Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What to do with a short class?

Because of the 85/25 rule, every few years most college football programs are forced to limit themselves to a small recruiting class. LSU's 2009 recruiting class appears that it will be a small class. It has been reported that LSU has only 12 scholarship seniors on the 2008 roster, and we will likely be at 85 scholarships, or very close to it, at the start of the season. That means, without additional attrition, LSU can only add 12 new scholarship players in the 2009 recruiting class.

It is a given, however, that there will be additional attrition. There always is. Some players see the handwriting on the wall and realize they are way down the depth chart and will never play at this school. Some players get homesick. Some players get into academic or legal trouble and are kicked off the team. Between these mechanisms, you can expect to lose about 3 or 4 players in any given year.

This sort of attrition is usually a good thing. If a guy isn't happy, or if he's causing trouble, or if he's fallen behind younger players and won't be a contributor, it's best for all concerned for team and player to part ways. This can be done amicably at least some of the time, and it clears the deck for the team to bring in recruits with more of an opportunity to be contributors.

Also, underclassmen leave early for the NFL sometimes. We anticipate that Ricky Jean-Francois and Ciron Black, despite having two years of eligibility, may play only one additional season. This is a regrettable form of attrition, but it is expected to happen sometimes in any quality program.

Then, in any given "short" class, you can greyshirt a player or two to "spread the risk" between multiple classes. You have to get players to agree to that, however, which is a little problematic, but it can often be done.

But I'm here to talk about a more controversial form of attrition. I will call it "forced" attrition. This is where the coach decides to help clear the decks by simply refusing to renew the scholarship of underperforming players. It is being reported, often in hushed whispers, that the Bama program's 2008 recruiting class was supposed to be a short class because there were only approximately 15 scholarship seniors on the team in 2007. They signed 32 players.

Obviously, something's going to have to give with those 32. Not all can enroll at once, even if the school is not brushing up against the 85 scholarship limit. However, assuming they can get the class down to size by either playing with enrollment dates, giving up on academic casualties, or asking players to greyshirt, they still have a problem getting under the 85 limit.

Rumors are abounding that the Bama coaching staff is going to cancel the scholarships of 10-or-so current players who they believe are underperforming, and not invite those players back to the program. If true, this would be the only example in my knowledge of there being large-scale cuts from a college football scholarship program for simple failure to perform. I've heard of it happening to punters or kickers, but never of position players, at least not on this scale. I'm not sure it's a good idea, and it could very well sour relations between the Bama coaching staff and high school coaches of players affected. It's effective at clearing the decks for other scholarship players, but I think there may be some long term consequences.

This is a different breed from what I would advocate Les Miles doing to help along the 2009 recruiting class. I think everyone paying close attention can identify some underperforming players on the LSU football team, players that have had a couple of years in the system but aren't (to a fan's perspective) looking like they're going to be players on this level. I think you can gently encourage these players to continue their college careers at another program, one where they can contribute, or even be key players. My script would go something like this:

Coach: Thank you for coming to this review. What do you see as your role for this coming year, son?

Player: I want to compete for a starting spot, coach.

Coach: Well, I like your ambition, son. But do you think you're ready for that?

Player: I better be ready for that. I'm a junior or sophomore or redshirt sophomore now. The team needs to be looking to me for leadership and production.

Coach: I agree with you on that. A player who's been here as long as you have is pretty much going to be settled into the role he's going to play during his career.

Player: That's right coach, and my role is to be a starter and a key player.

Coach: But I have to tell you, some player younger than you have passed you up on the depth chart, and while you can certainly work hard and try to make up some ground on them, right now we're not planning on you being in the two-deep this year.

Player: Not in the two-deep? So I have my work cut out for me if I want to play at all?

Coach: I'm afraid so. Look, you're a hard worker and we love having you in practice and we like the depth you bring, but you seem to have topped-out athletically and I don't think it's in your future to be a key on-field performer for us.

Player: What can I do to get on the field, coach?

Coach: Look, I understand no one wants to spend their college careers mainly being a practice player, especially not someone who came into the program expecting and hoping to be a star. Not everyone can meet their expectations though.

Player: What about special teams?

Coach: Younger players are ahead of you there too. Look, if you want to get on the field and be a key contributor, you can always transfer to a D-II school and play immediately. You'll probably be one of the better players on the team the day you report if you do that. If you really want to play, I'm happy to help you find a program that is right for you. We'd regret losing you, and you're welcome to stay here on scholarship if you want, but you aren't really in our on-field plans in the future.
I see nothing wrong with this approach. It's certainly more friendly and more fair to the athlete than simply kicking him off the team. Most players, I think, will be gently nudged by this conversation into the direction of doing what's best for themselves. Sure, some will say, "I guess I'm happy to just be a practice player and get my degree," and that's fine. You're better off keeping those guys around rather than getting a reputation for burning players.


gerry dorsey said...

don't worry, lsu will have an extra scholly for next year when perrilloux gets kicked off the team for thuggin'. i'm just kidding...sort of.

Anonymous said...

gerry that would not be a good thing. haha!

CParso said...

Spurrier took some heat for doing the same thing Saban's about to do at South Carolina.