits each year.

In addition, the NCAA limits teams to 85 scholarship players each season.

Simple math says that a team bringing in 25 players each season eventually pushes a team over the 85-scholarship max, even with the usual roster attrition that happens at almost every FBS school.

One-year scholarships offered coaches wiggle room to get under the 85-player limit. A coach could clear space off the roster for new recruits by simply cutting players and lifting their scholarships.

A multi-year scholarship limits that ability.

And in the wake of highly publicized oversigning issues at Alabama -- Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban famously asked running back Justin Taylor and Darius Philon to grayshirt rather than sign to keep Alabama’s numbers under 25 -- a school that offers multi-year scholarships could use it as recruiting advantage.

“I don’t know how that’s going to pan out going forward, to be honest with you,” Chizik said. “Certainly, if one school chooses to do it and the other doesn’t, obviously creates somewhat of an advantage or disadvantage.”

It also offers security.

Part of the reason that high school kids have so much trouble staying committed to one school is that it’s a big decision. When high school football players sign that letter of intent, most believe they’re making a decision for at least the next three years.

And once they’re on campus, few football players expect to have their scholarships pulled.

As highly publicized as Taylor and Philon’s situations were, they still found soft landing places at Kentucky and Arkansas, respectively.

Moving to a campus, making friends, getting used to a team’s system and then having the scholarship pulled because of slow development is an entirely different experience altogether.

Not every school thinks the NCAA’s decision was a good one. Eighty-two schools asked the NCAA to reconsider at a convention last month, and Saban said the one-year scholarship rule was installed to limit lawsuits over what violates terms of the scholarship.

“I think this is some people’s cynical approach to think that coaches don’t have the best interest of the young people that coach in mind,” Saban told the Associated Press.

Cynicism has its place.

In this case, multi-year scholarships are being put in place for one reason and one reason alone: to make sure kids get what they think they’re getting when they put pen to paper on national signing day.

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