The Bradley Bozeman grayshirt story may have been much ado about nothing, but there are still important questions surrounding both grayshirts and oversigning in general.
Last week there was a minor flare-up regarding grayshirting at Alabama; specifically that of lineman Bradley Bozeman. Jason Kirk quickly related the inherent hypocrisy of the garment rending that briefly seized the sports Twitter-verse. I don't disagree. Grayshirting is wide-spread and not particularly isolated to any one conference. Alabama hasn't done anything in this instance that separates them from the common chaff of college football recruiters.
Hell, Ohio State has been as guilty as anyone on this front. Several high-profile players took the grayshirt route under Jim Tressel, including quarterbacks Todd Boeckman and Cardale Jones, among others. However, that doesn't change the fact that grayshirting is sketch as hell; it lives up to it's name, occupying an ethical gray-area that's not-quite-oversigning but still placing the commit in an awkward position. Still, it's important to note that, unlike "oversigning" proper, grayshirts have full knowledge of the situation they're agreeing to. There is no rug pulled from beneath 18-year-old kids by machiavellian coaching staffs.
All that said, and all due respect to Jason Kirk, but Alabama is the top program in college football and they have a long and established tradition of questionable roster management, best documented and described in a great article by Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples. Part of that legacy is a greater amount of scrutiny. As the premier program in college football at the moment, it's not out of bounds to point out the less than ideal nature of grayshirting with Alabama as the biggest example.
But whatever, no big deal. Oversigning itself still causes many people serious concern, both in terms of competitive balance and ethics. There are bigger fish to fry. While fans of those teams who have a reputation for it, hand-waving away the implications of oversigning is standard practice. For the rest of the country, the reforms installed by the SEC are largely viewed as toothless. In that vein, Florida, Georgia, and Vanderbilt effectively ban the practice and require rigorous reporting of how they fall under the 85-player cap. They've effectively avoided oversigning as a result.
Meanwhile the B1G, as most know, has a strict cap of 85+3. In essence, if a team has 75 players on roster going into the 2013 season, they can only sign a maximum of 10 scholarship players in their next class, plus 3 more to allow for attrition. Furthermore, the conference investigates any instance of "oversigning" in the case of the +3 allowance.
The SEC rules, by contrast, impose a hard cap of 25 scholarships per year. However, there is no limit set by the overall roster as there is in the Big Ten. So a team with 75 players on their roster could sign 25 more, and spend the entire offseason whittling down the 15 extra players. Allegedly, offenders have managed to wrangle NFL style summer camps while the SEC's weak rules provide PR cover.
Putting my concern-troll hat on, if I'm a Vanderbilt, Georgia, or Florida fan I'm the person who's most pissed off about the situation. The rest of the country rarely plays the SEC. However, Alabama and LSU are allegedly signing those players that otherwise might consider the Gators or Bulldogs, and then beating them over the head with the result. Granted, Georgia had a great season last year. Florida currently has the #2 class in the country; but behind, of course, Alabama.
The flack Alabama has received over the grayshirting of Bradley Bozeman is unfair, but that doesn't mean Alabama isn't still as sketchy a recruiter as exists in college football. And regardless, the oversigning discussion is a complex one, especially when wrapped up with the conversation over the "amateur" status of the players themselves. But it's important to note that the SEC rule changes have only been in effect for, generously, one and a half seasons. It's entirely premature to pass judgement just yet. Alabama and LSU have each signed smaller than typical classes the last two seasons, indicating at least some effect from the rules.
Fundamentally, anything that focuses more attention of the less savory aspects of college sports is a win, as far as I'm concerned. So while this story was, in fact, much ado about nothing, there's still a lot of something to talk about.
I'm contractually obligated to post a song by Liars whenever Nick Saban is the topic.