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Since when is oversigning OK?

4/12/2013

This week, Indiana lost Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to the NBA draft. This was not at all unexpected: Oladipo was basically a lock to leave after his remarkable junior season (his stock will never be higher), and it made nearly as much sense for Zeller, who would have been a top-five pick last season, too, to decide this was the right time to move on. Again, this was not unexpected, and IU coach Tom Crean admitted as much when he spoke with assembled media in Bloomington, Ind., Thursday afternoon. He knew he might have two guys leaving early, in addition to three seniors (Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Derek Elston) which is, Crean told the Indianapolis Star, "one of the reasons we oversigned."

Wait ... what?

Yes, the Hoosiers enter the second straight summer with more players signed than scholarships to give out — this time 14 for 13. (Last season, IU's 15 signed players ended with senior guard Matt Roth's seemingly confused, then suddenly uber-positive, departure, and a fortuitous turn in freshman Ron Patterson's academic ineligibility.) So while it isn't exactly surprising IU is oversigned again, it is a little surprising to hear its coach speak so openly about the practice. For years, oversigning has been a bit of a dirty word, because it meant making at least one promise you couldn't keep to at least one kid; it meant finding less-than-savory ways of sending that kid away; it highlighted the power quite wealthy coaches have over unpaid players who sign disposable one-year scholarships. It feels … icky.

But -- perhaps to his credit, even? -- Crean wasn't afraid to address the oversignage this week, even if he wouldn't fully reveal how the clear sausage will eventually be made. Again from the Star:

“I think you have a responsibility to (players like Oladipo and Zeller) and you have a responsibility to your program,” Crean said. “There’s a lot of different things that go into decision-making and building your team. There’s a lot of influx in this game. That’s the way it is. And if you’re going to be successful, you’re going to deal with that.

“We’re fully prepared for that.”

But Crean offered no specifics on how the scholarship situation will shake out, only a cryptic message that it will shake out.

“There’s always going to be things that go on, that those of us that are inside those doors truly have a grasp on,” Crean said, referring to the locker room. “That’s just sometimes the way it is. We better have a grasp on it ... and we do. You don’t really talk a lot about it publicly.”

Which we can take to mean Crean has long since informed at least a few players of what the situation is, and neither the current players or the incoming freshman have any illusions about what the result could be (or have been) based on the team's needs going forward. This should be noted, because it's something people ask me a lot in trying to understand oversigning: It's not like the kids are duped. They (and their families) know the deal going in. Or they should, at least, because this information is available pretty much anywhere.

But that doesn't make the whole thing feel any more savory. There are 14 players for 13 scholarships. Someone will have to go. Will it be a freshman who committed to the program after a long high school process, who will now have to find another school? Or a veteran player who will transfer, his college life uprooted for the good of the program?

Or maybe there's some other solution that isn't immediately obvious to people not inside the locker room, to which Crean alludes. We don't know, because he isn't saying.

Be he is saying this: His responsibility to his ascendant program occasionally requires that he oversign. You can admire the honesty while also marveling at it, because last I checked oversigning was a dirty word. And now it's ... not? We're just coming right out with this? I would probably be more outraged were I not so very confused.