Attrition: A Not-So-Four-Letter Word

Thomas WalkerCorrespondent IJuly 22, 2009

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 29:  Quarterback Kodi Burns #18 of the Auburn Tigers has a pass tipped by defensive lineman Bobby Greenwood #93 and linebacker Rolando McClain #25 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 29, 2008 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

For the past several weeks, Alabama fans have seen several players, some rather prominent, transfer to “greener pastures.” Chris Jackson, Alonzo Lawrence, and Brandon Fanney are just some of the recent talent to leave our campus, but make no mistake, more are soon to come. The reactions of the Bama faithful, however, have inspired me to write my first article for Bleacher Report to address this issue. Scouring the forums and message boards, I have found displays of a mixed range of emotions. Some fans are confused. “Why is this happening?” “Why are we losing talent?” Some fans are righteously indignant. “Fanney was third in tackles last season!” “Lawrence was a five-star!” Finally, many fans are worried. “Can our team afford to lose talent like that?” Let me assure you, Bama nation, this is not a bad thing.

To those who are bewildered:

               Attrition is the term used to describe how a team reaches its scholarship limit. The NCAA allows each football team to keep 85 athletes on scholarship in a given year. Teams are allowed to sign 25 incoming freshmen each year to scholarship. Many will recall that Alabama signed 27 incoming freshmen this past spring. Ole Miss signed a whopping 38. Teams do this under the knowledge that several recruits will attend prep school, junior college, or defer enrollment to the next spring. The cycle perpetuates. For example, Kerry Murphy signed with the Tide in 2007, but after 2 years at Hargrave Military in Virginia, he is ready to join the roster this fall. Since the limit on scholarships for each team is 85, and teams sign 25 players each spring, it is only natural that some players will either graduate and move on with their lives (see Evan Cardwell and Charlie Kirschman), or transfer to seek playing time elsewhere (see Fanney, Jackson, Lawrence). Attrition is a natural part of the sport, and it occurs at all elite schools across the country.

To those who are angry:

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               Coach Nick Saban’s philosophy is simple: work hard and follow his rules, and you will have a CHANCE to play. Players who lack worth ethic, goof off in practice, or violate team rules have no place on his team, regardless of talent. He is building a TEAM, and that supersedes individual talent and ego. Flashback: how many of Coach Shula’s players were arrested for involvement in off-the-field incidents? Under his “I’m your friend, not you coach whom you should respect” attitude, Alabama quickly gained a reputation reminiscent of Thug U. Personally, I welcome Saban’s hard-nosed drill instructor stance to personal conduct and overall strive for excellence. It only prepares these players for a bright future in life, football or otherwise. Fans should be ecstatic at the reestablishment of a noble and morale program. For the players who transfer to seek playing time elsewhere, I wish them success and thank them for their time spent at the Capstone.  But once again, attrition is part of the process of building an elite program.

To those who are worried:

               Losing a lauded player or one with “potential”  is always difficult, but back-to-back number 1 recruiting classes affords Alabama that option. The talent Nick Saban has stockpiled these past few years ensures Bama that 2 more players, each hungry and deserving of a shot, will see an opportunity at that voided position. To use Brandon Fanney as an example, the Jack linebacker position is intended to create pressure on the quarterback. Fanney had 1 sack last year. His absence opens the door for other players like Dont’a Hightower, Eryk Anders, and Courtney Upshaw to prove themselves worthy of the crimson and white. Lawrence’s absence opens slots for B.J. Scott and Dre Kirkpatrick to see the field.  Provided these men follow Coach Saban’s rules and requirements, they should only benefit from the vacated roster spot. The talent that Saban has now amassed increased inner competition, which in turn increases our ability to assemble a worthy team and places wins on the board.

               I was at an alumni dinner several months ago in Birmingham, along with 1000 other Bama faithful After Coach Saba spoke, he fielded questions from the audience. “Don’t worry, I won’t bite your heads like the press,” he said.

A man stood and asked, “Coach Saban, can you explain the process of attrition and how you go about meeting the required numbers?”

“What do you do, buddy?” Saban responded.

“I, uh…I’m an accountant, sir,” the man uttered.

“Well,” Saban deadpanned. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll let you do my taxes next year, and the number you come up with, I’ll take that at face value. Now I expect you to afford me the same generosity.”

Now I suggest everyone re-watch last year’s Iron Bowl on their Tivo, drink some red Kool-aid, and trust in Him, for He will deliver.

1 month, 13 days and counting, I’ll see you all at kickoff.


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