OXFORD – Since taking over at Arkansas in 1998, Houston Nutt has impacted SEC football in a lot of ways.
One contribution he’d like to be known for a little bit less is his 2009 signing class, his second at Ole Miss, when he announced 37 signees.
“I hate getting credit for signing 37, and they didn’t show,” he said.
There was a method to the madness, Nutt says, but the practice of “over-signing” has come under fire and will be an important topic at the SEC business meetings in Destin, Fla., next week.
Even at the time, Nutt said, it was understood that not all 37 of those players would quickly get to Oxford.
“We knew that seven of those would go junior college. We knew three would go military prep. We knew two wouldn’t make it,” Nutt said.
The purpose in allowing 37 players to sign on Signing Day, he said, was to allow the players to feel a sort of connection to Ole Miss with hopes of making it easier to re-sign them and to build relationships with junior college coaches by helping them get talented players at the same time.
The NCAA allows its members to sign 25 prospects to scholarships in February, but schools are left to decide how they are to arrive at 25 scholarships and have until August to firm up that number.
While teams can sign 25 players a year, they cannot have more than 85 on scholarship at any given time.
“The numbers don’t add up,” Nutt says.
Following Nutt’s 37-player class, the SEC instituted a rule that its members could sign no more than 28 players.
“So they say ‘Houston Nutt Rule.’ … If I had it back, I probably wouldn’t ever have done it. If I could have looked in that crystal ball and know we were going to have this much talk about it,” Nutt said.
But Nutt says he will “fight” in Destin in favor of over-signing and for a more managed practice of “gray-shirting,” which is to ask a player to whom you have offered a scholarship to wait until January to join the football program. The scholarship of a grayshirted player will count against another year’s scholarships and help the coach arrive at the magical number of 25.
But it isn’t much help to the player.
“I don’t have a problem with a small amount of over-signing, as long as everything is fully disclosed up front,” said Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone, who has served on the committee that has helped prepare the proposed legislation. “If you’re going to grayshirt a player, there needs to be a written agreement on that.”
One hurdle that needs to be addressed is language of the National Letter of Intent. When players “sign” with a school they actually sign two documents, the intent form and the scholarship papers.
But nothing in the language of the intent form addresses the possibility of delayed admittance. That’s something Boone wants to change.
With the grayshirt process, there is the perceived ethical issue of promising a scholarship, then taking it away.
A worthwhile approach
That’s a worthwhile approach in some scenarios, Nutt says, to protect coaches from the players who offer a verbal commitment but don’t follow through, thus leaving coaches scrambling to meet needs.
In late January, Nutt thought he was in good position with two highly regarded cornerbacks, Jermaine Whitehead and Floyd Raven. Ultimately he missed on both, Raven with a unique twist. His mother signed his papers and faxed them to Ole Miss, but Raven sent signed papers to Texas A&M.
“Why do you over-sign? You over-sign for guys like Jermaine Whitehead. There wasn’t a coach in his living room from Auburn, but on the morning of Signing Day, he decides, ‘I’m going to Auburn.’ For a whole month he was coming here,” Nutt said.
“I had a mother sign a letter without the young man who was committed to us for a month and a half. He didn’t sign it. So what do you do with that? Well, I don’t want him to come if he doesn’t want to come, so I released him. I probably could have fought it.”
Nutt says he doesn’t use the grayshirt practice often, and when he does, he’s up front and honest with those he seeks to delay.
There are two grayshirt candidates in the current class, quarterback Maikhail Miller from Fulton, and wide receiver Collins Moore of Bob Jones High School in Madison, Ala.
Moore could go on scholarship in August if South Panola wide receiver Nick Brassell does not make a qualifying ACT score.
Nutt points to current players Evan Swindall, a backup offensive lineman, and Cameron Whigham, a backup defensive end, as grayshirting success stories in large part because they are from families who could afford to pay tuition and fees for a semester.
The topic will be hashed out by the coaches, who will then present a recommendation to the AD’s, who will in turn make a presentation to the school presidents.
The presidents will cast the final votes on Friday, the last day of the meetings. Boone believes some level of over-signing will emerge. The most important thing is “transparency” in the process, he says, noting that school presidents usually, but not always, agree with the recommendation of the athletics directors.
“I want to really fight hard for the 28 (players to sign),” Nutt said. “I think that’s very fair.
“If I knew 25 guys were coming on Signing Day, I’d say ‘hallelujah’ and stop, but that’s not the world we live in.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal