16 January 2012
I've defended Alabama's signing practices in this space (and via Twitter), many times in the last few years. And, I've been repeatedly savaged for being a Nick Saban "apologist". I've always countered that there are things that trouble me about oversigning (most notably situations like what Les Miles did to Elliott Porter), but I felt that Nick Saban's "evilness" has been overstated, and he never has been the worst offender when it comes to the practice (coaches like Miles and Houston Nutt were undeniably worse).
All of this brings us to Justin Taylor. This is, at very least, an interesting kettle of fish.
If you haven't read, Taylor was the seventh player to commit to Alabama for the 2012 recruiting class - way back in February of last year. A few weeks ago, Bama let Taylor know that the Tide didn't have room for him in this class. He is apparently welcome to wait and enroll in January of 2013.
There are mitigating issues, but here's where Saban strays the most into moral gray area with regards to oversigning. On the one hand, you MUST be as open and honest with a prospective student athlete as you can be. Most of my defenses of Saban's practices center around this very tenent.
Despite his reputation (earned almost entirely during his last days in Miami), Saban is a very honest and forthright guy. He's one of the very few to tell prospective student athletes that scholarships are one year renewable scholarships. He is noted by recruits for making no promises about playing time - only that there will be a chance to earn it. This seems at first blush to be against form.
The UGA blog Get the Picture wades into this mess to point out a few more... "irregularities" here. The good Senator Blutarsky (for whom I have the utmost respect - he runs a great blog and is generally very evenhanded) points out that in addition to Saban reneging on his offer, the young man says:
“Coach Saban said he wished he would’ve been able to tell me this in August instead of now. He said the only reason he can’t sign me is because he can’t sign 26 people. They can only sign 25 people. He said he was going to sign me with the next class. But he also said he would sign a piece of paper to show that they are keeping their word – they are going to sign it and they want me to sign it to make sure I know I still have my scholarship.”
So, we're to believe he walked into Saban's office where Saban said, "Young man, we'd like you to sign this letter detailing the ways we've violated NCAA Bylaws. Here's one copy for you, and one copy for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution." Nope. Unless there's something lurking somewhere in the bylaws that allowed the compliance department to greenlight this, it didn't happen. Say what you will about Saban, but he has only one blemish on his record with NCAA enforcement - that's the textbook fiasco that started on the track team and on the previous coach's watch. The man will torture loopholes like a champ, but he does not run afoul of NCAA compliance.
As I mentioned earlier, there are mitigating factors. Taylor did miss his entire senior campaign with a knee injury and he says the staff told him that he'd be better off rehabbing that knee slowly and coming in in January. Here, we enter that murky ground where I very firmly believe that a prospective student athlete is much better off starting the clock on his college eligibility a year later. Instead of coming to Alabama and taking a medical redshirt as a freshman, Taylor saves his redshirt year for another injury (or to continue to rehab if necessary). That means he could get somewhere near six years of free education from the University, potentially earning a master's degree for his time on the football team.
Blutarsky fails to note the injury in his critique. He also fails to mention that, according to Taylor himself:
"I’m going to go ahead and stick with Alabama. I mean, I’m committed to them. They committed to me. They want me. I know they want me because that’s what they are telling me. If they didn’t want me, they wouldn’t let me keep my scholarship, They could’ve taken it when I first got hurt. If any other college wanted me, they would’ve hit me up. I haven’t really heard from anybody since the injury."
Nobody else wants the guy at all after the injury.
I'm not OK with being dishonest with young men about their scholarship offers. This is no different. I wish there was a way to completely justify pulling the rug out from under this kid. There isn't. However, as in most of these cases, it's not nearly as black and white and the critics would have you believe. This young man can enroll wherever he'd like in the meantime. But he wants to play at the University of Alabama, and appears to be more than willing to sit a year to do so.
I'd bet $10 with anyone who was interested that barring further injury either this young man enrolls in Alabama in January, or heads to another school before then.
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