Mary Ann Chastain/AP
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier

Spurrier Ban Highlights Flaws in College Football Recruiting Process

January 14, 2009 10:33 AM
by Denis Cummings
A Georgia high school coach is banning the University of South Carolina coaching staff after one of his players had his scholarship offer reneged.

Spurrier Banned from Georgia High School

Jonathan Davis, a senior linebacker at Tucker High School in suburban Atlanta, committed in mid-December to play football at the University of South Carolina. This past week, however, South Carolina pulled its scholarship offer, leaving Davis with less than a month to find an offer from a different school.

Davis’ story has become common in college football recruiting. Schools can offer football scholarships and players can orally commit to accept the scholarship at any time, but it does not become binding until national signing day on Feb. 4. Schools and players frequently renege their offers or commitments, creating sometimes bitter disputes.

Tucker coach Franklin Stephens is now so upset with South Carolina that he says coach Steve Spurrier’s staff is “no longer welcome” to recruit there. Though Spurrier apologized for the situation—explaining that Davis was recruited by a position coach who has since been fired—Stephens remains angry that Spurrier is doing nothing to help.

“It’s not fair what happened to Jonathan,” Stephens told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday. “When he committed to South Carolina, he turned down scholarship opportunities to other schools. And then those other schools moved on to fill that spot. What South Carolina did was wrong, and the timing of it, so close to signing day [Feb. 4], is worse. It’s just a bad deal.”

South Carolina, like many schools, will often offer more scholarships than the 25 per year and 85 total it is allowed under NCAA rules. As a result, some players will have their offer pulled before signing day or be told in the fall that they will not be given a scholarship for the year.

Many high school players have been burned in the process; Stephens is drawing praise for standing up for his player. “Stephens is absolutely correct,” Coley Harvey writes in the Macon Telegraph. “The bottom-line issue in this saga is that the future of a good, widely-touted high school athlete was jeopardized by a single university official.”

Background: College football recruiting process

South Carolina already has commitments from 25 players, and still has offers out to several other players. Schools can enroll only 25 scholarship players a year, meaning that USC will almost certainly have commitments who will not play for the team.

Some players, like Davis, will have their scholarships pulled before Feb. 4. Others may renege on their nonbinding commitments and sign with different schools. The frequency with which this happens has led some to call for an early signing period in mid-December.

Even after signing day, some teams have too many scholarship offers. There are several ways a school can trim its class down to 25, or the number of total scholarship players down to 85. Many teams factor in that several players will fail to qualify academically and, according to ESPN’s Bruce Feldman, author of “Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting,” some schools will reject barely qualified players to help the team get under the scholarship limit.

These players are often sent to junior college or prep school for a year while the team decides whether they’re needed the following year. “The school who signed him to a letter of intent is screwing him out of a chance to play at an actual D-I school for purely selfish motives,” writes Michigan blogger Brian Cook.

Teams can give marginal players medical redshirts or grayshirts, meaning that their eligibility begins the following year. If they are still above the limit, teams usually find a way to force a player out of his scholarship. “Coaches can make it pretty clear to their players who isn’t wanted to help create space,” writes Feldman, who adds, “Somehow these things always work out, at least for the coach.”

The process has also been criticized for putting too much attention on high school players and inflating their egos. Recruiting Web sites such as Rivals and Scout turn top high school players into minor celebrities who are fawned over by coaching staffs and fans. Top players often hold press conferences on national television to announce their decisions.

“I think it’s silly,” said high school coach Bob Jones to the Houston Chronicle. “It’s becoming a circus with all the press conferences. We’ve taken it to a whole new extreme.”

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