Is Nick Saban playing fast and loose with medical scholarship rules?

24 Sep
September 24, 2010

Hmmmmm, all that greyshirtin’ and medical scholarshipin’ stuff at Alabama has started to raise some eyebrows. Hannah Karp and Darren Everson of the Wall Street Journal shed some light on the methods Nick Saban uses to rapidly turn his roster over:

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.

Three Alabama players who’ve taken these exemptions say they believe the team uses the practice as a way to clear spots for better players by cutting players it no longer wants. These players said they believe Mr. Saban and his staff pressure some players to take these scholarships even though their injuries aren’t serious enough to warrant keeping them off the field. (Wall Street Journal)

What the story barely touches on is how Saban keeps oversigning recruits when it’s clear the current roster can’t absorb that many new kids, even when accounting for academic flame outs and thugs like Jimmy Johns. It’s amazing how he can do that, almost like he can see into the future…

While Karp and Everson glazed over that, they also failed to mention another important factor in all this: athletic scholarships are one-year awards.

That means that after the academic year is done, a coach can use ANY reason to not renew an award. For example, if Steve Spurrier came to believe at the end of last season that Stephen Garcia sucked just that bad, then the program wasn’t obligated to provide the same award or offer any scholarship at all to Garcia for this academic year.

But how often do you hear of a program cutting loose a perfectly healthy student-athlete with decent grades? Not often, because it’s not as publicized as when a player loses a scholarship for stalking an ex-girlfriend or some knuckleheadedness like that.

In the cases of non-renewal due to being buried on the depth chart, it’s most common for a coach to get rid of the kid via transfer. Besides the medical schollies, this has been another means for Saban to clear out what he perceived as the program’s dead weight. Refer to the cases of Jermaine Preyear, Charlie Higgenbotham, Corey Smith, Jennings Hester, Chris Jackson….

Finding a kid a spot on some other school’s roster is obviously the preferred method, because simply non-renewing a kid and leaving it at that looks BAD. If you do that too many times, opposing coaches will pounce on you on the recruiting trail. “Hey Mrs. Williams, I know Coach Saban says he’ll take care of Jake Jr. here, but did you realize he just yanks away scholarships from perfectly deserving kids? You didn’t? Well, let me find this list here…”

The aforementioned Spurrier discovered just how much hot water a coach can get into when he starts waving around the non-renewal sword. Back in 2005, Ol’ Ball Coach was trying to clear out some of the players from the Holtz regime and slapped a non-renew on defensive back Trent Usher.

But it just so happened that Usher’s dad was former Central Pageland coach Al Usher, who had lettered in football at South Carolina in the early 70′s. The elder Usher got in contact with his buddies at the South Carolina High School Coaches Association and it mushroomed from there. The SCHSCA’s Executive Board actually issued a statement calling the OBC “unethical” because he had revoked scholarships.

Hmmmm, I wonder why South Carolina’s taken a minute or two to get itself right under Spurrier. Could it be that it’s taken years for him to mend fences with Palmetto State high school coaches over that fiasco? And while he did absolutely nothing wrong within the confines of NCAA rules, you can see how non-renewals played in the court of public opinion.

So it’s obvious why Saban avoids non-renewals like the plague. Hell, with all things considered, you can make the argument that in theory, Saban is actually doing the medical scholarship kids a favor since the alternative is to bounce them out of Tuscaloosa altogether.

Yeah, that’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that Saban is not really honoring the spirit of the medical scholarship rule and using it as a means of playing fast and loose with his roster numbers.

I’m sure Bama fans have no problem with anything that Saban is doing.  Hell, they’re absolutely thrilled.  It just goes to show you how a subject like this can bring the homerism out in any college fanbase.  If Tennessee or Auburn were winning titles and using the same tactics, Bama fans would be screaming to the heavens about the unfairness of it all.

It’s okay if we do it and not right if you do it.  Ahhhh, college football, you gotta love it.

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