You have to feel sorry for Nick Saban. In spite of a veritable rush for the door by Alabama football signees, the Coach has perservered to win another National Championship. Just last year at this time he told the press that 2011 Alabama LOI signees "was the number of players we could take" on scholarship. By fall camp, the eighty-five total limit composed of his 2011 twenty-three scholarship players had shrunken by twelve players.
I had no idea Alabama won the championship with just seventy-three scholarship players.
Year in and year out this tragedy impacts the Alabama football program. Players seem to regard it as a Tuscaloosa truck stop where they can pick up some ham and grits on the way out of town. Ten players left in 2010. Nine players on the spring roster in 2009 weren't around for the fall, not counting two not offered a fifth year. At last count, Bama has suffered losses of thirty-one scholarship players in three years!
Every couple of years the Tide loses the equivalent of an entire recruiting class - and not just any recruiting class. Counting the player losses of the last two years, fourteen players were ranked four stars or better by Rivals! The situation is so dire it seems like a Biblical curse is raining down on poor Nick - ten players in three years have suffered injuries that he has had to offer medical hardship scholarships. One player even transferred to Auburn!
In ten years, Jim Tressel handed out only four medical hardship scholarships at Ohio State.
Throughout all of this rejection and Job-like suffering, Saban has perserved despite accusations of oversigning, forcing players to accept medical hardships, and writers in Alabama wanting him to make disclosures about who is on scholarship. You would think Nick would want to leave for the Big 10 and a simpler life where coaches like Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern say last year that "We had seventeen to give. We're at eighty-five right now."
You have to admire the spirit of Alabama and other Southern state natives, too, whose participation swelled the Alabama Roster - after the eleven defectors - to 120. Twenty-six players of those fall roster were listed on the Scout Squad. To the outside eye, it looks like ninety-four players (120-26) were not on the Scout Squad. But that's only twenty over the seventy-four for whom Saban had room.
Nick has a much higher degree in math than most of us.
Alabama has signed 109 student-athletes to Letters of Intent over the last four years (32+28+26+23). Plus nine players of the 2007 class played on this year's Bama team. Who can blame Saban with his rate of attrition for harvesting 27 verbals so far this year? Five more players have narrowed their final choices that include Alabama. With three verbals who are Defensive Tackles, three of the remaining five are also defensive tackles. Would Alabama take six DTs?
Alabama has 13 returning Wide Receivers. Michigan has eight. Alabama has 16 returning Offensive Linemen. Michigan State has eight. Alabama has 15 returning Defensive Backs. Penn State has seven. (Alabama Eligibility Chart)
Alabama has twenty-four departing Seniors plus three Juniors entering the NFL draft early, but five are Scout Squad members. So, twenty-two scholarships should be available for the twenty-seven plus verbals.
Three of the five remaining prospects have narrowed their choices to Alabama and one other school. One has Alabama in their final three. One has the Tide in their final four.
This year Nick Saban has to face what most other coaches face, keeping under the limits of 25 signees a year by National Signing Day per a new SEC rule that requires players to be notified prior to National Signing Day. Already he has notified one player that his commitment months ago would have to be honored in the 2013 class. Another of the twenty-seven is considered a "soft" verbal for some reason. Every commitment from a highly-ranked 2012 class prospect from here on out threatens to bump someone who accepted Nick's promised scholarship earlier this year.
The SEC doesn't understand the suffering in the program. Saban has to commiserate with Les Miles. The local press from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to AL.com want more than he can give. Saban gets the podium on Signing Day, saying last year:
"We have so many seniors; we have some guys going out for the draft. Nobody really knows how many guys we had on scholarship last year, but it wasn’t 85. I can tell you that. We have some people that could not finish the season that will probably not be able to continue to play, that will be replaced and we have several players that can graduate and may not come back for their fifth year, who have been redshirted. When you add all those things up, plus guys we have that may not qualify, it is not fair to criticize the numbers."
Why the criticism inside and outside the SEC is beyond me