For a program at full strength scholarship-wise, the problem isn't as great. Normally schools are allowed to bring in 25 new scholarshipped athletes each fall, but cannot have more than 85 total at any given time. Stretched out over four years or so (the majority of football players actually remain on scholarship for five years), that gives coaches plenty of leeway to sign extra athletes and therefore cushion themselves against academic attrition.
But for a school like Alabama, NCAA probation basically removes all margin for error. The Tide simply must bring in a full complement of 19 athletes this fall, qualified and ready to contribute.
So far Alabama appears to be assembling an extremely talented class, with game-breakers committed at both wide receiver and running back. But unfortunately there are also several academic question marks at both positions.
Nikita Stover (6-2, 187, 4.5), Will Oakley (6-1, 190, 4.45), Ezekiel Knight (6-3, 210) and Titus Ryan (6-2, 200, 4.31) have all committed to sign with Alabama. Ryan is capable of playing either receiver or running back, and many recruiting pundits predict Knight will eventually end up at linebacker. But if all four names are slotted for wide receiver, then the Tide clearly has an excellent group of wideouts already in the fold.
Unfortunately, academics may interfere.
Ryan especially is seen as a possible problem. Now listed at East Mississippi Community College, this is actually the second time he has committed to Alabama. Earlier he did not qualify out of high school and was forced to go the JUCO route. At this point there are strong indications that things aren't going well at East Mississippi. A regular student might simply choose to transfer to Shelton State (Ryan is from Tuscaloosa) to finish up, but that's not an option in this case. In order to meet SEC eligibility requirements, Ryan must graduate from East Mississippi before enrolling at Alabama.
One of the most talented athletes to come out of West Alabama in recent years, it would truly be a shame if Ryan never got a chance to fulfill his potential. But some knowledgeable sources close to the situation are starting to doubt that Ryan will ever play for the Tide, which would be a huge loss for both Bama and Ryan.
Of the other receiver commitments, Oakley is basically a lock to qualify. But both Stover and Knight have work to do, Stover relatively more than Knight. Rules for partial qualifiers have been tightened, but both would be candidates for that status if possible.
Problems for some recruits could spell opportunity for others. Mobile's Chevis Jackson (6-1, 180, 4.5) and Daphne's Patrick White (6-2, 180) remain in Bama's recruiting picture. White hopes to quarterback his team to victory in Saturday's state championship game, but he projects as a wide receiver/defensive back in college. At this point he is a strong possibility to end up a member of Bama's signing class in February.
The running back position is not much better off academically. The Tide is only looking to sign one or two, but finding talented and qualified athletes hasn't proven easy.
Thomasville's Aaron Johns (5-10, 185, 4.5) basically put up unreal statistics this year and committed early to Alabama. Besides Johns, the Tide is still pursuing Markus Manson (6-0, 190, 4.37), Lavarus Giles (6-1, 205, 4.45) and Dennis Void (6-0, 212, 4.5), probably in that order of priority.
Blue-chip tailback Darius Walker (5-11, 195, 4.45) of Buford, Georgia remains on the board but would have to be considered a longshot. And of course Titus Ryan plays tailback as well.
Walker and Manson (who is of course currently committed to Florida) are both considered good students. But each of the other recruits has at least some concerns. Both Johns and Giles have work still to do to get qualified, reportedly Johns more so than Giles. And even though Void has graduated from high school, at last report he still needed 10 more points on the SAT.
RECRUITING NOTES: Please understand that if there is anything more fluid than recruiting in general, it's keeping up with the academic status of athletes. Every year one or two signees assumed to be in good shape don't make it, and on the flip side each season brings a new "miracle story" about an athlete seemingly given up for dead academics-wise, who rallies to qualify. Plus, without the student's consent no one has access to actual school records. But the information reported in this story is as accurate as we can make it for early December.
Alabama is allowed to bring in 19 new scholarshipped players this fall. The Tide is expected to sign as many as 22 players in February, anticipating that several will not become qualified. It's also possible that one or more players may be asked to delay entry into The University until the following January, counting against 2005 scholarship numbers, depending on how qualifying issues play out.
Read all of the recent recruiting stories on Alabama recruits from TheInsiders.com.