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Post A.J. Harmon and Georgia’s undersigning problem

Wednesday May 18, 2011

Now that his football career at Georgia is over, A.J. Harmon will probably best be remembered for the day he signed with Georgia. Harmon, at least to me, will always be linked with Clemson TE Dwayne Allen. The two pulled off what amounted to a Signing Day “trade” in 2008 when Harmon defected from Clemson to Georgia and Allen went from a Georgia commitment to a Clemson signee. At the time, it was a pretty big switcharoo for a pair of touted 4-star prospects.

Clemson got the better end of that deal. Allen is still playing and has become a nice college tight end. That’s not necessarily a blow to Georgia; the Bulldogs aren’t really lacking at the tight end position. Georgia is hurt more by the fact that the player they got in the deal is known more for the recruiting proces than anything he did on the field. Harmon’s departure is a loss of another upperclassman, and – along with Sturdivant and Strickland – makes three upperclass offensive linemen removed from the depth chart.

If the NCAA came around next week and announced that Georgia would be limited to 80 scholarships for the next two years, we’d consider that a pretty major penalty. Yet that’s where we are. The loss of Harmon, Ealey, Strickland, et al. drops Georgia down to no more than 80 scholarship players for the second straight year. That’s certainly going to be good news for some deserving walk-ons, and it makes late 2011 offers like this one ($) possible. It’s still not a good place to be.

We’ve talked before about the risks you run playing the numbers a little too close. It’s one thing to approach the oversigning issue with integrity, but coming into the season several players under the limit due to unanticipated attrition isn’t necessarily virtuous.

Attrition is nothing new and certainly not a unique problem for Georgia. It’s part of the calculus in the scholarship numbers game. In Richt’s defense, attrition is one of the toughest parts of the formula to anticipate. You knew that Harmon was on academic thin ice and that Ealey was becoming a problem, but you can’t really offer their scholarship slots until they’re gone. Or can you? When discussing grayshirting over the weekend, Richt seemed comfortable with the practice as long as everyone involved knows up front.

“If you tell five of those guys ‘Hey we’ve got 20 spaces. I can sign 25. There’s a good chance that by school starts there’ll be room for you, because of the attrition that happens every year everywhere you go. If there’s space for you, you come in with your class. If there’s not space for you, are you willing to come in in January?”

Mark Richt has taken his peers to task over recruiting tactics a couple of times this year. It’s a principled stand, and it’s how Georgia has operated since Richt has been here. That makes it a little harder to dismiss his statements as sour grapes or excuse-making after some disappointing seasons. But even in hoping that “the tide turns in the other direction,” Richt is realistic enough to know that it will take an NCAA rules change rather than a reformation among his peers before things change.

So what to do until those rules change? As Richt has acknowledged, there’s plenty of wiggle room even within the rules. There are some fairly obvious trips across the line that even the most crass “win at all costs” fans would have a hard time defending. In less obvious instances, one man’s medical disqualification or transfer is another’s path to oversigning. There’s no call for Richt to abandon the principles that have carried him through his career. There is a need though for Richt and the program to examine why Georgia is again coming up so short against the scholarship limit.

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