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February 27, 2013

HURT: Dismissed players need to learn from mistakes

The four University of Alabama football players arrested on Feb. 11 are, in Nick Saban's words, "no longer associated with the football team."

That comes as no surprise. No one seriously thought any of the four - Eddie Williams, D.J. Pettway, Tyler Hayes and Brent Calloway - would be playing for the Crimson Tide in 2013, given the seriousness of the criminal charges they face. Yet there was an immediate uproar, at least in some circles, that Saban didn't act first and ask questions later. That might have been the most dramatic path - but it might not have been the best.

In the 16 days that passed while the players were "indefinitely suspended," none of the four played or practiced football. Meanwhile, during that time, Saban got to meet with all the players, and their parents. "We met with everybody," he said.

He got a chance to determine precisely who was involved with what and look at their futures, not as Alabama football players, but as individuals. In the meantime, the official university procedures designed both to protect the student body at large and to respect the rights of the accused were able to unfold. In other words, two weeks did not cause the world to end.

The situation was bad for everyone involved - first and foremost, the victims. No one should lose sight of them. Beyond that, the accused have squandered an opportunity that thousands of individuals would love to have, not just wearing the Alabama uniform but, more importantly, the free college education. Their families have endured more and likely still face a painful and potentially expensive trip though the legal process.

They also left Saban in a no-win situation by leaving him no choice. He took some criticism, not a withering blast but a few swipes, because he didn't throw the four out the door immediately. Two weeks later, he is taking at least a few hits for dismissing them at all, at least from some journalists who relate the dismissals to Alabama's roster management. (I assume those individuals would feel better if the four had been kept on, which doesn't make much sense.)

Roster management is a valid issue but had nothing to do with this announcement, which was made as part of a review of several personnel items by Saban on Wednesday morning.

Will any of the four ever play football again? It depends on the outcome of their legal journey, of course. There might still be an athletic future for one or two, perhaps after a transfer or a junior college stop and a fairly lengthy probationary period. There might not. Jail remains a possibility. Whatever happens, the future does not depend entirely on the four players themselves - they ceded that control by their actions. But their entire future, athletic or not, depends on what they learn from this incident.

"Some learn by words, some learn by consequences and some can't learn at all," Saban said Wednesday.

The consequences have already been harsh, and should be harsher. But if they can't learn at all from it, that would be the worst outcome of all.

TideSports.com Recruiting: Scholarship offers extended in the class of 2014

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

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