Nick Saban and Grayshirting


John David Mercer – USA Today Sports

Nick Saban seems to earn resentment at every turn. It’s not uncommon to see prosperous people catch the brunt of a less successful person’s ire. In the eyes of the denizens of the Big Ten, it’s easier to level the playing field through NCAA legislation than it is to outwork your rivals.

Saban has been taken to task many times for his decision to grayshirt certain recruits. Grayshirting – the process of delaying enrollment for a year in order to keep a recruit’s eligibility clock from ticking – is treasonous in certain college football circles. It’s something our northern brethren are adamantly against.

But why? Big Ten supporters speak about recruits being grayshirted as if they were hostages from a bank robbery gone wrong. Grayshirts aren’t forced upon anyone, in the same way no one can be forced to buy a vehicle they don’t want. Imagine if this conversation revolved around purchasing a car rather than a recruit being offered a football scholarship.

Salesman: “The blue SUV we told you we had in stock was sold last night. We’re really sorry but it looks like we won’t get any more in until next year.
Customer: “Well I really wanted a blue SUV. What are my options?”
Salesman: “Currently, there’s nothing we can do about this year’s SUV model. We’re sold out, but the first one off the assembly line next year has your name on it. Or, you could head to the dealership down the road. They’ve got several blue SUV’s left if you’re interested in driving something today.”
Customer: “You know what, I’m good. I really love your brand. It’s good to know I’ve got options, but I’d rather drive away in one of your vehicles next year.”

No one’s being forced to do anything. Nick Saban isn’t holding anyone’s future athletic endeavors captive. The assumption that something reprehensible is going on has got to stop. The real criminal here is the NCAA. They’re the ones who limit the number of scholarships being handed out in the first place. Hate grayshirting and want to see it stop? Attack it from its source. Lift scholarship limitations.

What do the recruits themselves think? Here’s what current Alabama commit and recent grayshirt recipient Bradley Bozeman had to say:

“Coach Saban switched my scholarship to a grayshirt,” Bozeman said. “I have known about it for about two months. We have been keeping it on the down low. We didn’t know for sure if that was going to be the option. It was due to the ACL injury. It will give me more time to get stronger.”

Does Bozeman sound bitter? Does he sound like a victim, or a willing participant? Bozeman seems to have no qualms about accepting a grayshirt.

An oft-used complaint regarding Saban is that he likes to pull the rug out from underneath less-talented recruits just before National Signing Day in case a highly coveted five-star recruit decides to commit at the last minute. Saban’s detractors want us to believe kids with grayshirt offers are left without options. Does anyone really believe a kid with a grayshirt offer from Alabama doesn’t have other options?

Critics are sure to bring up the Justin Taylor incident from last year and how he was given the ultimatum to take a grayshirt offer from Alabama or accept an offer elsewhere. Let’s revisit what Taylor had to say:

"“Coach Saban said he wished he would’ve been able to tell me this in August instead of now. He said the only reason he can’t sign me is because he can’t sign 26 people. They can only sign 25 people. He said he was going to sign me with the next class. But he also said he would sign a piece of paper to show that they are keeping their word – they are going to sign it and they want me to sign it to make sure I know I still have my scholarship.”"

The above statement can be taken one of two ways. Either Nick Saban is just a mean ole’ man who likes to break the hearts of 18-year-old kids, or, the NCAA needs to do away with scholarship limitations. Justin Taylor eventually accepted a scholarship from Kentucky, where he ultimately redshirted. Once he arrived on campus, team doctors refused to clear him due to the severity of his injury.

In a perfect world – at least in a perfect NCAA world – a coach would extend 25 scholarships to 25 players. All of those players would commit on the spot, and no one would get their feelings hurt. This is a land of unicorns and cotton candy clouds. It’s a land that does not exist.

Coaches don’t offer scholarships to 25 different recruits. They offer scholarships to 50-70+ recruits because not every kid who receives an offer will commit. This problem is compounded by the fact that a large portion of these recruits hold off on their commitments until signing day. Coaching staffs have their hands tied. Offer too few kids and they run the risk of not signing a full class. Offer too many kids and they run the risk of having to ask one of them to accept a grayshirt.

What happens when a staff offers 70 kids and 30 attempt to commit? What’s a staff to do? They can’t sign 30, so they’re forced to tell five kids to either take a hike or take a grayshirt. It’s why some coaches throw out conditional offers, to avoid these scenarios as much as they can. But it’s always a problem. Only the kids who feel as if they’ve gotten the short end of the stick feel the need to vocalize their displeasure with the system.

Over the past few days the NCAA has again announced their intention to amend their rulebook. Twenty-five new proposals have already been passed which should help simplify and truncate a few unnecessary rules. Sadly, lifting scholarship limitations wasn’t among the proposals. However, the proposals do serve as evidence that the NCAA is willing to correct past mistakes. If the NCAA really cared about the “student” in “Student-Athlete,” the solution would be simple. Amend the rulebook further and lift scholarship limitations.