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How Badly Would Anti-Oversigning Legislation Hurt South Carolina?

With Mike Slive's recent statement that he will be trying to push through anti-oversigning legislation at the upcoming league meeting in Destin, the topic of oversigning is again squarely on the agenda around the web. Hop around to any of the usual spots, and you'll find people talking about this topic.

Having heard Steve Spurrier and other coaches defend the practice as integral to their success, many South Carolina fans may be wondering if Slive's intended legislation will have a detrimental effect on our success on the football field. I'd like to take a closer look at that issue today. I think we can get a good sense of the answer to this question by assessing just how much Carolina relies on oversigning as part of its recruiting strategy.

First of all, let's take a look at definitions. Oversigning, according to anti-oversigning crusading site, is defined as follows:

We define oversigning on this site as the act of accepting more signed letters of intent on National Signing Day then you have room for under the 85 scholarship limit.

The key here is that anytime you accept more letters of intent than you have room for under the scholarship limit, you will have to eliminate some of those players from your roster by the time August rolls around. Sometimes the kids do it for you; oftentimes you see players fail to make the grades they need to stay on the team. This, indeed, is why many coaches--including Steve Spurrier--say they oversign; they do so in order to compensate for natural, expected roster attrition. However, if that expected roster attrition doesn't happen, or if a coach oversigns to such an extent that it becomes impossible to reasonably expect that to happen, a program will have to shed players via other, oftentimes dubious means. The recent news of Bobby Petrino's roster management strategies at Arkansas are a good example of what this looks like at its worst. This is exactly what oversigning crusaders are so up in arms about, and rightfully so.

One of the issues in the oversigning debates is that powerhouse programs located in recruiting hotbeds don't need to oversign to the same extent as other programs. These programs--Georgia and Florida are the two best examples in the SEC--can afford to be more selective about who they offer scholarships, under the assumption that they have enough available players and enough recruiting clout that they'll be able to get all the prime talent they need this way. Middling and lesser programs, on the other hand, may be located in less talent-rich states and have less recruiting clout, which necessitates casting a wider net in the search for talent. These latter programs end up oversigning when a larger number of those players than expected end up signing. This is what Spurrier says happened with our last class. These programs may also actually intend to oversign, under the assumption that they can then essentially shed underperforming players and replace them with new recruits. Again, this is what a lot of people are upset about.

To what extent are we practicing oversigning on this level, however? My impression is that we aren't. Let's do some comparison. Over the past four years, the following five programs have signed the following number of players:

Georgia--24, 20, 19, 26 (=89)
South Carolina--23, 29, 23, 32 (=107)
Alabama--32, 28, 26, 23 (=109)
Arkansas--26, 32, 25, 30 (=113)
Ole Miss--31, 37, 26, 28 (=122)

Continue reading after the jump.

These numbers don't tell you exactly how many players each program has been oversigned each year. You can only get that number by comparing the number of signed recruits to the number of current players a team has on National Signing Day. I, unfortunately, don't have time to cull those numbers together. However, these numbers should give you a rough idea of the extent to which each team is oversigning (signing many more than 85 in four-year period is predictive in this sense), and the numbers suggest that South Carolina isn't using this tactic to the same extent that our brethren in the Western Division are using it.

This, first of all, lends some credence to Spurrier's claim that what happened this past year, when Carolina signed 32 and was a few oversigned, isn't an example of trying to methodically cheat the system. Second of all, while it's clear that we incorporate oversigning tactics into our recruiting strategies to some extent, we're not relying on them to the same extent that other programs are. This tells me that it wouldn't be the end of the world for us if Slive's legislation goes through.

Another thing to keep in mind when considering the extent to which we'll be hurt by oversigning legislation is which players we're bringing in through oversigning. For the most part, these aren't the money players--the five-, four-, and more notable three-star guys. Rather, they're generally lesser-known guys. If anti-oversigning legislation goes through, the end result will be that we'll be a little more selective with who we offer scholarships to. That won't mean we won't get Marcus Lattimore or Jadeveon Clowney; it will mean that we won't offer Lorenzo Mauldin.

I have little doubt that having the freedom to oversign has had some benefit to us over the years. Would we have a guy like Jimmy Legree on the roster right now if not for laxity in roster management regulations? Maybe not. Legree was a two-star recruit when he joined Carolina. If we didn't have him right now, we would be worse for it, as he's a guy who's likely to see the field and help us out next year. Similarly, I'm sure our late-season depth is benefited to some degree by oversigning. At the same time, though, how many wins do these differences really mean to us? I think that what we saw last year was that the real difference-maker for Carolina football is that we're now capably bringing in players like Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, and Stephon Gilmore, guys who in the past would have ended up at rival schools. Oversigning legislation doesn't make a difference with those guys. For that reason, I wouldn't put too, too much stock in the idea that anti-oversigning legislation is going to be a huge detriment to Carolina. We can win either way. The question is, are we doing it the right way?