Alabama made national recruiting news Tuesday when Nick Saban said that the Tide would offer four-year scholarships to recruits. This was a surprising move to many, as 'Bama coach Nick Saban was thought to be one of the staunchest in opposition to the practice, which recently survived an override vote:
On Feb. 18, the member institutions that comprise NCAA Division I voted narrowly not to rescind legislation that allows schools to offer multiyear scholarships instead of strictly offering renewable one-year scholarships. It was by the slimmest of margins, but multiyear scholarships survived.
That, in turn, led to dire predictions of a Tower of Babel situation, with every school making different offers to recruits in an impossible-to-decipher jumble of various terms and limits.
Nick Saban doesn't see that happening.
"We're going to offer four-year scholarships," Saban said. "Our whole conference is going to do it, all the schools, I think.
"And we're happy to do it."
Saban is a great recruiter. His Tide just took home another top recruiting class. He simply took stock of the situation and realized that not offering four-year scholarships could lead to negative recruiting against his Tide by teams offering the long-term deals, and changed course. It's a smart move by the coach who is widely regarded as practicing the most extreme roster management.
Those who follow Alabama recruiting closely considered the possibility in mid-February:
For Alabama, to date the Crimson Tide has refused the publicly acknowledge one way or the other as to the specifics of its scholarship offers, though most have assumed that 'Bama offers only single-year scholarships. Perhaps that is true and perhaps that remains the case moving forward, but as committed as Nick Saban is to success on the recruiting trails, if he feels that the lack of multiyear scholarship offers is putting Alabama at a competitive disadvantage for the nation's rising college prospects, expect 'Bama to go quickly go the way of the multiyear scholarship offer as well.
But how much impact will four-year scholarships really have on the win-at-all-costs schools? Perhaps not as much as some might think.
Schools committed to championship football are still going to manage their roster. The only real difference is that now a school cannot just elect not to renew an athlete's scholarship, but rather, must find an alternative way to purge the player and create room on the 85-scholarship roster. If a coach really wants a kid off the roster, he will find a way.
There are several ways schools currently do this, and none should be impacted by four-year scholarships.
Medical hardship scholarships will still be given out to players with injuries that are decidedly less than career threatening. Team doctors still make the determination on these, with the help of the coaches, of course. There is no NCAA committee or board providing oversight on medical hardship scholarships, which leads to abuse of the system. [Note: SB Nation's excellent SEC site, Team Speed Kills, alerted me that the SEC has a new rule in place for this year requiring the league office to approve medical hardships. So while it's not the NCAA, at least there is some measure of oversight.] A player who could come back from an injury after missing a year will probably accept the medical hardship, ending his career and removing him from the 85 roster, because he's already established his friends at school and doesn't want to transfer to another school, rehab, and make new friends.
Additionally, players are still going to transfer to get playing time elsewhere. Players in some regions value football over education. In others, education comes first. When a player values football over his education and isn't seeing playing time, he is likely going to transfer, regardless of whether his scholarship is guaranteed for four years or just one.
And even if a player doesn't want to transfer, it's not difficult for a coach to make his life so miserable that the player ends up transferring. Having the player play positions he doesn't want to play, not allowing him to come to certain team activities, changing up his schedule so that he has to do things away from the team, etc., all with no hope of playing time, are just a few of the ways a coach can make life miserable for a player and get him to transfer.
Another way to get out of a four-year scholarship commitment is to find some vague team rule or policy broken by the player. No doubt the scholarships will be filled with copious legalese allowing the school to void a scholarship agreement if even the slightest of rule is broken. If the player wants recourse he will have to resort to the same appeals process currently in place. Good luck with that.
Recruits wanting greater security should still select schools without ridiculous rates of attrition, because the schools that are really, really serious about football are not going to keep busts on the roster for four years. As Spencer Hall wrote Wednesday, college football coaches aren't going to have terms dictated to them by kids.