March 30, 2009
"It's going real smooth right now because you've got about seven guys right now that we know for sure aren't going to make it academically," Nutt said last week at a news conference to discuss spring practice. "However, they love Ole Miss and so what we're doing, to help out Mississippi junior colleges, is we are going to place them in the schools."
"There are about four or five that are on the fence and probably won't make it academically," Nutt said. "The relationship you build with Mississippi junior colleges is important to me because we won't ever be a staff that will sign 15 to 16 junior college kids a year. We won't do that, but we will sign some needs."
Knowingly signing non-qualifiers with explicit intent of hiding them away in the most JUCO-saturated state in the South? That sounds like ... what's the word I'm looking for, recruiting guru Tom Luginbill?
"He's creating a farm system," Luginbill said. "If it works, it's a heck of a deal for their program."
Actually, the many, many Mississippi junior colleges have been fertile havens for the academically challenged for years -- Florida State and Alabama, for example, had a reputation for routinely stashing non-qualifiers in hard-to-find places like Copiah-Lincoln and Pearl River County in the nineties. Nutt is different here, though, in both scale (up to a dozen non-qualifiers in one class?) and unabashed design: He may not use the term, "farm system," but otherwise Nutt is putting the blueprint out there. It's one thing to sign a kid on the fence and later find out he's falling short; Nutt is the first coach I know of who's publicly wide open to kids who are certain to fail academically.
This is not exactly a loophole in the face of the NCAA's scholarship limits, since Ole Miss presumably isn't just signing everybody it can get its hands and hoping the right number of guy don't make the cut. With the exception of those few inevitable borderline cases, it knows who's in and who's out; the kids themselves almost certainly know, too, so they're not getting checks the program won't be able to cash in the fall. But to the extent that the JUCO-bound players remain betrothed to Ole Miss for "taking a chance" on them or something, intentional oversigning disingenuous in light of the scholarship restrictions, and inherently sketchy: To some extent, Nutt has to be actually looking for red flag academic cases to fill the excess roles. Then these kids "sign" with no intention -- in some cases, probably, no chance -- of ever enrolling at Ole Miss, and everybody in the system must know it. Their inclusion is a sort of charade -- if it wasn't, they (or one of their qualified classmates) wouldn't be included, because there's not enough room to risk oversigning with actual qualifiers.
And if it works, and a few once-hopeless cases matriculate back to Oxford, the open, JUCO farm club race will be on in earnest.