At spring meetings, the SEC’s presidents voted to changed a conference rule and allow graduate transfers to play immediately when they move within the conference.
The immediate impact of that rule is that two higher-profile players can play right away in 2018. Ex-Ole Miss receiver Van Jefferson can play this year at Florida, and ex-Alabama offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy can play this year at Auburn or Tennessee, assuming he chooses one of them. Alabama also has to release Kennedy from his scholarship.
Alabama coach Nick Saban is not a fan of this reform.
“If we make a rule that guys can transfer whenever they want, how are we supposed to get people to do what they should do?” Saban told reporters before the change passed. “I’m not talking about as football players, I’m talking about as people. I’m talking about making good choices and decisions. ... If a guy is missing class and I say you’re not going to play in this game because you’re missing class, which I’ve done on occasion, and he says, ‘I’m transferring,’ is that good?”
It’s good for Saban. And he knows it.
“If we allow that to happen in our league, I think it will benefit some schools more than others, and I think we’re one of the schools that it would benefit,” Saban told reporters. “But I still am not for it.”
Alabama is the country’s best recruiter over the last decade, and this rule just increased the talent pool available to the Tide. Have fun with that, other SEC teams.
Beating teams with rules he doesn’t like is a Saban feature. He’s already done it with one hot off-field issue: satellite camps.
In 2016, the NCAA banned and then quickly unbanned those camps. Saban had called the camps — where coaches from schools go off-campus to teach (and also recruit) at skills clinics — a regulatory “wild, wild West.” The SEC, which didn’t like northern schools recruiting in its talented footprint, was the leading supporter of a ban.
By the summer following the camp saga, Saban had decided to fight fire with fire. He turned up at a USF camp in Tampa alongside a couple of his assistants, ready to teach and recruit. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer being at the camp probably enticed him. He’s turning up at camps again in 2018, most recently Lane Kiffin’s at FAU.
Saban’s consistently called for the SEC to increase schedule difficulty by giving each team another conference game, even though that could make Bama’s Playoff path tougher.
No takers. The Tide have made four straight Playoffs regardless.
Adaptation has been key to Saban’s on-field success, too.
This approach fits with Saban’s evolution to an up-tempo spread offense. In 2012, Saban asked of the no-huddle, “Is this what we want football to be?”
"We should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety," Saban said at the time, via AL.com. "The team gets in the same formation group, you can't substitute defensive players, you go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they're snapping the ball as fast as you can go and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up. That's when guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt when they're not ready to play.”
Alabama has spent the last several seasons evolving into more and more of a spread team. The Tide haven’t endorsed the breakneck pace that Saban cautioned against a half-decade ago, but they’ve gone no-huddle. They kept using it in their one season with former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll as coordinator, and they’ll only look more spread-y with current coordinator Mike Locksley, whose background is in such tactics.
The Tide have leaned all the way into the run-pass option, a defining feature of the modern spread, but don’t think the defense-first Saban is happy about the RPO’s existence.
Alabama was the victim of the most famous RPO in history, in the Kick Six game.
“I don’t think there’s any answer to RPOs,” Saban told reporters in 2017. “There is no solution to that, other than you can’t go downfield three and a half yards to block, which is the rule in the NFL and some other places.”
Saban has made it fairly clear that he’d prefer linemen only get one yard, as is the rule in the NFL. The college game gives offensive linemen three yards to block beyond their line of scrimmage on passing plays. That makes it easier to disguise pass plays as runs, then flip the ball out for big gainers.
Saban is never going to unilaterally disarm.
“Whatever the rule is, we’ll do it, too,” Saban said. “So, what makes a difference? We’ll run running plays that we throw passes, just like everybody else.”
Saban doesn’t have to like something to do it. That he doesn’t care about the distinction is one of the reasons Alabama is so dominant.