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Publish date: Feb 1, 2011

Oversigning still a problem?

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick

This is the first year for a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision rule meant to address the problem of oversigning by establishing a limit of 28 signees.

Whether the rule will achieve the intended effect is open to question. Certainly the math is still a problem. Coaches are limited to 25 new scholarships per year, but with 28 kids committed via the National Letter of Intent, at least three would be left without a scholarship if a program signed the full complement.

Coaches explain that kids often sign an NLI and then don’t qualify academically or change their minds about attending the school. Either occurrence could leave a coach with a shortage of athletes. By signing extra prospects, a coach avoids being left short a defensive lineman or wide receiver.

But if the anticipated attrition doesn’t occur, a coach can be left with more scholarship promises than actual scholarships. In those situations, a prospect can elect – or be persuaded – to delay enrollment until the spring (a practice known as “grayshirting”). The spring enrollees then take the place of any fall graduates from the team, take advantage of spring practice and begin the next fall already conditioned and prepared for the season. Often, the student-athletes will take part-time classes in the first fall to keep pace academically.

Susan Peal, who administers the National Letter of Intent program, said the Collegiate Commissioners Association (the program’s governing body) doesn’t support grayshirting. The program has a policy that nullifies the National Letter of Intent if an institution or coach asks the student-athlete to grayshirt. However, if a student-athlete decides to delay enrollment, the NLI remains valid. Determining the instigator of the decision can be difficult.

“The NLI declares intent to enroll the following fall,” Peal said. “I tell kids and parents that they have every right to that scholarship if they signed an NLI.”

It will be at least a year before the impact of the new rule is felt, she said.