Sunday, September 26, 2010

They’re Used to Hostile Attention from the National Media

Last winter, I posited that if Nick Saban were truly running players off, then a national media outlet would find the players and run with their stories:

Paging Bob Ley: In Scenario Two, Saban either tells a player directly that he needs to transfer or implies it with something along the lines of "we're going to make your life very difficult." If that's the case, then the authors are absolutely right that Saban and other coaches like him in the SEC are deriving a competitive advantage from bringing in large classes and then cutting players who don't pan out. I don't see any evidence of that occurrence, but maybe some media outlet will do some reporting on players in the Alabama Diaspora. I can't imagine that it would be very hard to get a former player to say bad things about Saban and his staff is they are indeed cutting people. I don't see any media outlet in the State of Alabama taking up the cause, but ESPN? Yahoo!? Sports Illustrated? If the story is there, they would be foolish not to take it. Media attention to cutting players should be one of the two checks on oversigning. The other is negative recruiting from rivals. If Alabama really is intentionally cutting ten players per year, then that would be an awfully effective recruiting tool for Urban Meyer or Mark Richt.

Take it away, Wall Street Journal:

Former Alabama football players say the school's No. 1-ranked football program has tried to gain a competitive edge by encouraging some underperforming players to quit the team for medical reasons, even in cases where the players are still healthy enough to play.

At least 12 times since coach Nick Saban took over the program in 2007, Alabama has offered players a "medical" scholarship, according to public statements made by the team. These scholarships, which are allowed under NCAA rules, are intended to make sure scholarship athletes who are too injured to play don't lose their financial aid. A player who receives one of these scholarships is finished playing with that team.

A few thoughts:

  • Bama’s rivals in the SEC ought to use this story against Saban in recruiting.  In the end, I’m not sure that it will have a huge impact because: (1) high school players never think that they’ll be the ones who are seen as underperforming players; and (2) this is a relatively minor factor as compared with Saban’s ability to prepare players (especially defensive players) for the NFL.  That said, I’d be very interested to hear a blue chipper pick another school and cite Bama’s practices in cutting players as a reason why.
  • Because Bama is so far ahead of the rest of the SEC in using medical hardships, this isn’t a situation in which the SEC is taking advantage of the other major conferences in an unethical manner.  Rather, it’s a situation in which Alabama is gaining an advantage over the rest of the SEC.  The concern at this point is going to be that other SEC coaches are going to try to mimic Saban’s practices.  “Hey, I never thought about politicking the team doctor to declare that a player can’t play anymore.  Good one, Nick.”  Since winners are always copied, the Tide deserve extra scrutiny for what they are doing.
  • One semi-positive thought: is Saban less likely to cut players now that there are fewer Shula recruits on the roster?  It’s shady for Saban to run off players recruited by his predecessor because he wants to make room for his own recruits, but once he has his style of players in the program, the incentive for Nick to be the Axeman goes down, right?
  • Captain Louis Renault is shocked (shocked!) that the media outlets in Alabama didn’t find this story.

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