Like all rules (especially when it comes to recruiting), the NCAA's 25-scholarship cap in any given recruiting class can be massaged to accommodate a few minor overages. LSU, for example, inked 29 players in its latest crop in February. Two of that number had already enrolled early for the spring semester, thus counting against the Tigers' slightly less crowded 2009 cap. Another player or two can always be counted on to cull themselves from the remaining 27 via academics, legal issues or old-fashioned teenage flakiness of one variety or another. If the incoming crop is still too large to fit under the 25-man cap (or the 85-man scholarship cap for the entire roster) by the time the season rolls around, the unlikely-to-contribute players at the bottom of the incoming class will be asked to "grayshirt," dutifully delaying their enrollment (or paying their own way) for a semester, until there's room for them in the next class.
It's standard operating procedure, and players usually take their grayshirt without (public) complaint. It's only when the rare snub speaks up that we're reminded how fundamentally slimy the process really is. LSU offensive lineman Elliott Porter, effectively cut from the roster Tuesday when all 27 Tiger signees showed up for the start of training camp in good legal and academic standing, is one of the latter group:
"I got called to coach Miles' office. I had no idea it was coming," Porter said of his being asked by LSU to 'grayshirt' this season and re-enroll next year. "He just told me that they didn't have room for me. I moved out of my dorm today and I am now back home trying to figure everything out. It's been a rough 24 hours."
Porter has received a release from LSU and is free to go to any school he chooses. In order to be eligible somewhere else, Porter has to win an appeal. "I have to win a waiver, but it shouldn't be a problem," Porter said. "It's unfair how they told me at the last minute."
Uh, yeah. According to Rivals, Porter had been committed to LSU since last July, meaning he went an entire year – through his senior season, signing day, his high school graduation, an entire summer and move-in day on campus – assuming he had a secure position on Miles' team. He reportedly turned down other offers from Florida State, Nebraska, Stanford, Texas Tech and a dozen other I-A/FBS schools based on that assumption, only to have the rug pulled out from under him at the last possible second. Again, as far as the NCAA is concerned, this is perfectly on the up-and-up.
As consistent oversigning critic Brian Cook argues today, it probably shouldn't be. Last year, the SEC passed the "Houston Nutt Rule," limiting conference schools to 28 signees in any given year after Ole Miss inked a whopping 37 in February 2009 with the explicit intention of either grayshirting or diverting a full third of the class straight to junior college. The cap (modeled on a longstanding limit in the Big Ten) was specifically designed to prevent hoarding of the variety that leaves guys like Elliott Porter and roughly 10-15 percent of Alabama's roster in the cold every year.
The next logical step in the "Nutt Rule" is to forbid overages altogether, forcing the program to identify a specific, available scholarship for every player before signing them to a letter of intent, which locks the player into the school, but not vice versa. Coaches will howl, but anything short of that is a one-way "commitment" that leaves non-elite players open to a last-second sacking.
Porter appears likely to land on his feet: He was immediately rumored to be looking at Tennessee, which has room in its latest class, and admitted today he was "giving small consideration" to accepting the grayshirt at LSU, because he senses Miles genuinely wants him there. He acknowledges that "it's a business, the way things go." But that can't be right, because a real business would pay the players and pay taxes. One of the main points of the "amateurism" the NCAA strives so hard to uphold is that it's not supposed to be so cold.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.