Alabama Football: 5 Rule Changes Nick Saban Wants to See
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Having won three national championships since 2009, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban is already on top of the college football world, but that doesn't mean he often gets his way when it comes to rule changes.
Actually, he frequently gets blamed for things even when he had nothing to do with them.
But when asked about possible changes in college football and what he would like or not like to see changed, Saban usually has a well-thought-out answer about why he feels the way he does, even if it's something he may not feel strongly about.
A good example from this spring was when the coach took a question about whether players should have the option to unionize.
"I've always been an advocate of players' rights," he said. "I've always been an advocate of players being compensated the best that we can to help them. Whatever the NCAA rule is and whatever they decide to do, I've always been an advocate of the player and the quality of life that a player has. I think that having a voice in what happens, I think, is something that the players probably ought to have.
"And I'm really not opposed to that at all. I do think that it's not what it seems. It would be interesting to know how much—everybody knows what a scholarship is worth. That's pretty easy to figure out. But to do on a per-player basis, what we invest in the player to try to help them be successful. We spent, like, $600,000 last year on personal development programs, all things that directly affect the player having a chance to be successful. I can't even tell you what our academic support budget is, trying to invest in a player and what is the value of him getting an education and graduating from school here? Not just the value of the scholarship. What's the value of him getting an education?
"How much do we actually reinvest in quality of support staff to help develop players that may have a chance to go on and play at the next level, have great college careers, have a chance to win a championship. Pretty significant budget around here that, if you look at it, it really is invested back in the players.
"I don't think that the players just receive a scholarship. I think a lot of players really realize that, understand that and appreciate that. We can't pay them but we can reinvest in trying to help them be successful in their future, which I think we do a marvelous job here at the University of Alabama. I think a lot of people do. I think that's what makes great programs. I think that's why players want to come and be a part of the program, because we do reinvest in the future and their chances of being successful, and we do care, and it's not just about football.
"So there's a lot of value that players get from the experience that they have as college student-athletes, that really benefit their chances of being successful. I know that the fact that I played football and got a scholarship, but all the things that I benefited from have helped me be very, very successful. And I can't really tell you what the value of that is, but I think it's pretty significant."
If given the choice, here are five rule changes Saban would make if given the opportunity.
1. Lift Restriction on Spring Evaluation Period
This may be the rule that bothers Nick Saban more than all the others listed here combined.
In 2008, the NCAA banned head football coaches from not only visiting recruits during the spring, but even evaluating them during practices.
188.8.131.52.1 Head Coach Restriction—Spring Evaluation Period. [FBS] In bowl subdivision football, during the April 15 through May 31 evaluation period, the head coach [and any assistant coach who has been publicly designated by the institution to become the next head coach (see Bylaw 184.108.40.206.1)] shall not engage in off-campus recruiting activities, participate in an off-campus coaching clinic, visit a prospective student-athlete’s educational institution for any reason or meet with a prospective student-athlete’s coach at an off-campus location.
Part of the reasoning was to prevent "bump-ins" with recruits when the coaches were out talking to the high school coaches and other school officials, but it was dubbed the Saban rule because he was using every resource available to see players for himself and be seen on high school sidelines.
When other coaches were doing other things or going on vacation, he remained as meticulous and relentless as ever. Not only did he get a better feel for players being recruited, but he also observed how they practiced and handled instructions.
To Saban, the rule not only hamstrung those who worked hard and were doing their due diligence in recruiting, but it was like using a sledgehammer to hit a nail.
"I think it's ridiculous that we're doing what we're doing," Saban said in 2008. "When you're talking about developing relationships and knowing players and meeting guidance counselors and talking to principals and all those kind of things, I think we've put ourselves at a tremendous disadvantage in terms of evaluation.
"I think we've really limited ourselves by what we've done, and I totally disagree with it."
An immediate result was that Alabama's summer camps became a much bigger part of its recruiting process even though it put the onus on the players to attend and pay the costs. The coach also redirected some of his spring efforts into events like charity golf tournaments and the Crimson Caravan speaking tour for more direct contact with paying fans.
However, Saban's opinion hasn't wavered since the rule change; he still hates it as much as ever.
2. The “Other” Saban Rule
NCAA Football Rules Committee's recent consideration of a 10-second defensive substitution proposal was dubbed by Steve Spurrier as "The Saban Rule" because he and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had not only publicly raised concerns about nonstop play, but had met with the committee.
Insert your own joke here about coaches of hurry-up offenses being caught off-guard and without time to prepare, but critics claiming he wanted to ban no-huddle play weren't correct.
"I personally think it is a player safety issue," he said in March. "We are the only game that the college game is longer than the pro game. An NBA game is longer than a college basketball game.
"In the NFL, the lowest team averages 59 plays, the highest team in the 70s—75, 72, I don't know what it is for sure. And in college, the lowest team is, like, 62 plays a game, and the highest team is 90. Not only are there more plays in college, there is a greater deviation in the plays.
"So how do you prepare the player to play the different kind of games he's going to play in, and what does that do to him in practice, and what is the cumulative effect of that?
"In the NFL, all the official does is stand over the ball until the officials are ready to call the game. That's all they do.
"I'm saying all that to say this: The reason they came up with the 10-second rule, which I had nothing to do with, was the fact they used to stand over the ball for 10 to 12 seconds when we had a 25-second clock before they chopped the clock to start the 25-second clock. So they figured why not do the same thing with the 40-second clock. And when they actually studied the no-huddle teams, they only snap the ball an average of four times a game inside of 10 seconds. So you're not really affecting how they play.
"But what keeps you from ever being able to take a defensive player out—whether he's hurt, pre-existing condition, whatever it is—is the fact that they might snap the ball. So you can't do anything. You can call timeout to get a guy out. If you tell a guy to get down, it's really against the rules...and they boo him out of the park.
"So for all of you out there who know what I'm thinking and the fact that I'm trying to create an advantage for the defense, I'm not trying to create an advantage for the defense. I don't think we even need an advantage. Why do we need an advantage? If you look at the statistics, we've been playing better than most.
"But it is an advantage to go fast, and I can understand exactly why coaches who go fast want to do it. It's an advantage. There's no question."
The proposal was tabled in part due to the lack of evidence that more plays leads to more injuries and concussions, but what Saban can't and won't openly say is he doesn't think football games should be decided by something like which team can snap a ball the fastest.
3. Stipends for Players
According to SEC commissioner Mike Slive, the proposed new governing system giving the five power conferences more autonomy, if passed, could result in numerous changes by August.
Among the issues to be discussed: "Ensuring our student-athletes are covered for the full cost of attendance," he said during his recent address to the Associated Press Sports Editors' Southeast Regional meeting, a possible lifetime education fund and enhanced post-college medical protection, and "giving student-athletes a voice and vote in NCAA decisions."
In general, he considers such measures way overdue.
"Turning the NCAA is not unlike turning an aircraft carrier from north to south," Slive quipped.
"I'm in support of anything to do more for the players, I always have been," Nick Saban said when the NCAA recently approved unlimited food and snacks for athletes.
While it's still too early to discuss what kind of cost-of-living adjustments athletes might eventually get, Slive pushed for an NCAA rule to allow all student-athletes to receive a $2,000 stipend. However, as of 2012, only 23 athletic programs in the nation made enough money to cover their own expenses.
When asked specifically about stipends before Alabama defeated Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS championship game, Saban said:
"I do think that something should be done to enhance the quality of life of student‑athletes who are on scholarship because in our sport especially, there is socioeconomic groups that struggle a little bit, even with a scholarship, because there is a cost associated with going to college that is beyond room, board, tuition and books. And I think especially where we've sort of gotten to from a business perspective relative to the financial end of things that there isn't really any good reason that the student‑athletes who create that should not share in that to some degree.
"I think there's a lot better people to determine how and what that really should be, but I do think we should move in that direction to help student‑athletes."
4. Nine-Game Conference Schedule
The Southeastern Conference will keep the eight-game league schedule, with a 6-1-1 model (six divisional games, one permanent crossover, one rotating crossover) that will continue rivalry games, like Alabama vs. Tennessee and Auburn vs. Georgia, and have the other non-divisional opponents rotating.
However, Nick Saban was in favor of switching to a nine-game schedule.
"The things that I think are important in scheduling is, A, I've been over this before, every player plays every team in the SEC in his career," he said during SEC media days last summer. "That means you must play at least two teams on the other side.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the traditions that our fans enjoy, which our Tennessee game is a big game for our fans. So the only way to do that is play nine games."
Saban, though, was well aware that he and Les Miles were in the minority, as LSU wanted to eliminate the fixed cross-division opponent that locked in Florida every year.
"I understand where Les Miles is coming from," Saban once said. "I coached at LSU.
"My question is, is do other coaches understand our circumstance? Do they understand Auburn/Georgia circumstance? Do they understand the other teams in our league that do have rivalries that are cherished by the fans?"
With the SEC mandating that each team will be required to play at least one game against a team from one of the other big-five conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12), look for Alabama to continue scheduling big-paying, high-profile, neutral-site games to open the season, but not every year.
"There are some really good opportunities for us to continue to do the neutral site games," Saban said Wednesday morning on the SEC coaches' spring teleconference about 2016 and 2017.
5. Early Signing Period
Nick Saban doesn't seem to be too passionate about this issue, but with the Southeastern Conference having a limit of 25 recruits who can be signed each year and the overwhelming pressures and demands for their time, he's in favor of having an early signing period.
"There's certainly a lot of talk about that, and I think we have to be careful about an early signing period that would occur before the high school football season," Saban said in 2012. "I think it might affect a guy's motivation to play their senior year, and I certainly would not want to affect guys' high school careers in terms of what they are looking forward to doing in college. I don't think that would be healthy for the game.
"Our high school coaches do a great job of developing our players, so maybe an early signing period right after the high school season would be something that would be beneficial."
Timing is the tricky part of the issue because a summer signing date would give schools less evaluation time, especially with coaches unable to visit high school campuses in the spring. A December signing date would ratchet up in-season recruiting, and a fall date turns the summer into a sort of second season.
Although the SEC has previously discussed having an early signing period—when student-athletes could sign a national letter of intent and end the recruiting process—around Thanksgiving, Saban appears to favor the December option. One benefit is it would keep his staff from spending a lot of time during the weeks leading up national signing day making sure commitments weren't about to flip.
The NCAA is reportedly considering an early signing period for football while numerous other sports already have one.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.