College Football Teams' Roster Management Analysis: Part 1 - Alabama

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Success breeds scrutiny and criticism - some valid to a degree, some not. College football coaches may differ in their roster management, utilizing one year scholarships within the yearly limit of eighty-five scholarship in order to build a successful football program. This series on teams' roster managements will begin its analyses with Alabama and Nick Saban.

(Steam) Roll, Tide

The current pinnacle of college football success resides in Tuscaloosa with three crystal footballs in the past four years. Call Saban names, criticize him for oversigning or for placing players on medical scholarships, or for his non-conference scheduling, you cannot argue with his results, though you may be envious of his trips to the White House. Saban may not have liked the SEC limitation of twenty-five scholarships per year which count against a two year limit of fifty - whether they enroll or not. Regardless, he signed two number one classes these past two years under those limitations. Additionally, Alabama has two other number two ranked classes in the last five years.

His assistants leave for head coaching positions. Players leave for the NFL, perhaps a year early. But each year Saban brings his assistant coaches and his players to focus on achieving their goal of championships.

A Business Model

Saban's Alabama football program has other similarities to business models. He sets objectives to reach that goals, hires employees who best fill defined roles, provides opportunities for players to develop and succeed in their enterprise, creates teamwork in an atmosphere of competition and provides teaching on techniques that will facilitate their success. He expects leadership from those most experienced players and sets standards for all players' behavior.

Saban's football success contributes to the University in many ways according to this Forbes' article.

Roster Management

Roster management trends under Saban are apparent retrospectively over these past five years. In general, each year Alabama will again sign and enroll twenty-five top prospects. The Crimson Tide's enrolled recruiting classes over the past five years total 125, an average of 25 per year. Their scholarships will effectively last two years. Of the forty-seven players in the last two years, seventeen enrolled early.

Like it or not, Saban views their first two years as plenty of time to determine if players will contribute towards reaching your team's ultimate goal. The stress of those forty-seven on the eighty-five scholarship limit is palpable with thirty-eight remaining scholarships to be granted to third, fourth or fifth year players. Since the total class sizes for those threee recruiting years was seventy-five, roster management involves winnowing out about half those student-athletes.

Alabama Football Scholarship Spreadsheet

Roster Moves, 2013

After Signing Day this year, Saban potentially had ninety-five scholarship players on the roster. Roster moves almost took care of themselves with four suspensions due to arrests, two other suspensions for violation of team rules, and four seniors not granted a fifth year. Players leaving early for the NFL further may decrease the number of scholarships. Prior to your junior year, you do not want to hear that you are invited to a meeting with the head coach.

The current Bama scholarship total is eighty-six going into fall camp. The article below from the Bama blog discusses Saban's possibilities to get to eighty-five soon.

Alabama Fooball Eighty-Five Man Roster

Next year, speculating another twenty-five for the Class of 2014, Saban starts at 110 (85+25). Subtract the thirteen players who will use up their eligibility in 2013, Alabama will be twelve over the eighty-five annual limit (110-13 = 97). Ten seniors will be eligible for fifth years. However any fifth year senior will be offered another year will, of course, impact the decision regarding players in the other years.


Recruiting success with commitments from prospects across the South and now many other areas of the country mean that less scholarships are available to Alabama prospects than in the past, less opportunity for transfers into the program, including JUCO or greyshirted players, Virtually no walk-ons get scholarships. Student-athletes not only feel the challenge of competition for positions but also have to keep their grades up to avoid academic disqualification.

In summary, depending on your philosophy on student-athletes in a university, Nick Saban may have established a roster management model that is similarly copied for success.

Tomorrow -- Is Nick Saban's Roster Management Different? Part 2 - Analyzing Other College Football Programs' Roster Management

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