Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nutt Way Over-Limit: May Pull Old Trick Out on Scholarships

Former Arkansas and current Ole' Miss. coach Houston Nutt.
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The key to building a successful college football program is recruiting. National signing day has just come and gone, and experts in the world of college football are reviewing the strength of recruiting classes at schools around the country. If they were in any conference other than the SEC, both Arkansas and Ole Miss would be credited with strong groups of freshman recruits. The real surprise for Ole Miss however, is the shear number of solid recruits they offered scholarships to. Thirty-seven players signed up to become rebels.

Some observers are scratching their heads on that one, because NCAA rules limit schools to 95 total scholarships to eligible football players. By that scoring, Ole Miss only had 27 scholarships to offer, yet they signed a whopping 37 players. What gives? How can he promise 37 young men scholarships when he only has 27 openings?

Nutt probably has several strategies to deal with "overbooking" of scholarships. I want to give you an example of the lengths he went to at Arkansas to open up scholarships. My guess is he is going to use the same tactics at Ole Miss, because he wants to build his team with his players. Having a class that big, full of pretty good football players, should give him a very competitive team three to five years down the road. To get them on campus, my guess is he will do what he was known to do at the U of A, but in a big way. Here is how it goes down:

Take a player who is a senior who maybe got beat out by an underclassman or who is not a good fit with your system and call them into your office. Tell them they are not going to make a contribution and that you want them to give up their scholarship for their senior year. They can stay on the team, but you need that scholarship for your over-sized frosh class. In return, you promise to fund their college for several years once their eligibility is used up.

You see, while their are strict limits to how many scholarships a school can give out to eligible players, there are few or no restrictions on continuing to pay people who once played for you, but have used up their eligibility. So the senior who was on scholarship for several years under the previous coach becomes a walk-on who plays for one play, using up their eligibility. Then they get a full scholarship for three more years to pursue a masters or whatever they want to do with it.

I suspect that come fall, there will be a number of Ole Miss players who give up their scholarships even while they nominally remain on the team in exchange for a longer full-ride. Good strategy to maximize your talent or a crummy choice to offer a young man, or both? You make the call.

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