… 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. Al.com 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.