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August 11, 2011

HURT: Saban in favor of new rule

It was one of those days when stories seemed to materialize out of thin air. Dont'a Hightower wasn't at University of Alabama football practice, and it turned out he had a fracture in his hand - not monumental given today's advances in surgery, but still a story. Then there were reports that Arkansas' running back Knile Davis - an important player in the Southeastern Conference scheme of things - was injured at a Razorbacks' scrimmage. Minutes later, a web site that covers Texas A&M proclaimed that the Aggies were, indeed, headed for the SEC. That was followed by more "not so fast" stories indicating that perhaps the SEC and the Aggies had moved past the hand-holding stage but weren't engaged just yet.

All of those stories, depending on their future course, could have a big effect on SEC football moving forward. When there is a firmer basis on the Texas A&M story - one way or another - it will bear a column's worth of analysis. In the meantime, all that news activity overwhelmed the President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, talking about things that really will happen, since the NCAA Division I Board of Directors has said so.

Included in the proposals released on Thursday was one that would eventually keep teams with low APR (Academic Progress Rate) scores out of post-season play. That means, among other things, NCAA Tournaments in baseball and basketball and bowl games (including the BCS Championship) in football. The proposed cut-off score is 930. That would not have affected Alabama, or any SEC football teams this year, although three of the league's basketball teams were below that line. Nationally, some big names would have been sitting at home if the standards - which may not be implemented until 2015 - had been in force. In football, that would have included Michigan, Brigham Young and North Carolina State among others. In men's basketball, the national champion, Connecticut, wouldn't have made the cut.

There will be plenty of discussion about the move, seen as an attempt to strengthen academics across the board. But it already has one advocate - Alabama coach Nick Saban.

"What's the proposal? 930?," Saban asked in response to a question about the change, one of many stories emanating from the ongoing NCAA Presidents' Retreat in Indianapolis this week.'

"We're 963 over the last four years and (994) last year," Saban said. "It's everybody's responsibility to go to school and get an education. That's part of our program here. I don't really see it being a big issue (when) players are held accountable relative to what their responsibility is in getting an education.

Saban then went even further, distancing himself from an image as a coach that cared only about "putting players in the pros."

"There are some really, really compelling statistics about all these guys wanting to play in the NFL," he said. "Around 74 per cent of the players that make (an NFL) team don't even play more than three years. There aren't many guys that make a living (by) playing ball. There are a few. We all read about the five or six first-round draft picks we've had around here the last couple (of) years. But for 98 percent of the guys in this program, they definitely need to get an education. I think they all need to get it, even if they play 12 years and get in the Hall of Fame. They still have to do something at some other time in their life.

"Anything we do that makes that a responsibility -- we take that responsibility here, so it will be no change for us -- I think is a positive for college football."

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil.hurt@tuscaloosanews.com


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