By now you are probably well aware of the phenomenon of "grayshirting" and its perjoratively loaded cousin "oversigning." You are likely also familiar with Kyle's recent well-reasoned post exploring one solution to this issue, which I am assuming most college football fans consider problematic.
Kyle's solution certainly has merit. Like so many classically Libertarian proposals, this one works by removing the government-created incentive to behave in a socially-unacceptable manner. For example, legalizing marijuana theoretically makes the lucrative illegal market a nullity.
But Kyle's is not the only solution. One could also pattern a conservative solution. I imagine that one such remedy would look like this:
Implement a firm scholarship limit which does not vary on a yearly basis so as to allow schools to hit a total number of scholarships (85) at one time. Allow the same number of signees every year, regardless of the number of departures. At the same time, bestow a 5th year of eligibility.
I believe this proposal solves the oversigning dilemma in classically conservative fashion, by incentivizing positive behavior. College football coaches now treat student-athletes as a fungible, easily replaceable good. That's because, let's face it, they are. Coaches can replace players with almost no repercussions, save for facing some negative recruiting, a little bad press and some flak from an upset high school coach who may not be so helpful with the recruitment of his next bluechipper. Imagine how different things might be if a replacement was not going to come walking through that door at the snap of a finger.
For one, the type of fishy comings and goings that have become so prevalent during July and August would disappear. Losing a player to "career-threatening injury" or "undisclosed team rules violations" would actually mean losing a player, rather than simply getting rid of some kid to make room for another. Preventing coaches from replacing players would remove the incentive to get rid of them to clear room for more promising players and coming up with contrived excuses for what happened. In fact it would flip the paradigm completely, by making student-athletes more valuable.
And it is an economic reality that individuals treat more valuable, difficult to replace resources with more care. In the case of student-athletes, I would argue that is is about damned time that this upward adjustment occurred. Like the last Shelby Mustang in Cuba, college football players would likely get all kinds of TLC to keep them running. Better counseling services regarding the stupid behavior that tends to get them kicked out of school now. Better academic support services to make sure that they stay academically eligible.Better medical monitoring to make sure that injuries don't end careers.
I suppose one could argue that creating an incentive to coddle college athletes is not beneficial. One could argue that players would be more likely to misbehave, thinking that they are "untouchable" now. I beg to differ, in part because of the 5th year of eligibility. Suppose the "magic number" were set at 20. At any given time, that would put up to 100 scholarship players on campus. A coach confronted with, say, Montez Robinson's situation, would still likely feel compelled to remove that player from the team. This would also solve the coaches' whine about the 85 scholarship limit. Give the crybabies 100 players, and make them responsible for their care and maintenance the way you would a 7 year old with a goldfish. If they can't field a sufficiently deep squad with that number because their players flunk out, burn out or wind up in the back of a squad car, so be it.
Speaking of which, if academic casualties, locker room troublemakers, and potential criminals couldn't be easily replaced, it would create an incentive to not recruit those prospects in the first place. Instead locking the scholarship numbers creates an incentive to only recruit players who are likely to make grades, contribute to the locker room environment, and stay out of trouble. Not coincidentally, these are all qualities which I think we can agree should be fostered in our youth. Increasing the incentives for high school football players to also be good students and good citizens seems like a no-brainer to me.
One argument against this proposal would be that it deprives high school students of the chance at a college football scholarship, and to a college education in general. This argument fails for three reasons. For one, a lot of the scholarships given out now are a mirage. Fool's gold. When, for example, Houston Nutt signs 37 players at Ole Miss he does not do so with any illusion that all of those players will graduate from the University of Mississippi. In fact, he knows that some of them will never even enroll. It's really tough to eliminate an opportunity that never really existed to begin with. Second, a college football scholarship is not the only route to college education. With HOPE grants, Pell Grants, junior colleges, community colleges and online colleges, there are surprisingly few people who really want a college education who can't get one. And i don't recall the U.S. Constitution explicitly protecting a right to play college football. Finally, and perhaps most convincingly, the fifth year of eligibility would mean that quite likely the number of scholarship players would increase under this proposal.
Another would be that there would be no room for walk-ons to "earn" a scholarship. This is an issue i suppose. One solution would be to allow schools to apply for a waiver for deserving young men who have contributed to the team, school and community, assuming the school is under the "magic number." And let's face it, they all will be, because 0% attrition simply does not exist in college football, even under my fantasy proposal.
It's time to stop treating college football players as disposable. As long as they're easily replaced, that's not going to happen. Submitted for your consideration, Dawg Sports readers. Your friendly amendments, criticisms and outright ridicule are, as always, appreciated in the comments. Until later . . .