Not Even Saban Can Brighten Up Media Days

Maybe it was because the Southeastern Conference is on a two-year streak of not winning the national championship. Maybe because it is Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, not Johnny Football, who is the closest thing to the league's “Heisman candidate.” In any event, SEC Media Days has been a drag this year.

Usually the most high profile name in college football, and the annual headliner in Hoover where coaches, players, administrators, and media gather as something of a kickoff to college football, couldn’t save it.

There were, however, no hot button issues for Alabama Coach Nick Saban.

Really, did anyone think that Saban might be opposed to the battle against flying the Stars and Bars of the old Confederate States of America? Saban, who has a team of perhaps 80 per cent African-American players?

Someone may have, because Saban was asked about it. The question included Saban being friends with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and wondered how Saban feels about the decision Bentley made to remove the flag from the capitol grounds in Montgomery.

Although Saban said he didn’t have any say in what the governor does or what The University of Alabama does (which, by the way, does not include flying the Stars and Bars), he said it was “my opinion” that “a symbol that represents something that is mean spirited or doesn’t represent equal right sfor all people, I’m not for having that symbol represent anything that we’re involved in. It’s just my opinion about the way I feel about symbols that are not positive towards human rights and everybody having equal opportunity.”


Well, then, “In a conference that has the ultimate recruiting tool, a 24-hour network, and revenue sharing of more than $31 billion a year, how come you and the other SEC coaches got really upset about satellite camps and [Michigan Coach] Jim Harbaugh, as far as did you all feel threatened as far as recruiting, and what was the reaction to that.”

Saban could have just said, “Khalid Kareem,” the four-star, top-ranked player in Michigan, a 6-4, 255-pound defensive end who committed to Alabama before Harbaugh could get back from Prattville and repack his tee shirt drawer.

Instead, though, Saban – quite calmly – said, “I wasn’t all that upset about it. I don’t agree with it. I think that we have a recruiting calendar that clearly establishes times when you can be off campus to recruit. That's not a time where you can be off campus to recruit. So we do not feel in our league that it's a time we should be off campus to recruit.

So if other people are going to be allowed to do things, then I think it's important that we all have a level playing field. So whatever the decision is about satellite camps, whether I'm for it or against it or the league's for it or against it, I'm more for having the same rules govern the entire Power Five conferences because we're not just playing in our league now, we're playing in a playoff at the end of the season. So the people that play in that playoff should all do it with equal ability to recruit, be it on or off campus or whatever it is.

“I think in the NFL they do a really good job of everybody has a level playing field, and I think that's the same way that we should sort of try to operate in college football.”

The on-going problem of athletes assaulting women is a very serious issue, and one that Saban dealt with when 2015 junior college signee Jonathan Taylor was charged with an assault on a woman. Even though the woman later recanted her charge, Saban had said that Taylor (who had been booted from Georgia before going to junior college because of a legal issue in Georgia) was in a zero tolerance situation at Alabama and he was dismissed from The University as well as from the Crimson Tide football team.

Saban was asked if he regretted the Taylor situation and his thoughts on a new SEC rule that doesn’t allow players with domestic violence issues.

Saban said that Alabama did not “condone domestic violence or any kind of violent behavior toward women. But I do think this is an emotional issue that’s very, very complicated. It’s against the law and we respect the law and we will continue to do things that respect the law and our organization.

“I think we should be creating as many opportunities to try to solve this problem and to try to solve this problem with young people. And I would be very supportive if, as a league or as an institution, we did some of these types of things so that we could better manage this in the future.”

He pointed out that he had addressed the Taylor situation previously and said, “I do not regret giving players opportunities. This is an opportunity that we gave a player that didn’t work, but in fairness to the player, he didn’t really get the kind of due process before he was judged. But it is what it is. We do not condone that kind of behavior in our program.”

As Alabama was the only SEC team to make the inaugural College Football Playoff field, Saban was asked if he had thoughts of ways to improve the format.

He did not.

Saban said it was “a great competitive venue.”

He added that playing Auburn in the final regular season game, then playing in the SEC Championship Game, and then preparing for the CFP, “we learned...your players really have to be geared into what it takes to finish the season.

“I think it’s better for college football and I think it’s better for fans.

“The only thing that I’ve ever been an advocate for is to maintain the quality of bowl games because bowl games provide a positzive self-gratification for a lot of college football players. So hopefully we can get this playoff and the college system to work together.”

One issue of interest was a question put to every SEC coach concerned the “cost of attendance” scheme to pay college players, and A.P. Steadham will have a round-up of that issue at the completion of SEC Media Days Thursday.

By far the Saban statement that was most likely to stir the assemblage was his final one. He said, “I'd like to thank everybody here for all that you do in terms of promoting college football, in terms of the attention that you give our game and the players who play the game. I think there's a lot of positive things done in college football, and all that you do to recognize some of the great things that these young student-athletes do is certainly appreciated.

“You've always done a fantastic job of that, and I don't want you to think that it goes unnoticed, and we certainly do appreciate it and appreciate you. So thank you very much.”


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