Jim Tressel And Oversigning

The Big Ten has taken their lumps in 2011.  The debacle on New Year's Day won't soon be forgotten no matter how hard we try.  ESPN is sure to remind us of it many times so even if we could forget, they'll be there to give us a not so friendly reminder.  It's even been given a name that nobody could ever forget: New Year's Day Massacre.  Then there was Rhadbo 13.  I'm a Hawkeyes fan and have been since birth so I may have even followed that story more closely than some did.  Dennis Dodd was quick to pass judgment and even suggest that those hospital workers who violated federal privacy laws were right to do so.  And now we have the mess Jim Tressel is in.  It's been covered here already so I won't go over it again, but it's been a rough 10 weeks for the Big Ten.  I'll just add that I do mostly agree with Joe that the punishment was absurd

Kirk Ferentz was vilified by the media and now it's Tressel's turn.  I didn't know what to think at the time of rhabdo 13.  There wasn't a lot of information that you could see immediately and feel confident in using to draw a conclusion.  I waited.  I'm still waiting actually.  When 13 players check into a hospital with the same condition something has gone wrong.  The workouts had been done before, but maybe the team was pushed a little harder after its disappointing season.  Or maybe the students were doing something that helped lead to this.  We don't know and we likely never will.  It's highly unlikely the university would ever release findings that would place blame on the students even if it rightly belonged there.  This is something the university has to suck up.  The public is not likely to ever know the truth. 

Because of that, I'm giving Ferentz and the program a break.  Ferentz has been fantastic for the Iowa program and you can tell how much he cares about his players when he talks.  He genuinely cares for their health, well-being and their future. 

I'm inclined to give the same pass to Jim Tressel.  College football has become more competitive than ever and we Big Ten fans know that the conference remains at a competitive disadvantage compared to the SEC.  The SEC will sign many, many more recruits than will Big Ten programs.  The attrition rate's are significantly different and this is an issue that has only recently made headlines. 

I'm going to have more on the practice of oversigning in the near future, but for now let me just say that Jim Tressel doesn't play the unethical games that coaches in the SEC do.  Those coaches, especially the ones in the SEC West, essentially run their programs like a professional organization.  They bring aboard many more than they have spots for.  You can only have 85 on a scholarship at any one time, but it's not at all uncommon for those programs to sign more than 120 per 4 years. 

You have to get down to 85 so you get rid of them somehow.  Sometimes it's completely ethical and other times you can't help but think the player was forced to transfer to another school.  They hand out gray shirts and medical hardships more frequently than other programs do. 

Tressel has talked openly about how important it is to stay within the recruiting budget.  The recruiting budget is the number of scholarships available.  If you have 60 players on scholarship, your recruiting budget is 25.  The NCAA has some guidelines about this and it says no more than 25, but it's not enforced.  Tressel has never gone over 25.  His average signing class is 20.  In fact, Tressell's Buckeyes since 2002 have given out 180 scholarships.  Compare that to Nick Saban who has given out 193.  However, Saban didn't coach college football in 2005 and 2006.  In 2 fewer years, Saban has given out more scholarships than Tressel.  That is remarkable.  Saban's average class since 2002 is an astounding 27.5. 

27.5 times 4 is 110.  That leaves 25 student athletes over a 4-year span that Saban's teams have had to cut in one way or another.  Tressel, on the other hand, has given out, on average, 80 scholarships per 4 years. 

Those scholarship numbers are from National Signing Day.  Ohio State isn't under 85 scholarships.  No, they use the remaining scholarships in a season for walk-ons.  In September Tressel awarded 3 walk-ons with scholarships.  One of them was for Scott Sika who had already graduated, but was in graduate school at Ohio State.  Tressel did not by any means have to do this, but after the work that Sika did for the Buckeyes program, Tressel rewarded him anyway.  The other two he gave scholarship to will graduate this year. 

This is what Big Ten coaches do.  They reward their walk-ons with scholarships.  I haven't seen any confirmation yet, but Hawkeyes kicker Mike Meyer was awarded a scholarship after the season.  He was a freshman and took over the kicking duties.  This is what the Big Ten does. 

They do this despite knowing they are going to be at a competitive disadvantage.  They do it because what the SEC is doing to these students is wrong and probably even unethical. 

Ohio State is one of the top 5 or 6 programs in the country.  Year in and year out they're playing for a national championship.  Tressel would undoubtedly like to have those extra players that Saban is picking and choosing from, but he refuses to do it.  Whatever your opinion of Jim Tressel right now, this is one of the reasons why I'm inclined to give him a pass on this one.  Oversigning isn't the only thing worthy of talking about when it comes to Jim Tressel being a good person, but it's an issue I've started taking seriously over the past year and there's no better example of someone who follows the rules than Jim Tressel. 

None of this is to belittle what Tressel did as it was a serious offense.