That's it. It seems like a big number, but the Sooners are only allowed a total of 85 scholarship players each season. They can't divide the scholarship up into parts, its either all or nothing. Gone are the Switzer days when a team could essentially have as many scholarship players as the school could afford to pay for.
There are several additional things regarding the number 85. A team just has to be at or below that number before the start of the season. So hypothetically a team could have 90 scholarship players in the spring semester, and then through any number of situations (transfers, players quitting, players being dismissed from team, players having to give up football for medical/personal reasons) find themselves at 85 before the season starts.
With this in mind, an interesting recruiting strategy has emerged among several teams in college football and it's called over-signing. Basically a college football team will intentionally recruit and sign more players than the 85 allotted. They will then cut down the total number of scholarships by encouraging players who aren't producing to transfer to a lower division or different school. The players that are "encouraged" are usually those who are under-performing, have a lackadaisical work ethic, or simply haven't developed as they were expected to do so.
Imagine the following 3 Scenarios
1. Joe Smith is a 4 star offensive tackle from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. He signs with the Sooners out of high school and expected to make a big time impact at the college level. Joe however begins to bit by bit not put in the work expected of him. He goes to class, stays out of trouble, but doesn't quite work as hard as the team would hope. He finds himself in his third year in the program buried on the depth chart.
2. Jacob Bell is a Wide Reciever who flew under the radar so to speak. He was offered late in his senior season, with the expectation that he could under ideal circumstances develop into a quality contributor. He is the late bloomer, with sneaky potential, but after his redshirt sophomore year, its obvious that his impact going forward will be minimal at best. Basically he will come in the 4th quarter of a Sooners blow out and simply run some routes as the coaches call hand-off after hand-off after hand-off. Jacob works incredibly hard, never misses a team meeting, and is a solid student.
3. Brett Williams is a 5 star pocket passer. He has a cannon for an arm, prototypical size, but his mobility is limited. He is recruited for a pro-style drop back offense, and then after his sophomore year, the Sooners bring in an offensive coordinator that intends to install an offense that resembles the offense ran by Oregon Ducks, which flourishes with a mobile, dual-threat quarterback. Brett is also from California where he excelled in high school.
These are just several examples of hypothetical players that exist on almost every college campus in America.
Then to further complicate things imagine one of these two scenarios.
1. The Sooners have recruited and intend to sign a class that will bring them right to the 85 player limit. This class appears to be all but locked in after the ink dries the 1st Wednesday in February. Then as the spring progresses a player from another school (who fits the Sooners offensive or defensive needs perfectly) declares his intention to transfer. Imagine a player like Shawn Oakman minus the baggage at OU. In this situation, the player grew up in Texas, ended up at USC, and now wants a fresh start closer to home. The Sooners can add this player, but by doing so would have to encourage a player currently on scholarship to transfer to get to the 85 scholarship number
2. The Sooners intend to take 3 WRs in a recruiting class. They have 3 commitments, all of which are more than solid players. In fact lets say they are all high 4 star players with offers from coast to coast. As the season progresses, the get word that a Julio Jones/Calvin Johnson type player wants to commit to OU. Taking an additional WR would put the Sooners over the 85 scholarship limit.
And then finally one additional scenario.
1. Leonard Cooper loves playing football. He was recruited out of Texas after leading the state in rushing. He has worked hard, never gotten in trouble, yet he finds himself in a situation at OU where he will barring a rash of injuries never play. Leonard has a chance to transfer to a smaller school and fulfill his dream of playing, as the level of competition will decrease.
What would you do in these scenarios?
Some people will find the idea of over-signing unethical. To even suggest that a team should do something like this, makes them angry. Other however will call it a necessary evil.
So what do you think? Should the Sooners Consider Over Signing Recruits? Should they encourage players to transfer who aren't making the progress they had hoped they would? What about those who are buried on the depth chart?