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Florida President Declares Grayshirting the Devil's Work

Well, not exactly, but in an editorial in Sports Illustrated, Florida President J. Bernard Machen went off on the evils of grayshirting, oversigning, and medical scholarships:

In Division I college football this practice is known as "grayshirting" and, unfortunately, there are universities that sanction this activity. The universities, with full knowledge of what they are doing, extend more athletic scholarships than they have. These schools play roulette with the lives of talented young people. If they run out of scholarships, too bad. The letter-of-intent signed by the university the previous February is voided. Technically, it's legal to do this. Morally, it is reprehensible.

Associated with "grayshirting" -- and equally disgusting -- is the nefarious practice of prematurely ending student-athletes' scholarships. Some are just not renewed even though the student-athlete is doing what is asked of him.

Some students are mysteriously given a "medical exemption" which ends their athletic careers -- and makes another scholarship available for the football coach to hand out.

For the record, I think the supposed outrage here is largely one grand sanctimonious farce. Since becoming university president in 2003, about half of Florida's signing classes have included 27 or more players, so why it's taken almost a decade for Machen to see the light of the supposed evils of this practice I do not know. Generally I'd like to think that logical human beings with a degree of intelligence would be able to discern morally damning practices in a bit under eight years, but perhaps I'm being a bit too demanding here.

In any event, we've discussed these issues at length here before and frankly for the most part I have no reservations whatsoever about these practices. Oversigning allows a school to maximize its scholarships allotted under NCAA rules, greyshirting should be a valid option between two informed parties if they choose to act to that end, and while medical scholarships admittedly have the potential to become a slippery slope, there is an appeals process in place for a student-athlete who disagrees with that decision, and at some point critics have to point to legitimate medical disagreements over the injury in question showing either a meaningful dispute or an outright fraudulent medical opinion leading to the designation instead of just pointing to general rulings and screaming impropriety at the top or their lungs. We've made significant use of all three of these practices in recent years, and as a general rule I have no issue with anything that we've done and I feel no need to apologize to the self-proclaimed moral champions of the world.

Having said that, though, I think it is becoming relatively clear as to where this is heading in the coming years. It's one thing when some random Big Ten president comes out on a crusade against these practices, but when you get the same arguments being made publicly from the president of an SEC powerhouse? Suddenly that is no longer a minority opinion, but the seeds of a growing consensus. Again, I have no issue with any of this, but I expect in the coming years we're likely to see legislation significantly reducing the usage of all three practices.