I generally do not regard myself as a bleeding heart, and I am a firm supporter of the philosophy that the buyer should beware. Any time a person enters into a contract, they need to absolutely understand the terms which they are agreeing to.
With regard to high school recruits needing to understand that their letter of intent does not “guarantee” a scholarship for them, Babe Ruthless is absolutely correct. The rules around recruiting for college football do not preclude the Universities from accepting every letter of intent they receive. Likewise, signing a letter of intent does not carry with it the right or guarantee of a scholarship.
They are called “letters of intent” for that very reason – an athlete is expressing their intention of playing for the University. Once that letter is signed by the player, and accepted by the University, a partnership is formed, and both parties have a shared obligation to support the overall goal of making the program success.
Just because a contract is legally defensible, though, that does not mean that it is without flaws. This debate was not around the legality of the over-signing practice employed by many major college football programs, but instead was about whether or not it is a practice that unfairly exploits loopholes to a very one-sided advantage.
As far as the programs are concerned, I have no issue at all with the institution doing everything in its power to protect itself. As Babe Ruthless also mentions, some students will be deemed as academically ineligible, others may get injured, and more still may fail to meet the high demands necessary to support a successful program. If a program does not have the ability to protect themselves from those very real dangers, then they are being asked to absorb a great deal of risk.
College football is big business, and it would be extremely irresponsible on the part of the organization if they did not take every possible precaution to protect their best interests.
What I do have an issue with, however, is the imbalance of the system.
Universities are essentially allowed to “hedge their bets” by inviting more students than there are scholarships available. That way, after the fallout of academic ineligibility, poor performance, and injury has mostly been realized, the program can still move forward with a strong and healthy foundation.
But what about those recruits who are cast aside?
While the programs are allowed to put back-up plans in place to protect themselves from hardship, the recruits are not given that same freedom. They cannot issue back-up letters of intent to other programs, JUST IN CASE things don’t work out for them at their first choice. It is that imbalance which Loyal Homer brings up that ultimately earned the verdict for today’s debate.
As illustrated by Loyal Homer’s example of Elliot Porter, the “gray-shirted” recruit from LSU, when those recruits are denied a scholarship they have nowhere else to go. For athletes like Porter, even if they are granted a release from their initial institution (something that is not guaranteed), they must still hope to catch on at another program which happens to still have a roster spot (and hopefully a scholarship) available. Unfortunately, by the time the release and appeal process plays out, the pickings are very slim.
The likely result is that the recruit will be unable to find and sign onto a program where they have any hope of playing football in the foreseeable future.
And so it is ultimately the recruits who suffer with this process. They are asked to stake a full commitment to one single institution. And once that commitment is given, the institution essentially owns the rights to that recruit’s future, who consequently has no means to protect their own best interests. All the while, the institution is freely permitted to play the “what-if” game, and can implement any number of backups or fail-safes to protect their own needs.
Something is inherently wrong.
I am not advocating the idea that college football programs should be stripped of their right to protect their own interests. In fact, I am actually advocating the very opposite – That these programs SHOULD be allowed to take the measures necessary in protection of their own best interests. But the system as it exists today must be changed.
Any partnership in which one side is permitted to operate without obligation while the other is strictly beholden to a commitment is unfair and exploitive.
If the Universities wish to continue the practice of offering more invitations than they have scholarships available, then the NCAA MUST allow for the program’s recruits to have a similar process of protection and self-preservation. Only then will the process be balanced.