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August 16, 2011The biggest story in college football - at least until about 5 p.m. on Tuesday - has been the potential expansion of the Southeastern Conference to include Texas A&M, and maybe more teams. Even though that story had cooled off since a white-hot weekend, it was still grabbing attention, and a comment from University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban as the Crimson Tide ended practice.
Nick Saban gave an appropriately deferential answer, indicating that whatever the decision by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and the league presidents, including UA President Robert Witt might be, was fine with him.
"I don't really have a strong opinion other than I have a tremendous amount of faith, trust and confidence in our presidents and our commissioner, who has done a fabulous job in this league," Saban said.
As always, though, Saban keeps at least one eye - usually both - fixed on the potential recruiting ramifications of any situation. And as he talked about his last encounter with conference expansion - the Big Ten's addition of Penn State while Saban was an assistant coach (later to become the head coach) at Michigan State - it was apparent that he viewed expansion into new areas as a possible boon. That doesn't mean Saban gave a full-fledged endorsement to Texas A&M, but it did sound like he wouldn't mind further access to the state of Texas. (If nothing else, his answer gave insight as to why Alabama will open its 2012 season against Michigan in the Dallas Cowboys' stadium.)
"I wouldn't oppose (expansion because of) my experience in the Big Ten," Saban said. "At the time Penn State came in, there were all kinds of naysayers ... saying, 'Why would we let a team as good as Penn State in the league? It's going to mess up the balance of the league.'"
"The fact of the matter was that Penn State opened up the whole East (as a recruiting territory) for the Big Ten," Saban said. "Before that, we could never get a player anywhere in the East at Michigan State. When Penn State got in, it became one of our best far-away recruiting areas because the Big Ten got a tremendous amount of exposure in the East that they never had before.
"So it actually helped Michigan State that Penn State got in the league. It was another tough game we had to play, but we always played one more tough game than we had to anyway.
"We have a great league (in the SEC) right now, and it doesn't need to get changed - unless change benefits the league as a whole."
As noted, there was another big Tuesday story besides expansion. Yahoo! Sports published an expos?lleging a huge number of booster-
related NCAA violations at the University of Miami, and two current UA staff members (offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and director of football operation Joe Pannunzio) were named in the story. Because it was published online literally as Saban's Tuesday press conference was ongoing, there were no questions asked about the two. UA officials later had no comment, and said the two would not be available for interviews, per normal department policy.
It is unlikely that it would be a matter of institutional concern at UA, Florida, Louisville or Missouri - all of which have ex-Miami coaches on their current football or basketball staffs. It is too early to speculate on possible individual ramifications, if any.
At any rate, the day - a good practice session for UA, according to Saban - was just another reminder that college football, and its all-enveloping news cycle, is moving faster than it ever has before.