Alabama Football Recruiting: Re-Regulating the Deregulated


Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Alabama Crimson Tide lifted its second consecutive BCS National Championship down in Miami, the NCAA recruiting landscape has been reshaped. In a move designed to shrink the NCAA enforcement rulebook, the powers-that-be removed many restrictions on recruiting. Most notably, non-coach staff members can now recruit, and the forms of communication – whether it be text, or phone, or email – are far less restricted.

Nick Saban’s response wasn’t very surprising. There are three constants in this universe: death, taxes, and Saban pushing the limits of the rules. The Alabama head coach hired former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to a non-coaching position with a heavy emphasis on recruiting. He also added former Vigor High School (Prichard, AL) head coach Kerry Stevenson, and Ole Miss recruitnik Tyler Siskey to the staff in non-coaching roles. Texas head coach Mack Brown went so far as to say Alabama is “ahead of all of us” in preparing for recruiting deregulation due to all of the moves Saban made.

The rule changes were met with withering criticism from many other circles. Maryland’s head coach Randy Edsall openly said he hated them. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, never one for saber-rattling and over-the-top rhetoric, jumped on board the complain train along with Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity. They felt that the rules would spark an “arms race” in big-time college football recruiting.

The NCAA responded to the riders on the complain train by overturning their own regulations this week. In the specific case of non-coach recruiting, the NCAA rules committee took the extraordinary step of suspending the rule pending a review, and did not let it go through the overturn process that the NCAA has set up.

What does it mean? Kevin Steele, who called the “poster boy for deregulation,” is now in an awkward position. He was brought on primarily to recruit, but he can’t. The problem gets to be even more complex when you consider that Steele, along with other non-coaches at Alabama, had been recruiting since the deregulated rules went into effect. What about the relationships that had been forged between the non-coaches and the recruits? The two sides now have a wall between them thanks to the NCAA.

The more overarching question is: why is Alabama being punished for playing within the rules? The NCAA won’t pay Steele’s contract, even though they just invalidated his job. Furthermore, where was this massive groundswell of anger with the deregulations when they were being discussed? The panel discussing them was made up of university brass on all levels of college athletics.

While the aforementioned riders on the complain train do have a point, the train took too long to leave the station. Luckily, the NCAA’s governors rescued the wayward riders via some creative policy wrangling. In the process, Alabama got slightly punished for its initiative. No matter. If there was ever a fourth constant to be added to this universe, it is that pithy garbage from outside sources won’t stop the Crimson Tide while Nick Saban is at the helm.