Friday, May 4, 2012

the law firm of porter, philon, garrett, and sills

Let's face it: Recruiting is ridiculous.  It's a meat market.  There are coaches who treat it that way, or worse.  We as fans are no help; winning recruiting battles against our rivals has become just as important as doing so on the field.  If they beat us in November, we got another chance in February.

I'll be the first to admit, too, it's a tough balancing act for coaches.  They have to be psychologists and math majors all in one, juggling the whims of 17-year-old high schoolers, trying to guess which ones like you best, figuring out how to balance 22+ positional needs with the available talent.  Because of that (and because we want our team to be better than their team) we tolerate things like pulled offers, grayshirts, and the like.  There are lines not to be crossed, of course, but for some (especially in the SEC) those lines are a little further down the sketchy side of the spectrum than others.

There are a few things that ought not to be ever tolerated, though.  Without sounding too preachy here, we're talking about high school juniors and seniors, and their hopes and dreams and futures etc. etc.  For most of us, we knew the rules we were playing by.  We applied, and waited for the envelopes.  (Or these days, emails, I guess.)  Football is as much a yes-or-no world as regular admissions, but the recruits ought to at least know the rules of the playing field.  There are certain practices run by certain coaches that don't run afoul of the NCAA's rules, but they do change the unwritten ones right out from under your eyes.

The four gentlemen named in the title are as follows:

-- Elliott Porter was an LSU recruit who signed his LOI, enrolled, and moved into the dorm at LSU.  On the eve of fall camp - the date by which teams must be down to the limit of 85 scholarships - Les Miles informed him he'd be grayshirting.  Surprise, no scholarship for you even though you were promised one, no football practice, no season, no access to the facilities, no nothing until January.  Porter struggled with what to do, transferred to Kentucky, didn't like it, transferred back, and is now an LSU walk-on because SEC scholarship rules prevent him from having a scholarship anymore - I think he can get one after two years on the team, but that's basically three years of paying your own way.

-- Darius Philon signed with Arkansas this February.  He didn't really want to.  He - and apparently his entire high school from the sound of the video of his signing day ceremony - wanted to sign with Alabama.  Philon announced Alabama as his choice, but looked seasick throughout the entire thing.  Reason - only he knew that he'd just been told he'd be grayshirting if he chose Alabama.  He'd committed to Auburn in July, been convinced by Nick Saban to switch to Alabama in August, and was a solid Alabama commit for five months.  Then Alabama got Korren Kirven on Signing Day.  Suddenly, there wasn't a spot in the fall for Philon.  Hello surprise grayshirt.

-- Chris Garrett was a backup quarterback for LSU with designs on moving up the ladder and eventually starting.  ESPN did an OTL piece on oversigning where Garrett was heavily featured; he'd met with Les Miles over the summer, and Miles encouraged him to keep working hard, you're doing great kid, etc. etc. - and didn't tell him that several days prior, a letter had come out from the LSU athletic department informing Garrett that his scholarship wasn't being renewed.  Miles then spun Garrett's departure as a surprise and Garrett's decision entirely.

-- David Sills is about 15 years old, and has been a hotshot quarterback for about four years.  When he was 13 he gave a verbal commitment to USC.  That got a lot of people clucking about way-too-early beginnings of the recruiting process, and rightly so.  (Totally irrelevant footnote: Sills goes to the same Delaware school that Trent Corney briefly transferred to and then left.)

Unless you like jerking high-schoolers around and taunting them with visions of a bright future and then pulling it out from under their feet, or you like the idea of grown men prowling middle schools in search of football talent, these are pretty much bad developments all around.  There needs to be a lot more control over this stuff.  And I'm not even talking about the boosters that hang around the fringes of football camps and offer green handshakes, or free cars and tattoos and whatnot.  This post isn't even about that.  But there do need to be reforms in the process to protect the players from their own coaches.

Tackling the last issue first; recruiting creep.  David Sills - and recruiting creep in general - is something the NCAA is acutely aware of.  They really want to get that under control.  Unfortunately, it's really tough, and the NCAA's attempts to fix it made things worse, not better.  Under the old rules, a football player could receive a written offer no earlier than September 1 of his junior year.  The NCAA bumped that back to August 1 of his senior year.  Great idea, but all it did was fuzzy up the process even more.  It didn't do a thing to curtail the recruiting of juniors and even sophomores, and it means that a player can't be properly sure of his status until August of his senior year, by which time the process is in full swing at a minimum, or for a lot of players, over already.

The NCAA - or at least, its conferences - is also becoming aware of the Garrett issues, the renewing of scholarships.  It has always been on a year-by-year basis, but it's also been the understanding that a player gets to hang around for four years unless he screws up off the field, and the fifth year is up to the coaches.  This year, the Big Ten fixed that problem and offered actual four-year scholarships to its recruits.  Some coaches complained that it was a stupid idea because schools would then use that as a recruiting tactic.  To which I say: DUH.

What Saban did to Philon isn't against any recruiting rules at all.  (It will be if I get my way, but wait another paragraph or two and we'll get there.)  It's still a dick thing to do.  Same for what happened to Porter, only even more so since Porter was locked in.  A system which lets the grown-ass men off scot-free and punishes the teenager in that situation is messed up.  So here are the solutions to all of the above.

-- First, allow written offers to go out on Signing Day.  That is, the recruiting class of 2013 can get their letters on Signing Day 2012, while they're juniors.  Hell, everyone's next to a fax machine that day anyway.  That would better establish a mindset of the recruiting season.  I don't think there's anything that can be done (that I would like, anyway) to stop coaches from giving verbal offers to juniors before that, or sophomores, or 7th-graders, or whatever.  But there does also come a point where it becomes self-defeating because you really can't project a 7th-grader.

At any rate, the NCAA does need to admit that the new August 1 limit is a failure.  It doesn't do anything to stop coaches recruiting or offering, it just hazes up the picture.  Let the juniors who'll be rising seniors know where they stand by giving them their written offers in a timely fashion.

-- Second, let schools offer anywhere from one to four years on their scholarship.  Any arguments against this are incomprehensible and stupid.

-- Third, make coaches accountable for their written offers.  The following should be components of the written offer:
  • It lists the semester of enrollment at the school and the beginning of the grant-in-aid.
  • It lists the number of years the offer is good for, renewable at the end up to four years yada yada yada.  Most of them would probably be for four years.
  • It lists the conditions which the recruit must adhere to in order to continue receiving his scholarship - good academic standing, no police trouble, etc. etc., and may not include football-related reasons.
  • It is binding.
That is to say, it's binding on the school.  NO rescinsions once accepted.  (As we'll see later, it'll be necessary for the schools to be able to pull the offer, which they would do with another written notice.)  Acceptance of the offer constitutes a deal.  You can't pull an offer that a player has accepted.  Which leads us to....

-- Fourth, a player can at any time before Signing Day, send in an acceptance of the written offer.  This is binding on the school but not binding on the player.  A player who sends in his acceptance may not be contacted by coaches other than the ones from the school he committed to, but he can rescind the acceptance at any time up til Signing Day.

Large parts of this fourth idea, if not the whole thing, are not originally mine; I read them first at MGoBlog.  It makes sense, though.  This would cut down on flimsy verbal "commitments" and would make coaches accountable to the kids they recruit.  In other words, no more Darius Philons.  You want to recruit over top of a kid, you figure out how to make the numbers work without springing a surprise on him at the last minute.  Darius Philon had every right to believe he had a spot for him at Alabama.

Many people want an early signing period to solve this issue, but I can't think of a bigger mistake than that.  As anyone who follows basketball recruiting knows, the "early signing period" is really "the signing period."  It would just push recruiting earlier into a player's high school career as coaches scramble to fill their classes by the end of the early signing period.  And it would be detrimental to a lot of players because December/January coach firings always shake up the recruiting scene.  A kid who signs is bound to that school and needs to jump through a lot of hoops to get out of it, so it wouldn't be helpful.  It's not just players who're committed to a school where the coach just got fired, either.  Take Roy Roundtree, a receiver at Michigan.  Roundtree always wanted to go to Michigan but was never offered, so he committed to Purdue instead.  When Rich Rodriguez was hired, one of his first offers was to Roundtree, who jumped.  Guys like Roundtree would be stuck if they signed during a mythical early signing period, and you know very well that coaches would pressure them to sign.

-- Fifth, medical scholarships must be signed off by an independent, NCAA-employed or contracted doctor.  In other words, no more of Nick Saban's practice of involuntarily ending a player's career for healable injuries because he needs room to bring in his recruiting class and the player in question is only a backup lineman.  No going on medical scholarship just because you want to quit football, hence the NCAA signoff.  Also the NCAA signoff because their doctors would not be beholden to the coaches, who in turn are beholden to the scholarship limit. 

If a school attempts to end a kid's career with a medical scholarship, but the NCAA doctor examines the player and finds that his injury isn't career-ending and he would still be able to play football within his period of eligibility (even if it takes a medical redshirt year), then the player is offered the choice of continuing to play for that team and counting toward their regular scholarship numbers or transferring without a penalty year to the school of his choosing (as long as they have room etc. etc.)

-- Sixth, that 85-scholarship limit?  Make it so it has to be adhered to on Signing Day, not just at the beginning of camp.  Abolish entirely the limit of players you can sign, so long as you're under the limit on Signing Day.  Do the counting so that when a senior's eligibility ends, he comes off the books the moment the season ends.  It'd be very easy for anyone to track how many scholarships are available and how many are promised and so on.  Coaches will complain that this would mean they carry fewer than 85 most of the time.  I wouldn't mind bumping the limit up to 90 or so, as long as it's a hard limit.  It's not some great injustice if you have to have 82 instead of 85 or 87 instead of 90.  Next time, recruit kids that won't wash out of school or do stupid things to get themselves kicked off the team.  If you screw up and go over the limit on Signing Day, say you end up with 92 instead of 90 because you got some surprise commitments, well, you should've pulled their offers is what you should've done.  But you then have one of two options: you can un-renew some fifth years (the fifth year always having been with the understanding that it's not at all guaranteed, both before and after this little reform attempt) or you can play the year with 92, but your limit drops to 88 next year as a penalty.  Better learn to sign a smaller class.  And if you go over your limit two years in a row, the penalty becomes two-for-one.

So, to recap: Binding written offers, acceptances of which constitute a binding one-way agreement in which the school is beholden to the player but the player is not beholden to the school - except that sending in that acceptance means the player can't be contacted by other schools.  This is to ensure both sides are serious.  On Signing Day, it becomes official and now the player is also locked in.  Coaches can no longer fudge their numbers and oversign and then surprise a kid with a grayshirt.  (If you want to offer a kid as a grayshirt, hey, go ahead.  That can be stipulated in the offer by saying the scholarship begins in the winter and not the fall.  But then everything is on the table, none of this oh-by-the-way crap.)  Coaches can also no longer use medical scholarships as forced attrition tools.  And no surprise non-renewals, either, not if you've promised four years.

Recruiting is such a crazy deal that I don't have any illusions we've solved everything here.  But I do think that this fixes some of the worst practices that coaches do.  (LSU and Alabama, I'm mainly looking at you.  You want to know why Nick Saban was so willing to let Phillip Sims go?  He had to.  He needs the attrition.)  Anything that makes college football look less like a sweatshop is a plus.


Anonymous said...

This is one of your best posts ever. Bravo.

Now if only I could pretend that some of this will happen any time soon.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the "other Anonymous". Best post you've written.

I would definitely like to see the ACC switch to 4-year scholarships immediately. Good to see at least one conference has moved in that direction.

Anonymous said...

OT: WTF ... USC offered Levrone? That one caught me by surprise.