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Issue of oversigning dominates SEC's spring meetings

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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DESTIN, Fla. -- When the Southeastern Conference Presidents meet on Friday, the final day of the SEC's spring meetings at the Sandestin Beach Hilton, a vote on oversigning will finally be reached.

Until then -- as commissioner Mike Slive noted -- "the first amendment is alive and well." It certainly was Tuesday as a number of the league's football coaches gave their opinions on oversigning. The issue is whether the league should change its one-year policy of allowing schools to sign 28 student-athletes although only a maximum of 25 may be brought into a program each fall.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik feels strongly that league policy should remain at signing 28 players. (Getty Images)  
Auburn coach Gene Chizik feels strongly that league policy should remain at signing 28 players. (Getty Images)  
Other items expected to be discussed -- and perhaps voted on by the league's 12 presidents -- include the growing 7-on-7 football camps and the potential problems they might bring. Also the seeding of the SEC basketball tournament (Florida's Billy Donovan had a really radical idea: seed the SEC tournament by RPI rankings), whether to ditch the division format and/or increase the league schedule is a key issue.

But the No. 1 SEC topic Tuesday -- the No. 1 non-SEC topic was Tressel, Jim -- was oversigning. Sign, sign everywhere an oversign question.

First-year Florida coach Will Muschamp was brief and to the point.

"We don't oversign," Muschamp said.

Others, though, had much different -- and longer -- responses.

"There would definitely be some tough decisions involved in that, without question," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "But again, when you sit in our seat everyday and you've been doing this for 26 years, you see all the different possibilities that can happen.

"Is there some risk-reward chances that you have to take on some guys? Absolutely. Everybody across the country does it every year. Unfortunately, every school doesn't recruit every single kid that will be 300 points above the SAT that he needs and have a 3.0 GPA. That's not realistic."

Chizik feels strongly the league policy should remain at signing 28 players. He said it's "extremely taxing to sign 25 players to get 25" student-athletes. The thinking is all 28 will not make it to school in the fall for various reasons and the coaches need a cushion to guarantee they'll have a full complement of 25 scholarship student-athletes.

"That's just realistically a huge undertaking for us as coaches," Chizik said. "If you can only sign 25 and for whatever reason -- there are multiple reasons out there why a kid among your 25 may not make it whether it's grades, maybe go play pro baseball, several reasons why they wouldn't make it -- and all of a sudden you're stuck with 22 players out of your 25. So you haven't signed a full class. That's really tough.

"That becomes very difficult in our seat if we want to keep our rosters so we can compete with everyone else. That's just the way it is."

Georgia coach Mark Richt is in favor of oversigning, but stressed only if "the kid knows, the mom and dad, the high school coach, everyone involved in the recruitment, they know there's a chance there's no space for you.

"If everyone knows that on the front end," Richt said. "I don't see anything wrong with it ethically."

Richt said it's wrong if the schools don't tell recruits beforehand that they may not have a scholarship in the fall.

"If you sign five over and you get to that moment of truth and you tell two-to-three kids and then all of sudden spring the news: we have to let you come back in January -- I don't think that's right," Richt said.

Richt and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino said they don't have a problem with signing a recruit they know that won't qualify because they can send him to a junior college and then have him return to their school in two years when he's eligible.

"It's all about how you manage your roster," Petrino said. "I'm not sure everyone understands that. I've always been one that oversigns, knowing that of these six guys, three will get eligible and the other three will go to a junior college and have a chance to come back and play for us."

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said the league must guard against overreacting to the "public outcry or public frenzy" against oversigning.

"Most of the complaints have been fair," Dooley said. "They've been because of some things that have happened that are not common. "We addressed one of them, which is bringing that down to 28. What did that do? It eliminated the excessive oversigning. Well, there are still a lot of loopholes out there that we didn't address. Those have led to even more complaints, which is fair. It's a fair criticism.

"There's legislation out there to close the loopholes. For example, there is legislation to make them count when they come in for the summer. That's a good rule. There's legislation to count the midyear guys. It's my belief that when they come on your campus and enroll in school, they should count. It's pretty simple. By doing that, it'll close all the loopholes and it still allows for a little overage to account for the academic risk -- the attrition that's unexpected -- the guy that swings on signing day."

As far as the 7-on-7 camps, Chizik said they "potentially can get out of control in terms as far as who's organizing it, who's running it, what's happening to get the young men into the 7 on 7 leagues."

"I think," Chizik said, "the concern is it could get out of control. We don't want it to turn into an AAU [basketball] situation."

One option, said an SEC source, is by not allowing any of the league's schools to host 7-on-7 camps on its campus. That, like any other SEC policy, must be approved by a majority vote of the presidents.

The major issue to be voted on in some fashion is oversigning. The presidents must consider if they want to tweak a system in a league that has won the last five BCS national championships.

But does signing 28 -- instead of 25 -- give the SEC a competitive advantage?

"I don't know if that's necessarily accurate," Chizik said. "I just know it's difficult to hit a home run 100 percent of signing 25 and expecting 25 guys to be on your campus for fall practice. There's too much margin of error with all the variables that can happen with the student-athletes.

"That becomes very difficult in our seat if we want to keep our rosters so we can compete with everyone else. That's just the way it is."

Muschamp said only signing 25 has worked just fine for Florida.

"It hasn't been a problem since 2006," said Muschamp, referring to the Gators' 2006 and 2008 BCS national titles.

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