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Indiana Hoosiers and the Oversign: Tom Crean Plays the Numbers Game

Mar 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA : Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean looks on during practice for the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Rose Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
Mar 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA : Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean looks on during practice for the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

A lot of people, myself included seem to have some concerns about the potential oversigning of recruits from year to year. Indiana and Tom Crean are already in a bit of a pickle for the 2012 season with one more scholarship player than is allotted by the NCAA. Sometime between now and the start of school in September a player is either going to have to transfer, go to prep school, or pay his own way. Now some have issues with that scenario in and of itself and their concerns are justifiable. Even in this situation Tom Crean has accepted and is actively looking to add another would-be oversign to the 2013 class. Should Hoosiers fans be concerned that ethics will come into play?

This post will take a look at what the average college basketball program experiences year in and year out and try and decide what exactly should everyone expect. Will the turnover rates work out where this isn’t a big deal? Or is Tom Crean and company on pace for an ethical conundrum that could put the price of winning above the collective fan base’s conscience?

Indiana, with the accepted committal of Stanford Robinson and the eventual redshirt of Mo Creek will be oversigned by 2 athletes this coming November. Meanwhile, the staff is moving on as usual and looking to add at least one more big man to the 2013 mix and make it another 5 man class and a 3 man oversign. How will Indiana ever be able to have enough turnover to get everyone a roster spot in 2013? The answer, Tom Crean is thinking more like an economist and less like a basketball coach. The national averages and the current roster makeup tell us this is a pretty smart move to oversign by three.

The NCAA governing body does not allow collegiate programs to hand out multi-year scholarships. Every scholarship awarded to an athlete in every sport is a one year contract that is renewed on an annual basis. This means that there is naturally a lot of volatility within the scholarship athlete community and their presence on a specific campus. At the end of an academic year a coach can remove a player from scholarship for any reason. This leads to a pretty high turnover rate in college basketball specifically.

Turnover rates in basketball are pretty high from standard reasons alone. The national average shows that 30% of a college basketball team’s roster does not return the following season. That means of the 13 scholarship athletes on a team in any given year, four (rounded up from 3.9) will not be returning the next season. Some of that attrition logically falls to natural occurrences like graduation and going pro, but it doesn’t explain for all of it.

In 2009 it was found by the National College Players Association, that among NCAA tournament bound teams in 2008 there was an unexplained roster of 22%. When we say unexplained we mean players that left a program for any other reason other than graduation or turning professional. Of 775 available returnees from 2008 tourney teams, 169 left their programs for unknown reasons. What does this tell us? In any given season a team is going to lose a chunk of its roster to unknown reasons.

This is one of the reasons that the NCAA allows an over sign in the first place. Rather than having a team with open scholarships every year (which the numbers say is likely to happen) they would prefer that the schools guard against it and fill their limit from year to year. The natural attrition added to the unpredictable attrition means teams are more than likely to need the oversign to guarantee a full squad of 13 recruited players.

Now how does all of this apply to Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers? Well they’re currently in a unique situation when it comes to the national average and their specific scenario. Indiana will have 3 players leaving the program for certain next year. Derek Elston, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford will all exhaust their eligibility. Cody Zeller will likely be a top 3 draft pick and reportedly is halfway to his degree after one season. It is pretty safe to assume that he will be gone as well. That’s your national average of four players right there and that is with the normal attrition. The numbers say that Indiana is likely to lose at least one more player from the remaining ten on the roster.

Of those ten remaining players, Victor Oladipo will reportedly be graduating after three years, Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Perea will join Oladipo in the pro potential category as well. None of the four are currently likely to go pro as things currently stand, but all four are only one "proving" season away from doing just that. Oladipo has to prove he can consistently hit a jump shot. Ferrell must prove that his speed and vision trump his size disadvantage. Hollowell must show that he can consistently do in a full year of college what he did from February on in his senior year of high school. And Hanner Perea must prove he is more than freak athleticism. If any of these four guys show those characteristics in a deep tournament run, they are also likely good as gone.

In the end, Tom Crean is likely doing the right thing from a business sense. He’s locking up really good players while Indiana is the sexy pick. History and math tells us that roster attrition will likely be 5 or so players and Crean is safeguarding the program’s short term future by recruiting this many kids. The strategy isn’t without its gambles though. Crean did the same thing this season and with Watford and Zeller choosing to return the program is in a tight corner. The strategy of playing the numbers over common sense is (like most times) the right strategy, but it is also one that will get you picked apart if you’re wrong. Tom Crean and Indiana basketball better hope they’re right and the numbers work out, because the backlash could be fierce.