How Oversigning Can Impact Recruiting

Last May, the NCAA waived a longstanding rule that has limited college football programs from oversigning recruits. This has led to new developments that we are now starting to see play out. And today, on The Wire, read about how these rules (or lack thereof) can impact your recruitment. 

Oversigning is a practice used by college football head coaches to quickly build their roster. As the idea goes: signing more players than the typically allotted amount creates a surplus that favors the head coach. If you have 45 players instead of 25, it creates internal competition, and you can then make a more informed decision as to who will earn their spot on the team. 

On the flip side, student-athletes need to be educated on how this can impact their experience at a school. No longer are schools required to honor the entirety of a scholarship (at least through a loophole currently being used by a handful of programs).


NCAA football programs had a limit – believe it or not. Recently, they were limited to signing 25 recruits per graduating class. The reason for this limitation was twofold. 

First, it meant that if every recruit signed, they would actually be able to grant scholarships to them. Money doesn’t grow on trees – even for the NCAA. Second, it ensured that if a school offered to sign a recruit, there actually was a spot available to them if they accepted. 

This is the way things were. Come 2020, enter Covid-19, and it’s a whole different story. The transfer portal exists (which The Wire will touch on soon), student-athletes can profit from their NIL, and they are now essentially free agents.

With this rule being ousted, it’s created an even more chaotic landscape not only for college coaches, but for recruits themselves. 

Recently, Max Olson with The Athletic wrote about these changing rules, how they are playing themselves out in college football, and what it could mean for up and coming recruits. 

The Loophole

There’s always a loophole, huh?

“First-year coaches have had an obscure loophole at their disposal in recent years to run off players they don’t want and free up more scholarships,” said Olson. 

Apparently, an unheard of NCAA bylaw allows first year coaches more flexibility in regard to their roster/scholarship management. The University of Southern California eventually learned of said rule, and has had their pedal to the metal ever since. 

As it goes, rule allows first year coaches to drop 10 scholarship players from their team with little to no repercussions. There are some intricacies regarding what they must offer after dropping a student-athlete. But usually, the dropped players end up transferring somewhere else. 

Then, using the transfer portal and raised cap on how many players can be signed, USC started building a juggernaut. Many others followed suit in the way they went about cutting players or signing transfers. 

While these rules were created for very specific reasons, coaches today understand the implications that they carry with them. Mel Tucker, Michigan State’s coach, said it best.

“Nothing’s set in stone,” Tucker said in November 2020. “It’s compete and show us what you can do and earn your spot, earn your playing time, earn your right to be able to even stay on the team. This is not like a recreational type of situation. This is compete to play, compete to stay.”

How Does This Effect Recruits

The football oversight committee already knows this will become a bigger issue. They acknowledged as much in a waiver proposal. They stated that the issue of oversigning and increased roster flexibility would mean that more student-athletes would find themselves without an opportunity to compete, and perhaps without an opportunity to keep their scholarship and their education. 

What this all means is that recruits need to be very careful when selecting their school of choice. No longer is anything a guarantee after the ink hits the national letter of intent. Make sure your choices are in your own best interests and not solely beneficial to a college coach. 

There are three major stakeholders, according to Olson. First, are the already established collegiate athletes who stand to benefit from what amounts to college free agency. They will now, more than ever, be able to transfer to schools that set them up for better individual success and team success. 

Second are the college coaches. They will now have more control than they ever have had before regarding their roster construction. While certain ruthless considerations will be made by cutting players that were on scholarship, this will be the least of their concerns. Paychecks come first. And winning results in more of those. 

Lastly, there are high school athletes who are faced with an increasingly difficult college choice. And the upperclassmen scholarship players who will be looked at as potential options to be cut. They can take solace in the fact that they will have helped a program achieve success. But this will pale in comparison to their short end of the stick. In fact, they probably won’t want the program to succeed after taking these measures against them. 

All in all, it’s important for recruits, current collegiate athletes, parents, and anybody involved to be aware of these new developments. A young student-athlete’s academic and athletic outlook depend on making well-informed decisions when it comes to picking a school and picking a coach. 

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