Is Louisville’s “roster management” merely oversigning?

Elisha Justice in action last season. (AP photo)

Elisha Justice in action last season. (AP photo)

Rick Pitino giveth, now he taketh away.

As part of a press conference on Tuesday morning, the Louisville basketball coach announced that three of his returning players (Kyle Kuric, Elisha Justice and Chris Smith) will be moved from scholarship to walk-on players next season so that U of L can meet the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships.

Pitino pointed out that Justice and Kuric were both recruited to be walk-ons, but then were awarded scholarships when Louisville had ones available. He said he told Kuric that sometime during his career, the program might need to shift the Indiana native to walk-on status. And Kuric told the Courier-Journal that he had no problem with giving up his scholarship for the good of the team.

Meanwhile, Smith was to have his way paid by his brother, Denver Nuggets’ guard J.R. Smith. Like Kuric and Justice, Smith was awarded a scholarship when Pitino was under the 13 limit.

Pitino’s numbers problem was brought about by the unexpected arrival of freshman Kevin Ware and transfer Luke Hancock. Ware, a former Tennessee signee, was released form his letter when Bruce Pearl was fired by the Vols. Hancock left George Mason after coach Jim Larranaga left to become head coach at Miami. Hancock landed in Louisville thanks to new U of L assistant Kevin Keatts, who coached Hancock at Hargrave Military Academy.

And yet, with the debate last week at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin about oversigning in college football, one can ask isn’t Louisville guilty of the same thing?

My friend/critic Kevin Faris, a local high school teacher, tweeted yesterday, “Over signing is wrong for SEC FB (UK included) and it should be wrong for MCBB. Don’t see the difference.”

There is one problem, of course, the same problem that permeates much of big-time college athletics: Who do you believe?

The SEC football coaches did have a point in that some recruits are willing to sign a national letter-of-intent in February, then wait until the following January to enroll – the practice of gray-shirting – if it means being allowed to attend the desired school. And, if that’s how the scholarship offer is presented up front, then there is nothing wrong with that practice.

The problem comes when coaches are dishonest with players about their situations, or they make false promises, etc. It sends the message that coaches/programs are manipulating players/young people in order to meet the NCAA requirements. It leaves the impression that instead of following the rules, the coaches were doing whatever they could to get around the rules.

The Louisville question goes back to the honesty question. Was Pitino up front with Kuric, who is U of L’s leading returning scorer from last season? And is Kuric being honest in his reaction, or is he putting on a brave, unified front for the good of the program, not to mention his relationship with the head coach?

As for Justice, he was recruited as a walk-on. In fact, even when Kentucky showed late interest in Justice, with the possibility of a scholarship, Justice stuck to his U of L commitment. Pitino ended up putting Justice on scholarship, which in college athletics is a one-year renewable agreement. Is it wrong for the coach to put a player on scholarship one year, then take him off the next?

Again, it all goes back to the original agreement.

Back in 2001-02, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith found himself over the scholarship limit. He solved the problem by putting center Marquis Estill on need-based aid.

Don’t look for Kentucky basketball to face a similar problem anytime soon. John Calipari has shown he’s not into a big roster. He’s not Billy Gillispie. He reached the Final Four last year with just 10 scholarship players – 11 if you count the non-playing Enes Kanter. At present, even with the addition of transfer Ryan Harrow, he has 12 players on scholarship for next year, including Jarrod Polson, who was originally recruited as a walk-on.

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  1. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the mention, and I’m glad to see we are “friends”. I also agree that Pitino was honest with those three UL players and if any of them had a major problem, they could probably transfer to another school and receive a full scholarship.

    I don’t recall what your views are on the oversigning in SEC FB. Your defense of UL’s actions sound a lot like what Saban and others have said defending their actions. It’s difficult to see the line between an upfront, honest coach and a bait and switch. This makes it difficult to have a solid set limit for offers.

    I would also not call the arrival of Ware and Hancock “unexpected”. They were obviously recruited and/or offered. Their availability may not have been expected, but when you offer someone a scholarship, it can’t makes their arrival on your campus a shock.

    I will close with the fact that UL still has a scholarship offer out to Louisville native Ryan Taylor. He may not qualify, but why even have the offer out if you’ve already had to move three players off scholarship?

  2. John Clay says:

    My opinion on the SEC oversigning debate was that the presidents were right to close the loophole because the coaches abused the rule. I think its better to allow more walk-ons, and then players can earn scholarships via that route.

  3. Kevin says:

    I think we are coming to a point where BB coaches abuse it as well. UL is probably not yet, but if Ryan Taylor makes grades and comes on, then I think they are. You could also make the argument that Calipari’s house cleaning upon arriving to UK was abuse as well. UCONN ran off some players last year. This is just off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are more examples out there.

  4. John Clay says:

    Have to go back and check, but think Alabama cleared a roster spot for Trevor Lacey, as well.

  5. JackB says:

    The NCAA makes this possible with the mandatory 1 year committment rule for scholarships. If the schools and players were allowed to negotiate the scholarship agreement, we might have different results, including players agree to playing for a specific number of years in exchange for a guaranteed scholarship for a set number of years (and how many schools would enforce that agreement to prevent a player from going pro – knowing the future recruits were watching?).

    I alway get a kick out of fans who get mad because a player goes pro early, like he violated his agreement with the school – yet the school also has no obligation to extend a scholarship next year.

    The facts of life are the better the player, the more negotiating power he or she has with the scholarship situation. These 3 weren’t put on walk on status despite being the best players on the UL basketball team – they either agreed to it b/c they could absorb the cost or fund the scholarship in other ways (e.g., like Estill did) or they lacked the negotiating power to prevent it from happening.