Rules fail to curb schools from oversigning football players

"I think if schools are held accountable they are going to have a harder time treating players badly," says National College Players Association President Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player.

February 1, 2011

Six years ago, Durrell Chamorro's football career seemed so full of promise. When he signed a national letter of intent, just as recruits around the country will do Wednesday, he never imagined his story would serve as a cautionary tale.

University of Florida president Bernie Machen believes more effort is needed to encourage schools not to oversign.

In 2005, Chamorro, a standout kicker from Chino, Calif., signed with Colorado State after considering scholarship offers from Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington.

"I was told by the schools that if I kept my grades up, had a 2.0, didn't break any rules, that I would have my scholarship for four years, five years if I redshirted," Chamorro says.

With a 3.5 GPA, Chamorro kept up his end of the deal. But following his redshirt freshman season and another season as a backup, former head coach Sonny Lubick told Chamorro in the spring of 2007 that his scholarship had been revoked.

Lubick told the Associated Press that Chamorro was put on notice after his first year, being told, "You've got to be better. We'll give you one more year."

Many players assume scholarships are guaranteed for as long as five years. In fact, athletic scholarships are one-year, "merit-based" awards.

"He wanted to have my scholarship for another player. I had no idea that they could do that," Chamorro says.

Last year the Southeastern Conference began limiting its schools to 28 national letter of intent football signees between signing day and May 1. The NCAA then adopted the rule for this year.

However, the rule has failed to curb the practice of "oversigning" in major college football — signing more players than spots available. Schools can still oversign, then figure out the math later. To meet NCAA limits (85 scholarship players, no more than 25 enrolled each fall), schools can delay an athlete's enrollment until the following January, called grayshirting. Or schools with oversigned classes can send recruits to junior college. Or they can make room on the roster by revoking the scholarships of current players or by encouraging them to become medical redshirts.

Last August, wide receiver Collins Moore from Bob Jones High in Madison, Ala., said he would sign with Mississippi after considering LSU and Kentucky. According to Bob Jones coach Kevin Rose, Moore was asked last week to "grayshirt. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt told Moore that he no longer had space in the class to offer him a scholarship for the fall. Moore remains committed to Ole Miss heading into Wednesday's signing day, Rose said.

Ole Miss spokesman Kyle Campbell confirmed the school is recruiting Moore but under NCAA rules cannot comment further.

"I don't think the rule we passed is going to solve the problem," Florida President Bernie Machen says. "There are still universities that will oversign and it's going to end up with a student athlete being left out. I think we either have to get the universities to be more serious about it, or the league and the NCAA are going to have to pass more stringent punishments for those who do oversign."

SEC associate commissioner Greg Sankey says a working group of conference athletics directors formed last August will study the issue further and present possible solutions at the SEC's annual meeting in early June. Machen blames SEC presidents for allowing oversigning to continue at some league schools.

"Every (SEC) president sat at the table when we had that discussion," says Machen, referring to the 28-player rule. "For some reason, some of them are not stepping up and stopping it. Imagine what would happen if in the general student body admission process, the same thing happened. If you admit a student in early February then you tell them in early July that we're not going to have a spot for you. The public wouldn't stand for it, and I don't believe, if we put enough sunshine on this, the public will allow this to happen, in intercollegiate athletics." Though oversigning isn't a new problem, increased attention — including the website, which tracks the worst offenders — has brought greater scrutiny.

"I think if schools are held accountable they are going to have a harder time treating players badly," says National College Players Association President Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player.

Last year the U.S. Justice Department began an antitrust investigation into the NCAA rule that make scholarships renewable by schools on a yearly basis. Also last year, California passed legislation backed by the National College Players Association that would require recruiters to provide a written summary of their schools' policies on renewing one-year athletic scholarships and the amount of expenses not covered by those scholarships.

Last October, former Rice defensive back Joseph Agnew filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA after he lost his scholarship for his senior year.

"Part of the problem is rooted in the one-year cap on scholarships," Huma says. If we're able to get that cap eliminated, then schools won't have the flexibility to oversign and run players off. Now, players can basically get fired for any reason."

Like Chamorro. Disillusioned by the big business of college football, and unable to afford the $17,000 out-of-state tuition, Chamorro eventually transferred to Cal Poly-Pomona, which doesn't have football. (First though, he had to a take a quick detour through junior college since Cal Poly wouldn't accept all of his transfer credits.) Last spring, Chamorro graduated magna cum laude with a degree in philosophy and plenty of debt.

"There needs to be awareness," Chamorro says. "This is a business. They are going to treat you like an employee. Keep that in mind, when they're telling you all these beautiful stories about the way it's going to be. Because at the end of the day if they want to take the scholarship away, there's basically nothing you can do about it. Have that kind of information in mind, so you can make a more informed decision."