Nick Saban stepped up to the microphones at the SEC annual meetings yesterday and had the audacity to complain that recruiting rules are unfairly biased against Alabama and the SEC. Let that sink in for a second.
Alabama has signed the #1 recruiting class in six of the past seven years. Six SEC teams ranked in the top 10 recruiting this year, a decline from the seven top 10 classes in 2014. Any SEC coach complaining about an unfair recruiting landscape is like a fox complaining that the farmer locked the henhouse.
It's not that I blame Saban. He's doing what he's supposed to do, representing the interest of his school. If you do not advance your program's best interests, no one else will. LSU should advocate for more equitable scheduling because if they don't, no one else is going to. It's not whining, it's campaigning.
Of course, the major difference is that when Saban stakes out a fairly ridiculous, indefensible position that no one outside of the SEC's borders takes remotely seriously, the SEC responds by announcing it will propose national legislation to enact that policy. And they did so within a few hours of his press conference.
There's the squeaky wheel getting the grease, but this is ridiculous. The SEC announced Tuesday that it will propose national legislation that would limit institutional staff members to participating in camps and clinics on their own campus. Just like Saban wanted. All he had to do was ask.
OK, this legislation has literally no chance of passing. It's a childish tantrum being thrown by the biggest bully on the block. Even the other SEC coaches admit this is a selfish agenda. Both McElwain and Freeze admitted it was selfish, but hey, why not give it a shot? The SEC has a massive institutional advantage in recruiting, and this is just a way to defend the SEC's natural borders from any incursion. You don't stay on top by letting any of your institutional advantages erode even in the slightest.
Besides, once this proposal fails nationally, as it almost certainly lacks any support outside of the SEC, the SEC programs will get together and make the rest of the nation regret they ever let the camel's nose under the tent. Sure, the south is talent-rich, and Harbaugh and Meyer will get a toe hold in the region on recruiting, but the reverse is also true. Let's just say we're about a year away from Nick Saban and Les Miles guesting as instructors at football camps across Texas and California.
Really, if there's a loophole in the recruiting rulebook, who do you think is going to exploit it more ruthlessly? Does the Big Ten really want to get into an arms race with the SEC in recruiting? That seems like a bad plan to me, anyway. Meyer and Harbaugh might be willing to go toe to toe with the SEC viper pit, but I doubt the rest of the Big Ten is so enthusiastic about this possibility.
Saban had some other bad ideas, which I’m sure the SEC will do everything within its power to enact, which we’ll go through one at a time:
"We need to have the same rules in all the Power Five conferences."
Oh, God. No.
First off, the whole point of NCAA reform was that the conferences have different wants and needs, so they need different rules. A forced national consistency was one of the many problems with the NCAA rulebook. But even more importantly, do you have any idea what consistent rules would look like? Nick might be able to get the SEC to jump whenever he wants, but he won’t wield that sort of power throughout the entire Power 5. If anything, they would want to pass rules to limit the power of the SEC. A uniform rulebook is going to contain the Big Ten's greatest hits like a ban on oversigning, the elimination of medical hardships*, and four-year scholarships. Put to a vote, the SEC recruiting model is not going to win a national vote.
* I really don’t understand the objection to medical hardships. The player gets to keep his scholarship for the full four years, but no longer has to play sports. In return, the school doesn’t have the scholarship count against the cap, removing the incentive to, you know, force a player to play with an injury. This seems to me like a good thing. I know there is the potential for abuse, but the concept itself seems like a positive good, particularly from the player’s point of view.
"There always has to be some kind of a cap to create fairness."
I’m not entirely against the idea that cost of attendance numbers need to be more transparent. However, there already is a reasonable cap on programs monkeying with the numbers: COA numbers are used by the financial aid office for the rest of the student body. No school wants a huge COA number, or else they will be scaring off potential students, and allowing students to get more access to a bigger pile of money. There is a real negative consequence for the university if their football team starts monkeying with the numbers.
"I invite you to play eight in the SEC"
OK, that is Bret Bielema, not Saban. But it is becoming the SEC’s policy to double down on the eight game schedule come hell or high water. And it’s stupid.
First off, Mizzou gladly accepts your invitation and you know what, they have decided to play a nine game schedule by adding one in Atlanta. So let’s stop pretending that no team could possibly come into the SEC and compete. They can play football elsewhere, too.
But more importantly, Arkansas’ OOC schedule is UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech, and UT-Martin. Arkansas doesn’t want eight conference games because of how tough their schedule is, they want it because they can load their schedule up with cupcakes. The race to the bottom in scheduling is a travesty, and the biggest problem in college football. If the SEC is as big and bad ass as we like to insist, prove it. Play somebody. We should be playing nine conference games, but if not, there is simply no excuse for an SEC team to not schedule at least one top 25 level team out of conference.
The SEC has dominated recent college football and have been the leaders both on and off the field for the past decade. It seems we’re getting stuck in our ways and not just letting the rest of the country catch up, but pass us. You can’t just say how awesome you are, you have to go out and prove it.