Satellite Camps Would Benefit Alabama

Why do so many sports reporters have a hard time getting Nick Saban? And not rookie reporters, but men and women who should know better? Once again, after discussing a dream-sized tarpon catch off the Florida coast, Saban reeled in several reporters when it came to discussion of satellite football camps.

Nick Saban is always The Man at the Southeastern Conference spring meeting, which was held in Destin last week. Really, the Alabama head football coach is head and shoulders above all other sports figures at just about any venue. Any reporter’s question on a college football topic of national importance absolutely, positively must have a Saban comment to make the article relevant.

And from a safe distance, the reporters sometimes fire slings and arrows at the Saban stance.

Thus, when Saban, who has coached teams to four national championships, including three in the last six years at Alabama, said he wants a “level playing field” when it comes to so-called satellite camps, he was viewed with derision as a man who wants legislation to prevent teams like Penn State and Michigan from being involved in football camps in the South.

The satellite camps are run by coaches in one area (say, State College, Pa.) at a spot in another area (say Georgia) where they serve as “guest coaches.” Thus, college football prospects from Georgia, who might not otherwise be able to attend a camp at State College get to meet the coaching staff from Penn State.

That is permitted by NCAA rule. The SEC does not allow it.

Now, remember, Saban didn’t bring the subject up in Destin. He was asked about the satellite camps. That doesn’t mean he didn’t anticipate the question, though. Saban is not some radio talk show host who blabs non-stop. He thinks before he speaks.

So what did he say that had some saying he wasn’t working hard enough, some saying he was whining?

"We have a lot of crazy rules. A head coach is not allowed to go out during an evaluation period in the spring, but he can go have a satellite camp anywhere in the country to bring your staff in and bring players to it? Does that make any sense to anybody? I think we should have recruiting periods and evaluation periods, and the only time you should be able to have a camp is on your campus. And if a player is interested enough to come to your camp on your campus, then that should be the way it is."

Incidentally, the reference to a head coach not being allowed to go to high schools in the evaluation period is to what is known as “the Saban rule,” passed by the NCAA because other coaches thought it was an advantage for Saban because he was willing to do the extra work in that spring evaluation period.

Saban also said, “We need to have the same rules in the Big Five. If we’re going to compete for the championship, and everybody’s going to play in the playoff system, and everybody’s going to compete for that, then we need to get our rules in alignment so we’re all on a level playing field. It’s a disadvantage not to be able to do something in one league and be able to do it in another. These things need to be global.”

Mike Slive, who retired today after a most successful run as commissioner of the SEC, said in Destin that the SEC would appeal to the NCAA to clarify a rule about satellite camps that Slive and others in the SEC believe has a loophole. The SEC wants the NCAA to adopt the SEC stance.

If not, SEC athletics directors voted in Destin to drop the league’s sanction against its football coaches participating in satellite camps beginning in 2016.

As Slive put it, the SEC will "make every effort to have our rule adopted nationally." If unsuccessful, “Our folks would be free to fan out all over the country and have at it.”

What would that mean for Bama?

There are two nouns known by every high school football player who is a college prospect. They are:

Alabama Crimson Tide and Nick Saban.

If the SEC accepts the new view of satellite camps – and that seems inevitable – it will be another huge advantage for Bama football, and Saban certainly is aware of that.

Saban’s complaints about satellite camps sound something like Br’er Rabbit begging not to be thrown in the briar patch.

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said there might be occasions where coaches from two SEC schools might cooperate in a satellite camp. Somehow, we’re seeing Alabama left out of that scheme. What SEC staff would want to be at the same prospects site and being compared to Saban and Bama?

Moreover, those other schools aren’t going to be too thrilled to see Saban making such a presence in their traditional recruiting territories.

Which brings us to the question of where Bama might have its satellite camps. Saban believes that any place within a five-hour drive of Tuscaloosa is local. That parameter takes in the Florida panhandle, most of Georgia including Atlanta, most of Tennessee, all of Mississippi, and most of Louisiana. Thus, the first thought is that Saban would go out further for satellite camps, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in Atlanta and the Florida panhandle.

Well, maybe not the first thought. One could eliminate Alaska and North Dakota and Vermont and so on.

Central Florida would seem likely, and so would Texas, Dallas and/or Houston areas. Southern California has huge numbers of good players. Maybe a camp along the North Carolina-South Carolina border. And just for giggles, perhaps Philadelphia or Detroit or Cleveland.

One thing is sure. When the SEC gets in line with the Big Ten on satellite football camps, the rich -- Alabama and Saban -- will get richer.

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