Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide are at it again.
They’ve won another BCS national championship, claimed the nation’s top recruiting class in three of the four major recruiting publications (Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN) and they looked poised to make a run at a three-peat in 2013. However, Alabama is also setting a dangerous precedent for oversigning recruits as Saban continues to push the boundaries in an effort to find any sort of competitive edge over the SEC and ultimately the nation.
Three years ago, the conference augmented recruiting rules in an effort to scale back oversigning, which was the subject of an Outside the Lines report that targeted the SEC as the most notorious offender. A cap on signees per year helped restore some semblance of order to the conference as a whole, but Saban and Alabama have managed to circumnavigate those rules and continually sign more recruits than they have allotted scholarships.
Attrition is an issue that naturally plagues college sports. Kids get homesick, their situations change or they get in trouble. Whatever the reason, it’s rare to return every eligible letterman in a given year.
Because of that, it’s natural to see teams in college football oversign in an effort to anticipate attrition. According to a CBS Sports report, 15 power conference teams in college football sit above the threshold of 85 scholarship players when you combine returning lettermen with signees. However, Alabama stretches the idea of anticipatory attrition to dangerous levels.
The Alabama Crimson Tide currently sit (unofficially) at 95 scholarship players, 10 more than the NCAA allows when rosters have to be finalized in August. Nobody in the NCAA has oversigned by as much, and only Washington and Virginia currently sit at 90 scholarship athletes or more, with 91 and 90, respectively.
Of the 15 teams currently oversigned, 10 are only oversigned by two scholarships or less–a rather reasonable number given expected attrition. However, with Alabama sitting so far above the allotted number, it’s hard not to question the morality of Nick Saban’s signing practices.
Last week, four Alabama players were arrested on felony robbery charges, suspended from the team and barred from the University of Alabama campus. None of the four were significant contributors, but even so, under normal circumstances losing four scholarship athletes would take a toll on a team’s prospective depth. At Alabama, it’s helping the Crimson Tide get back down to 85.
But even with players getting in trouble or electing to transfer because of the loaded depth chart at Alabama, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Tide naturally get back to 85 players. That sets up the possibility of the most disconcerting aspect of oversigning in its entirety.
Nick Saban will likely have to tell somebody to go home.
It won’t be quite that blunt, but the fact remains that Saban will probably have to call a player that he recruited under the premise that he would be welcomed at Alabama for four years into his office to tell him to leave. That player will be told that it’s in his “best interest” to explore his options elsewhere–somewhere he may have an opportunity to actually play.
Or, even worse, in an effort to save face and avoid a public relations nightmare like the one LSU and Les Miles went through when Chris Garrett alleged he was simply cut in a Dec. 2010 OTL report, an athlete will be dismissed for academic issues that, had Alabama not been oversigned, he would have normally simply been suspended for or helped with.
Between now and August, the Alabama Crimson Tide will methodically shave the excess and by the time the NCAA takes an official count, there’s no doubt that the Tide will be at or under 85 scholarship football players. However, the way they get there is as immoral as it is progressive.
The SEC needs to continue to make a concerted effort to eliminate oversigning and enforce harsh penalties on serial offenders like Saban. With Alabama currently serving as the gold standard for college football, allowing Nick Saban to continue to prolifically oversign sets a dangerous example to the rest of the college football world that this is how you get ahead–at the cost of the student-athletes.
Nick Saban is one of the most revered figures in college football and he is cementing his place in the game’s history, but this is an extremely dark blemish on his resume, and it needs to be stopped before Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide have the chance to oversign again.