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Nick Saban, Darius Philon and the Media Narrative

Winning creates both friends and enemies. Alabama fans know this as well as anyone. As a mental exercise, let’s contrast the reactions of three people to Alabama’s recent run of success, to see what conclusions can be drawn.

During the post-game celebration after Alabama won the BCS championship in New Orleans, ESPN’s John Saunders tried to produce an emotional moment for the cameras by asking Nick Saban what his late father would think about his performance as a coach. Saban refused to give the media the tears they wanted, deflecting the praise by saying, “I think my father would be proud of the players, that’s what I think.”

After writing a column that could have been (and may well have been) put out by the Auburn Media Relations office, Montgomery Advertiser columnist Josh Moon refused an invitation to appear on the Paul Finebaum Show to explain his conclusion that Saban turned in an awful performance by signing the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

On National Signing Day, defensive lineman Darius Philon sat on a dais to announce his choice of colleges. He buried his head in his hands, then stood and put on an Alabama hat. The next day he signed to play for Arkansas. Philon is now being held up as the latest casualty of Saban’s relentless, self-aggrandizing war machine.

The common factor in all these instances? The need for good copy, or good ratings.

Every time you see a camera shoved in the face of someone who just had their entire lives ripped away from them by a tornado, and watch their tears as they search through the wreckage for a family photo, you’re not a witness; you’re a consumer. Nick Saban refused to cry for the cameras and give the media the story they wanted.

Every time you read a press release that’s been trotted out and called an opinion piece, you’re buying a product that is designed to further a narrative.

And every time you see a young man go through a ridiculous bit of homemade pomp and circumstance to announce where he’s decided to attend college, you’re buying into the idea that this is an actual news event.

If sports media had not realized there were millions to be made in wall-to-wall coverage of college recruiting, these absurd melodramas would not take place. These young men have been taught that they must manage their image more than they should manage their grades, and that making a Signing Day splash is more important than making an informed decision.

So when the domino affect of these decisions – coupled with the scholarship limits that promote parity over excellence – leave some players without the opportunity they wanted, it’s more of a news story than it is a family decision.

If Darius Philon had talked over his options with his family and his potential college coaches in private, and made an informed decision based on the information he had, he would likely not feel the weight of being a tragic figure for the cameras. His choice of colleges will affect his life far more than which color hat he dons on National Signing Day.

But that wouldn’t make for good TV, now would it?

Updated 1:51 PM EST:

The college football world is abuzz now with the confirmation by Jameis Winston that he is attending Florida State, as he had stated all along. Despite his confirmation on Signing Day that “I’m a ‘Nole,” speculation was rampant that he might be considering other schools.  Reports note that Winston has been busy preparing for a high-school all-star game. Maybe he was too busy to sign and fax in a letter-of-intent he knew all along he would sign; he certainly wasn’t too busy to chat for the ESPN cameras yesterday.

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