Alabama coach Nick Saban is in favor of changing the redshirt rules to allow a player to play in four games without losing a year of eligibility, but isn’t necessarily in favor of a proposal that would simply allow all football players five years to play four seasons and do away with redshirting altogether.
Saban made the comments on the SEC Spring Football Teleconference on Monday. Rule changes were the topic of the day, especially after LSU coach Ed Orgeron proclaimed that he was against the new early signing period because: “It’s a war out there, and now you have two.”
Saban also revealed that as of now his staff is planning on signing 22 players next year. Only rarely has Alabama not signed the SEC limit of 25 since he arrived in 2007. The coach usually is extremely tight-lipped about roster numbers.
“Our philosophy is we want to make sure that we get as many players as we can take,” Saban said. “I think it’s 22 this year, or whatever. We want to get 22 players who have good character, who want to commit to the same kinds of things that we do at Alabama to be successful as people, students and as players. I think evaluation is important and the sooner you have to make decisions on these guys the greater the opportunity you have to make mistakes.”
The addition of an early signing period has already been adopted by the NCAA for the recruiting Class of 2018. Specifically, athletes will have 72 hours, Dec. 20-22, to end their recruitment early.
“I truly believe it’s going to call some people’s bluff,” Florida coach and former assistant Jim McElwain said.
Saban agreed with other coaches that the early signing period is accelerating the recruiting process, and could lead to fewer opportunities for “late bloomers,” but said Alabama hasn’t made any significant changes to its evaluation process yet. Beginning next year, prospects can start taking their official visits in April. Previously they couldn’t until their junior year in school was complete.
The American Football Coaches Association is considering the four-game redshirt idea, which would eliminate medical redshirts.
“I would be absolutely in favor of that,” Saban said.
“The number one thing is that it would tremendously help the development of some young players on your team, to be able to look forward to being able to play in some games but not lose the year, and eliminate some of these things where a guy plays for five plays in a game and you have to try and appeal to get his year back because you made a mistake and put him in a game or you thought he would play more and he didn’t. It really, probably, would be a good thing.”
A player on the active roster who might have benefited from such a change is reserve offensive lineman J.C. Hassenhauer, who in 2014 came off the bench against Texas A&M to help at center. He’s now heading into his senior season without having used his redshirt, while playing a position where most players take longer to develop.
Another example of player it might have helped is cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who redshirted his first year in 2014, and then started all 15 games the following year while earning Freshman All-SEC honors.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Saban said. “We would have loved to play some, probably deserved to play some.”
Under the proposal, the four games could be during any part of the season. Currently, a player can’t redshirt if he plays in any game, however he can receive a medical redshirt if he’s competed in fewer than 30 percent of the games in a season or three games, whichever is greater.
As for the five-year proposal, which also is being considered by the AFCA, Saban prefers the four-game proposal, but said he hasn’t given the idea a lot of thought.
“There are so many guys going out early for the draft now, the philosophy of redshirting guys for their developmental purposes has changed quite a bit,” he said. “I don’t think the rule has ever changed with that. So to allow a guy to play to some degree, I don’t know what the right degree is.”
Finally, Saban said he isn’t in favor of changing the SEC rule limiting the ability of players to transfer to another school in the conference. Despite the regulation, Alabama had two players do so last year, wide receiver Chris Black to Missouri and defensive back Maurice Smith to Georgia.
“I don’t think we should have free agency in our league,” he said.
Saban will make his usual appearance at the Regions Pro-Am Golf Tournament in Birmingham on Wednesday.