There are not many shades of gray with “grayshirting.” If it is not “morally reprehensible,” as University of Florida President Bernard Machen has said, it is a singularly squalid spot in the ethical quagmire that is college football recruiting.
In its ugliest incarnation, such as the University of Louisville’s dealings with high school running back Matt Colburn, it’s a false promise followed by a bait-and-switch proposition. It’s securing a commitment from a high school athlete only to come back to him at a (much) later date to say the scholarship is no longer immediately available.
This is an intolerable practice much too widely tolerated at American universities.
“I think you’re probably going to see more and more of that,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not something I’m comfortable with.
“… When I go and say I’m going to take care of them and treat them exactly how I want my son to be treated, that’s not how I want my son to be treated.”
Football recruiting is notoriously fluid. Though Colburn verbally committed to Louisville eight months ago, his promise was no more binding than a rubber band on a bulldozer. Six players reneged on verbal pledges to Kentucky in the 10 days prior to Wednesday’s national signing day. Cornerback Sheldrick Redwine flipped from Louisville to Miami just Wednesday morning.
Given the fickle climate and their own inflexible needs, college coaches are prone to overbook their recruiting classes on the theory that they are bound to suffer some attrition before they get everyone signed. But unlike the airlines, where a passenger bumped from an overbooked flight is generally entitled to compensation, a high school athlete asked to “grayshirt” and delay enrollment until the following year has few rights and is often wronged.
There are exceptions. Louisville landed standout linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin after South Carolina asked him to grayshirt, ostensibly to improve his grades. Some players benefit from delayed admission through physical maturity. Still, that’s a tough sell when you don’t start selling it until after many other schools have filled their quota of 25 scholarships. Florida’s Machen likens grayshirting to playing roulette with the lives of young athletes.
One proposed solution is an early signing period that would enable committed players to lock in a scholarship and avoid last-minute drama. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is leery of that idea, however, because it might afford an advantage to those schools in prime recruiting areas.
“It’s a cutthroat business,” said Kris Heavner, head football coach at Phoenix (Ariz.) Horizon High School. “Some schools will offer 250 scholarships, but you only sign 25. When they offer a kid a scholarship, they don’t tell the kid that they want him to grayshirt. They tell them what they want to hear.”
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