The greatest trick Nick Saban ever played…

… was to make me agree with a Kevin Scarbinsky column.

Saban’s words suggested exasperation with the entire situation.

“We have done everything that we can do institutionally to allow the conference to make the decision about whatever they decide is in the best interest of the conference and the SEC rules relative to Maurice Smith,” Saban said. “So that is past us now. It is beyond us. So we don’t really need to talk about that anymore, and I don’t have any other comments to make about it.”

Did you catch that? Not what’s in the best interest of Maurice Smith. What’s in the best interest of the SEC and its rules.

Those words are telling. They don’t mean Saban doesn’t care about his players, which is an absurd charge from desperate rivals. They mean Saban and every other coach who grosses seven figures a year is driven by a combination of paranoia and pressure to protect the program. Or, as Saban more accurately describes Alabama football, the organization.

The organization wants to help young men earn meaningful degrees and prepare them to lead productive lives when they leave campus. The organization also needs to win, and the tug-of-war between wants and needs isn’t always a fair fight.

In this case, what’s best for a college graduate such as Smith should be decided by Smith and his family, but if someone’s going to decide what’s best for the SEC, better it be Greg Sankey than Saban.

I know there are plenty of folks who love to speculate about Alabama-SEC conspiracies, but I do think Saban’s left Greg Sankey in something of a tight spot here, if it’s Sankey’s inclination to defend the existing rule.

For one, all the attention paid to the fight between Saban and the Smith family makes the optics for a conference denial of a waiver look particularly bad, and that’s even before you get to the whole “why restrict where graduates can transfer?” thing.  The PR black eye for the SEC would be brutal.  And whereas before Saban capitulated, the negativity on the recruiting trail was solely directed the Tide’s way, if Sankey doesn’t grant the waiver, it’ll be the conference as a whole that takes the hit in recruiting.

Beyond that, though, if Sankey doesn’t grant the waiver, it does raise the issue of a double standard, because of this:

There have been exceptions to the SEC transfer rule in recent years. In May, former kicker Andy Pappanastos was released from his scholarship at Ole Miss and transferred to Alabama. Sources told ESPN that the SEC also granted him a waiver to transfer within the league. Pappanastos, who has two years of eligibility remaining, was a scholarship player at Ole Miss but joined the Crimson Tide as a walk-on.

A source familiar with the case told ESPN on Thursday that walk-ons are subject to the same SEC transfer rules as scholarship players and confirmed that Pappanastos had to receive a waiver from the league before he could enroll at Alabama this summer…

In another recent case, former Alabama receiver Chris Black transferred to Missouri as a graduate transfer last season. reported earlier this month that Black was able to transfer to an SEC school because Alabama officials didn’t respond to his transfer request within seven business days, which is required under NCAA rules. Black also would have needed an SEC waiver to transfer within the league.

Now Sankey could try to ignore the criticism that would undoubtedly be hurled his way, but I don’t think that’s a good look for a guy who loves to talk about supporting student-athletes.  In any event, as Schlabach notes, school in Athens started yesterday, so the clock is ticking for Smith, both on the field and in the classroom.

The ball’s in your court, Commissioner.


Filed under SEC Football

45 responses to “The greatest trick Nick Saban ever played…

  1. Cosmic Dawg

    Amazing the verbal gymnastics and workarounds required when we restrict each other’s freedom.
    If players want to transfer every year, let them.
    If fans want to buy their autograph, let them.
    If boosters want to pay kids to go to their alma mater, let them.
    ….and end the NFL monopoly exemption, and all this goes away.

    • JCDAWG83

      It’s simpler than that Cosmic. Make football and basketball players have high school grades and test scores within 80-90% of the regular students in order to be admitted to the school. That will take care of almost all the problems in college football and basketball. The non revenue sports like tennis, golf, baseball, gymnastics, etc don’t have the problems football and basketball have.

      • Jared S.

        You seem to be talking about something different than what Cosmic was refering to… he can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he was referring to the freedom of student athletes to transfer among programs and get paid for playing, whereas you seem to be referring to unethical actions of student athletes. If so….

        Stanford swimmer rapist? Hello?

        • Jared S.

          I guess I’m asking you to explain how requiring higher grades for incoming football and basketball players will “take care of almost all the problems in college football and basketball” and to also explain what you mean by “problems”?

          • Derek

            I think what is being suggested, and I agree, is that the kids who are qualified for and motivated to get a college degree aren’t going to have their hands out and there is no exploitation dynamic present. Each party is getting exactly what they are signing up for. Colleges suggesting that they are in the business of education when they take “one and dones” are transparently hypocritical. Players see through that and want thier piece too. It’s the kids who see college as a weigh station on their way to the NFL or the nba that rightfully complain that they are being used for money but are not themselves allowed to make money. If you simply do not admit kids who aren’t college students, the pro leagues will have to find a way to nurture that talent.

            • Jared S.

              Yeah. But that’s never going to happen.

            • Jared S.

              I mean, college and university students are incentivized by the federal government to admit students who should be flagged as “less-than-likely” to ever graduate. And I mean students in general…. not just student athletes. This can be seen from every-falling graduation rates.

              • Jared S.

                *universities…. not “university students”

              • Derek

                Ostensibly colleges are incentivized to admit everyone who can pay and never kick anyone out who can pay. In fact, they would be incentivized to give our grades based upon a pay structure rather than a performance structure. A’s cost 10k and B’s cost $7500 and so on…. However, not surprisingly, that’s not how the world actually works. It may be a shock to the “Chicago school of economics is everything”, but merit actually matters more than money in many settings. One of those settings fortunately is college…the academic side anyway.

                Declining graduation rates have more to do with crappy high schools than anything else. Colleges have had to do the work of college prep because high schools aren’t getting the job done.

              • JCDAWG83

                That’s a pretty bold statement and it’s not exactly correct. Graduation rates are not falling at all colleges. In fact, at the more competitive colleges, graduation rates are generally climbing. Even schools like Auburn have pretty good graduation rates for the general student body, 70+%. Georgia’s graduation rate is 83%. I’m not aware of any federal program that incentivizes colleges to take students who do not meet entrance requirements.

                Easy student loan money is making it too easy for some colleges to admit anyone who can fog a mirror and take their money for a while. The for profit colleges and lower tier colleges have abysmally low graduation rates that drag down the overall average. Poor graduation rates are no excuse for admitting athletes to good colleges simply because they can run fast, jump high, throw or catch a ball or tackle well.

                • Jared S.

                  Falling graduation rates are a fact.

                  A major study in 2010 found that while the percentage of high school graduates going on to attend a four-year institution had steadily increased between 1970 and 1999, the overall graduation rate at four-year institutions steadily decreased.

                  Link to study here:

                  And the trend has continued. Note a recent much-cited study showing how six-year graduation rates for students has decreased from 2008 to 2009 (the two most recent years for which numbers are available).

                  • Derek

                    That’s not happening tho for the reasons you suggest. College admittees are less prepared for college than they were before. Our colleges remain the envy of the world. Our high schools? Not so much.

                    • Jared S.

                      I’m not denying that poor secondary education is a major contributing factor to declining college graduation rates. I agree with you whole-heartedly. But I submit that it’s foolish to think that there hasn’t also been simultaneous lowering of standards at our post-secondary institutions.

                      Especially in non-“STEM” schools/programs/majors.

            • Nailed it Derek. Great post with no insults. You are exactly right, however only someone left of center can say that without being accused of racism. Also Alabama State would win the NC every year.

              • Derek

                It is true that when there was talk of increasing admittance standards for athletes in that 1980’s the loudest voices in opposition were from civil rights leaders suggesting that athletics was the way for minorities to get a degree. That may be true, but it doesn’t need to be a degree from UGA. As you said, Alabama State and Troy state and many, many others are perfectly capable of offering both football and a college degree. I think that all communities would be better served if kids who wanted to go to uga knew that they better hit the books as well as the weightroom rather than telling them that nobody gives a damn whether you can read if you can run, jump and/or throw. The only thing that would shake me of this belief is if someone were to show me that the children of the academically unqualified college basketball players and football players graduated from college at a higher rate than their peers. At least then you could argue a residual, generational benefit. I do not know that that is the case. My guess is that the ones who have children who go to college are the ones who get paid and that would be the case if football and basketball adopted the baseball model too.

                Btw: I don’t necessarily consider myself “left.” I’m a pragmatist who simply hates republicans because they have a complete inability to be honest with the people. If they stripped away the artiface and said: we don’t like government taking our money to serve the interests of middle and lower class citizens in any way they would lose 97% of the vote. Instead they use fear, prejudice, bullshit and religion to try and cobble together enough power to keep their taxes as low as possible. There is room for a responsible “as little government as necessary and that we can afford” party that is inclusive and welcoming. But those crypto-fascist bastards ain’t interested in moderation, clarity, facts or inclusion. Now that they’ve stirred their base into such a fact-immune, irrational group of morons that they’ve nominated a human absurdity, they’re sitting around wondering “what happened?”

                At least with the other side you get pretty much what they tell you. More taxes and more government than the other side wants. Those policies may not always be the best answer, but at least you know what you’re voting for or voting against. In two party politics the “lesser of two evils” is pretty much as good as you can do IMHO. For me, that choice is apparent.

                • Mike Cooley

                  Derek those are some really good posts man. You did finally get around to name calling but not much and it was well thought out and reasonable. The only part that I take issue with is you seem to suggest the democrats are in no way disingenuous like the republicans. They are but they go about it in a different way. If they would just say, we really don’t give a shit about black people, poor people, Mexicans, the elderly, homosexuals, trans gendered, or any of the other groups we claim to care for so deeply. We simply created a coalition out of these people and use them to enrich ourselves with more and more power by first, dividing them up into groups, then convincing them they are stupid and helpless and can only grind out a half assed acceptable existence with out help. We could give a shit about them, we just want their votes. They would be history as a party if they just told the truth. Then with them and the republicans out of the way, we could have something like you describe, a system where we get by on as little government as possible where people pretty much live the way they want to as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.

                  • Derek


                    I just don’t think those groups are that gullible. You’re welcome to feel otherwise. You can’t fool all the people all the time. It wasn’t the left that created these divisions. First it was the democrats (conservatives btw) in the slave states. Then the democrats lost those people with the voting rights act and the civil rights act under LBJ. Nixon then used the “Southern strategy” to turn the south red.

                    That’s fact and its history. One would think that changing demographics would convince the GOP that race baiting is no longer a path to the White House. And then they nominate the biggest race baiter since Wallace. You’ll get what’s coming to you: a crushing defeat. Unfortunately you’ll sooth yourselves saying: if we’d only nominate a real conservative! And then you’ll lose again.

                    • Mike Cooley

                      Agreed that you can’t fool all the people all the time. There are percentages of those groups that don’t just nod their heads and enlist in the democrat army. But you can fool a lot of people a lot of the time and that is fact and history. It won’t last forever of course. The democrats will self destruct just as the republicans have. And I laugh at your assumption that I’m a republican. I’m not and haven’t been for sixteen years.

    • wet willie


  2. JJ

    I try to stop myself from believing in too many conspiracy theories but if the waiver gets denied or excessively dragged out I will officially be totally on board with the idea that the conference is absolutely playing favorites and pushing Alabama’s (or whoever the current big time name is) agenda. Just zero rational basis given the recent previous transfers.

    • If $ankey denies the waiver, there will be no doubt in my mind that Little Nicky signed the waiver knowing full well that the SEC office would do Alabama’s bidding. It would be the same thing with Texas and the Big XII, UNC/Duke and the ACC, and tOSU and the B1G. In a big fanfare, the presidents will change the rule after the season to close the graduate transfer loophole while $ankey just says, “I was following the rules as established by my member institutions at the time in the Maurice Smith situation. I’m glad the presidents have addressed this issue in the interests of our student-athletes going forward.”

  3. Jared S.

    I never thought Saban would cave. I’m not sure if he (in effect) sent it to the SEC because he just doesn’t care what happens or if he knows/assumes they’ll deny the transfer so he wanted to shift blame. Either way I’m surprised. I can’t pretend to know what goes on in anyone else’s head, but maybe ol’ Saban has softened up a little. I think one reason why he’s always been such a hard-ass is that he’s always felt like he had something to prove. After five NC’s he doesn’t have anything left to prove to anyone. I think that’s finally becoming real to him.

    • Jared S.

      Also, I would assume his “caving” is really raising eyebrows among the Bama faithful. I feel like this whole situation kind of feeds the narrative/rumor that this may be his last year at Bama.

    • Cojones

      Saban is literally frightened about losing and his other self has put him in a position of never satisfying his first self. When he wins, it validates to him that his coaching (plus a little luck) can get his team out of sticky situations and when he wins it all, it only measures up to the level of his expectations and doesn’t go beyond. I think he lives nightmares in close games and bet his guts knot up same as ours. I think he feels most time that he’s swimming with the crocs.

      Maybe Saban’s feelings about games are analogous to some pilots’ description of flying: Hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.

  4. 86BONE

    It is a “win at all costs” period in college football I am afraid. Our new savior, I mean coach, brings that same winning attitude to Athens so we best get used to it. I will say it again…be careful what you wish for.

    • anon

      or we can reminisce about the good ol days and murmur our motto of “rings just gather dust” to anyone who will listen.

    • dawgtired

      86, we don’t really have any proof yet, right? I haven’t witnessed any “win at all costs” actions…and on the other hand, he hasn’t won anything yet either. Time will tell if he brings bad ethics and/or wins to UGA. Let’s not tar and feather him or worship him just yet. If he can build on what the previous coaches have accomplished, we’ll compete for conference championships regularly. And, if he does it in a manner unfitting our morals, then…well, I don’t know. Maybe if the wins are numerous enough, we can live with it.

    • When did the “win at all costs” period start? I recall SMU getting into some trouble for a “win at all costs” attitude in the 80’s. I have heard lots of stories about $100 handshakes and Heisman Trophy-winning running backs with phantom jobs and a brand new Z28 Camaro. Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Miami, et al have been on probation for trying to win at all costs. The biggest difference between now and then is that the attitude has become institutionalized, within the rules, and out in the open. If the competition is doing everything within their power to win within the rules, it seems prudent to follow suit. UGA halfheartedly tried to replicate Alabama for the past couple of years. Now, the powers that be want to go Full Gump. Let’s see what happens.

  5. Uglydawg

    Just add a sentence to the rules that says, “Any transfer is allowed when all parties involved, excluding the SEC, are in agreement.

  6. ApalachDawg

    Verbal Kent approves this message

  7. Neighbor HVL Dawg

    “In this case, what’s best for a college graduate such as Smith should be decided by Smith and his family.”

    Smith and his family CAN decide what is best for him- within the rules of the market HE CHOSE to play in. Goodness gracious. Of course, he can take on the establishment and change the rules, but this victim thing is weak.

    And, he can take his well earned degree to the job market. Congratulations to him on his degree.

    • DawgWalker07

      Sorry, but this attitude of “you chose to play ball son, get over it” is incredibly short-sighted.

      There’s a reason unfair business practices from the guilded age (child labor, hazardous working conditions no payment for injury, terrible working hours) aren’t around to nearly the same extent anymore. And it would be ridiculous to suggest to a factory worker from that time, “you knew the hazards of signing up for factory work, you decided to play ball in this market! Get over it and quit being such a victim!” The market was unfair, and (eventually) the courts forced the markets to change.

      Similarly, what are kids here supposed to do? No matter what conference (read: market) they commit to play in they’re taken advantage of by the suits with the money. So why is it such a ridiculous notion for this kid, who fulfilled his academic obligation, to make a stink to get something that coaches can do every year? Why can’t he fight to change the market?

      • JCDAWG83

        You forgot to compare college football to slavery. If you are going to go outrage, go full outrage.

      • Irwin R. Fletcher

        within the rules of the market


        The idea that college athletes, who have their bargaining power restricted by federal and state laws, NCAA regulations, and the NFLPA are participants in the market.

        Now THAT is hilarious.

  8. Minnesota Dawg

    Hope I’m wrong….but the longer this drags out and the closer we get to the weekend, I’m starting to think that the SEC is going to deny the waiver. I suspect that Saban permitted the waiver after conferring with the commissioner’s office–not only to pass the buck, but with the knowledge and assurance that the ultimate result would be the same. Just curious, but has the conference ever denied a waiver after a school has granted one?

    Also, it’s a classic PR tactic to bury unpopular/bad news on a Friday afternoon.

  9. ASEF

    The principal of movement freedom is not something anyone can really argue with.

    But the particulars of this leave me skeptical that Maurice is going to add much. He knew he was tied up until his graduation day, August 8. He forced his way out in a way I wouldn’t advise my kid to pursue, much less participate in. He probably traded being a rotation guy at Alabama for one at Georgia, and while he has every right to do that, it’s hard to see how that makes a tangible difference in his NFL evaluations.

    I know his arrival makes Georgia fans feel good about being preferred to Alabama, but I think this kid is making a colossal mistake – one he has the right to make, to be sure.

  10. Red Cup

    It did not take this long for the SEC to clear Cam Newton to play. Certainly those “circumstances” were more complex than Smith wanting to transfer.
    Starting to smell a rat.

  11. Macallanlover

    As expected, Sankey wasn’t going to gt thrown in that briar patch. I never felt the SEC office would be as dumb as Saban on this issue. And I still expect this rule to get amended, at a minimum for graduate students.