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Over-signing Makes Sense, I Still Hate It

With Spring Creaning season in full swing I wanted to have a little chat about over-signing.

The face of Creaning
The face of Creaning
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

With the recent news of two players transferring out of Tom Crean's IU program it brings up the topic of Creaning. We all know what it is, but just in case here's a bit more info to refresh your memory. The definition below is courtesy of the always lauded and highly impressive Urban Dictionary:

The practice of pulling a scholarship from a college athlete(s) in order to open up a scholarship for a more highly valued recruit.
With all the Creaning going on at IU, it might turn players off from going there.

So now that we are all clear on that let's take a look at why over-signing makes perfect sense but why I hate it anyway. Tom Crean forced two players out of IU (allegedly) this off-season because he was over-signed by two players. In order to sign these highly touted players Crean needed two open scholarships. Scholarships he didn't have available. So rather than be a responsible recruiter and not bring in the new players Crean did what Crean do and forced Stan Robinson and Max Hoetzel to transfer. Now, I want to add a bit of an asterisk here as I wasn't in the room when these decisions were made. I don't know for sure that these two guys were forced out. They could've decided they wanted to be closer to home, they could've decided they wanted more playing time, they could've decided Tom Crean is an incredibly weird person and wanted to play for a competent coach. If you believe that I've got some swamp land in Florida to sell you. Crean simply forces these guys out because he has "better" players lined up behind them. These players then underachieve, lather, rinse, repeat.

I know that every school has transfers. Purdue under Matt Painter has had probably more than their fair share. Ronnie Johnson transferred after last season and there are rumblings about another transfer this year. It happens. Players get themselves in situations they don't anticipate, coaches sell something that isn't there, a coach and player just don't get along, or any other number of reasons. I get it. IU though has an incredibly high number of transfers. Since the 2008 season IU has had 14 players transfers to new homes. That's an average of two each and every offseason. That is just incredibly high. Even worse than that since the start of last season IU has had seven players transfer. That's over half of their total scholarships turned over in one year.

You can blame Crean, and I do, but he isn't technically doing anything wrong. By over-signing Tom Crean is defending himself from players decisions to transfer, leave early for the NBA, or, in the case of Jay Simpson at Purdue, being unable to continue to play. It makes sense. In basketball you only have 13 scholarships to give out. You need 10 players just to scrimmage. You want those 10 players to be scholarship players pushing one another to get better. With early departures and injuries that number could easily be whittled down to 10 or less. A coach needs to protect himself from such an awful scenario. Any coach is well within his right to continue to recruit extra players when you know certain players are looking at other schools or that at any given moment one of your players could be done playing basketball entirely.

I view over-signing as a necessary evil in basketball. I would prefer that it didn't exist. It's not fair to the players who get Creaned. These players worked hard to get where they were and were told they'd be there for four years but then poof it's all gone because they didn't perform as the coach had hoped. Yes, I know scholarships are technically only for one year and renewable each year, but everyone knows it's an implied four year commitment by the university. I'm sure at this point you're all thinking that this whining is getting annoying and don't I have any sort of solution to add to this problem. The answer to that is yes I do. It's by no means a complete solution and it has many problems but it's something I think the NCAA needs to take a look at. If it's so easy for coaches to force players out with no penalty for them why shouldn't a player be able to transfer to another Division I school with no penalty? We are in an environment that heavily favors the coaches. There's no fine or problem for Tom Crean forcing out 14 players in seven years. Those players however each lost a year of eligibility when they transferred. Seems a bit unfair huh? Especially when you consider that Tom Crean could take another job tomorrow with no penalty coming his way. He won't have to sit out and not earn a salary for a year. Why should the student get punished but not the coach?

Regardless of the solution we can all agree that college basketball has a transfer problem. What the solution is? I don't know but something needs to be done if these truly are student-athletes.