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February 1, 2012

HURT: New rules complicate recruiting process

The Southeastern Conference tweaked its recruiting rules for the 2012 season.

Nick Saban, to no one's surprise dealt with it.

Also to no one's surprise, he didn't like it.

The new SEC rule limiting teams to a fairly hard-and-fast 25 signees - Alabama actually had one vacancy from last season that went to a mid-term enrollee, so it signed 26 and stayed within the rule - did nothing to keep UA from adding another No. 1 national recruiting class. At this point, Alabama is to recruiting what Apple is to electronics, except that there is no cap on what Apple can reap. Alabama can't simply go and take a record number of blue-chippers.

What the new rule did do, according to Saban, was make it "much more difficult" to manage the signing-day process. Alabama ended up hitting the number, but to do so required some shuffling that, in the past, might have taken place in August - or might not have been necessary at all.

There are two sides to the arguments about "oversigning" and "grayshirting," although I think some people tend to get hysterical over the latter without grasping precisely what it entails. Alabama has offered "grayshirts" - players that will delay their enrollment for a semester (or a year) in the past, and for many players - John Parker Wilson, for instance, or Drew Davis profited by the opportunity. Saban is adamant about his side of the argument, which is that it affords players who want to come to Alabama an opportunity to do so if they are willing to wait.

What happened this season basically boils down to this: Alabama was attracting quality recruits the way Jed Clampett attracted oil in the final weeks of recruiting, and at the end it had strong reason to believe (quite probably meaning non-publicized commitments) it could add two highly-rated out-of-state defensive linemen. Under the old rules, Alabama would probably have signed them, along with Justin Taylor and Darius Philon, and had 28 names Wednesday rather than 26. That wasn't an option this season because of the new SEC rule. So those players were given an option, prior to National Signing Day, to grayshirt and defer enrollment.

Ultimately, both chose not to do so, and signed with other programs in the SEC. Taylor, an Atlanta running back, signed with Kentucky and Philon, a defensive lineman from the Mobile area, signed with Arkansas, thus joining others who have made the trek from Alabama to Fayetteville recently.

If you view the SEC rule in one way, that's a successful result. The kids got the chance to choose the bird - or the scholarship - in hand. Two of the teams trying to catch Alabama in the SEC race added good players. That was, to some degree, the intent.

If you're Nick Saban, you look at it differently. Players who wanted to come to Alabama didn't get the chance to do so. That, in Saban's mind, is unfair, not so much to Alabama as to the player.

"We actually took away an opportunity to sign with Alabama for a couple of young men," Saban said. "We couldn't sign them. I don't see how that's good for the league."

The critics would be quick to respond that it might or might not be good for the league, but it definitely doesn't help Alabama, which is why Saban doesn't like it. He answered, not once but twice, that he "resented" the "cynical attitude" of those who think coaches "don't have the best interest of the player at heart."

"I don't know of any case where the player has been abused," Saban said, citing supporting evidence that ranged from Alabama's life-skills program to a graduation rate that was second only to Stanford among this year's Bowl Championship Series participants.

Personally, I think it's too early to tell if the new rule worked or not. We'll get a lot more evidence next year, when the rule is adopted across the NCAA. But we know two things already - Nick Saban doesn't like it, but it isn't going to slow him down.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.


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