Fifteen guys for 13 spots: Indiana's delicate scholarship situation

Matt Roth could find himself victim to Tom Crean's oversigning. (US Presswire)

This is what you call having one of those good problems.

Good if you're Indiana, in the sense that you've got an overload of quality basketball players. It has a bad side, too, and will also -- already has, in fact -- cause a little bit of a backlash. With IU's resurgence and imminent preseason top-three ranking coming in the fall, the program has an conundrum that needs to be dealt with, publicly addressed by coach Tom Crean and subsequently debated over by the caboodle before we can move on to the season and toss this sticky mess into the receptacle.

Indiana's now so good that a lot of really good players want to play there. And because juggling 13 scholarships on a yearly basis can be among the toughest rich-people-problems high-profile coaches deal with, it can bite them on the rear from time to time. In a word: oversigning. It's long been a huge offseason topic in football, but it's been an issue college basketball bosses have uncomfortably fondled with for decades, too. Without knowing which players will transfer or leave early for the NBA, coaches get caught between their heart and mind, chasing the best players they hope to sign while banking on a specific quota of players to come back or move on. There are casualties every year; let's spotlight one inevitability taking place at a national program with Final Four expectations.

Right now, Crean's got 15 kids for 13 spots. (To check out Indiana's future roster going forward, Inside the Hall has a simple graph for the next five years.)

Two players who want to play for Indiana next season will not be playing for Indiana next season, unless one or two guys give up their scholarships and pay out of pocket to wear cream and crimson. The controversy around this issue is with fifth-year senior Matt Roth, though. Roth finds himself most likely out of a gig wearing the candy pants because he's not only graduated, he has his master's from IU as well. There is no school left for him -- he merely has a year's worth of eligibility to use. He was honored at IU's Senior Night last winter.

With what's likely to be the final year of competitive organized basketball he'll ever play, Roth would rather not leave his alma mater for another school with not nearly the chance of reaching the Final Four that Indiana has.

Roth's case is intriguing because there's a lot of loyalty tied to his scholarship. He signed with Indiana before Crean was the coach, back when IU was just seeing the flames of its grease fire start to spread and mutilate the program. Despite the unrest, Roth didn't ever seek to transfer, has been a very good student and ideal teammate for the Hoosiers. He suffered a foot injury two games into the 2009-10 season, so he sat out, and because of that, he's earned a final year on scholarship, getting a fifth year to play out four seasons -- standard NCAA protocol. Roth could leave IU and transfer to another school without a one-year wait. But after doing what he has at the school and potentially being part of a title-winning team, who has a desire to leave? Of course, the choice will be made for him.

Roth averaged 4.6 points per game coming off the bench last season, but in his limited time on the floor, Roth contributed 1.63 points per possession, an insanely potent offensive rate. When he checks in, he's dangerous and valuable. Indiana would probably be better having him on the roster.

The issue comes down to loyalty vs. pragmatism. Roth is not owed a scholarship; those are renewed on a yearly basis, and it's perfectly in bounds for Crean to tell him there just isn't room for Roth this season. Is it fair? No, but this is also college basketball at the most elite level -- fair is rarely part of the equation. The better you are, the more value you have to a team.

The irony is, from what I gather, Roth isn't acting entitled. He's just waiting for any kind of solution that keeps him on the team -- his team.

Blame can be passed at Crean for signing two too many players, knowing all the while he'd have to wade through this quagmire. He'll get past it. This isn't an indictment on Crean and 30 other things about his time at Indiana will be remembered or discussed before this circumstance comes up. Right now, Indiana's too good for too many people to care about a roster sacrifice or two. Think about the Hoosiers four years ago -- getting quality guys on the team and actually filling up scholarships wasn't even a part of the equation.

But four years ago, Roth was. He never wavered, and now his future is tied to a coach's decision. Where the cupboard was once bare, it's now beyond clogged: there aren't enough scholarships to fit, and with a lot of good comes a little bad. Some sort of sacrifice will have to be made. Rare is the case where the player isn't on the receiving end of it.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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