Recently on ESPN’s Outside The Lines, they reported on the practice of “over-signing” when it comes to recruiting in major college football. It was an excellent piece, and if you haven’t seen it, please take a moment and watch it right now… I’ll wait:
If you have followed recruiting in the past 5 years, none of this is surprising, as recruiting is still a shady practice despite all of the negative attention. The will to win and land the blue-chip players has made the “shadiness” all that more shady.
What does this have to do with Notre Dame? More than you might think…
One of the things that the ESPN story failed to mention was the early enrollee rule in college football recruiting. Technically, you can sign 29 recruits (against the rule of 25) as long as 4 of those players enroll early and count against the previous class. Notre Dame has done this before.
In 2006, Charlie Weis signed 28 recruits. 3 of those recruits; Chris Stewart, George West, and James Aldridge enrolled early and counted against the 2005 class that only had 15 recruits that signed with the Irish. This was a major victory for Notre Dame recruiting followers, as Notre Dame had never allowed early enrollees before. Say what you will about Charlie Weis, but he proved that you CAN recruit blue-chippers to South Bend, and he was instrumental in changing the process to allow for the school to go up against “State U” for those prospects.
Regardless of all that, no school can have over 85 scholarship players. This is where the shadiness happens- and usually in the SEC. This is what hurts Notre Dame; it’s INTEGRITY (Chicago-Tribune be damned).
Once a recruit accepts or commits to a Notre Dame scholarship offer, that offer is binding. Notre Dame will not take a players scholarship away just to make room for more recruits. In fact, for example, a kid commits in July before his senior year in high school, and then suffers a terrible injury in September that would require a couple of years of work and rehab- THE SCHOLARSHIP IS STILL GOOD.
Other schools have been rumored to tell players that they may want to “commit” to Notre Dame, in case something might happen to them- then they would still have a scholarship to college. There hasn’t been a lot of proof on that particular tactic, but there has been enough smoke to know that a fire is burning somewhere.
The disadvantages that Notre Dame has in recruiting in terms of academic requirements, and location hurts enough, but when you add oversigning to the mix, it makes things extremely difficult. Some of these teams are able to take a pool of 8 on their roster and evaluate them to fill one spot, and then cut loose 2 that didn’t come close. The Irish have not, and will not do that kind of roster management / recruiting.
I have no problem with a coach telling Recruit X “I know this school is your dream school and you have worked hard for a scholarship. Still, I don’t have room for you this year. However, if you come here and grey-shirt this year, I promise that I will give you a scholarship next year,” as long as he sticks to his word.
The trickle-down effect from oversigning is enormous. A lot of times, recruits go to schools that offer them a chance to compete for playing time early in their careers. If schools didn’t oversign, the recruits may have ended up at a different school, and then more would have ended up at a different school, and so on.
Notre Dame can not, and should not try, to compete against these tactics. However, that is also part of the problem that makes decommitments happen- and Irish fans know all about decommitments.