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January 26, 2013

HURT: Rule change benefits power programs like Tide

One play, one game, one dropped pass or missed tackle might be all it takes to stop the University of Alabama's streak of BCS football championships.

That is the nature of sports, and, while Alabama has, in fact, had the best team in college football for the past two seasons, it has also gotten its fair share of breaks, mostly in the results of other games that have allowed Alabama to finish No. 2 (which is all it takes) in the last two final BCS rankings after the SEC Championship Game.

In the bigger picture, though, a package of what the NCAA called "common sense" rules changes may keep Alabama at or near the top for a long time to come.

Essentially, the NCAA has deregulated large chunks of the recruiting process. That means schools with big budgets and a deep commitment to recruiting will have even more of an edge than in the recent past.

Allowing more coaches to recruit? Alabama will send out a battalion (or at least a full complement, given that there are still limits on coaching staff sizes). Allowing unlimited access to recruits via text or social media?

Hopefully, common sense will prevail here, but rest assured, Alabama will be comprehensive in all forms of communication.

When Nick Saban talked to Chase Goodbread of The Tuscaloosa News and other reporters in Mobile last week, he indicated that Alabama would show moderation with texts and tweets, but what of the other 100 schools trying to close the gap with Alabama?

Will there be a nightmare scenario where recruits are completely overwhelmed with unsolicited attention? Hopefully not, although it is hard not to worry about the ramifications.

There are probably a couple of reasons the NCAA opted to trim down the rule book. The organization has been loudly criticized for concentrating on piddling rules, such as too many texts, while programs that the public (or at least the media) see as the "real" cheaters run rampant.

Eliminating some "trivial" rules will theoretically free the NCAA Enforcement Staff, which clearly doesn't need too much on its plate given its competence level, to concentrate its resources on bigger fish.

"Our goal is smarter rules and tougher enforcement," Clemson University president James Barker said.

That is an admirable goal but one that may not serve to level the playing field, a concept that the NCAA seems less and less inclined to try to enforce.

The rich will get richer, and that seems certain even without a close examination of the ramifications of a rule change that will allow "nonboosters" to start providing "actual and necessary competition-related" expenses for student-athletes. Who is going to verify what is "actual and necessary?"

Ultimately, as the NCAA acknowledges, the rules are only going to work with "a collaborative effort and a shared sense of responsibility," in Barker's words.

In other words, in almost every sport, although the most attention will be paid to football, the teams on top - the ones with the tools to get there - are going to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Cecil Hurt is Sports Editor of The Tuscaloosa News. He can be reached at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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