KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alabama coach Nick Saban is asking aloud if the SEC wants free agency in defense of his attempt to block a player from leaving his program for another conference school.
Tide backup offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy is a soon-to-be graduate transfer interested in Tennessee and Auburn.
The SEC’s reputation for developing NFL draft picks is well-documented. The Volunteers and Tigers are two of the league schools featuring opportunity and relative proximity. Finally, both Tennessee and Auburn recruited Kennedy coming out of high school.
Kennedy has done his part for Saban’s Alabama program for three years, staying out of trouble and taking care of business in the classroom.
As a college graduate, hasn’t Kennedy earned the right to transfer wherever he wants without penalty?
Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt thinks so and has said that if a player has earned a degree, he has earned the right to choose his next stop.
Free agents helped Alabama
It’s not as if Saban has a problem with the concept of “free agent” graduate transfer students.
Indeed, Alabama has benefited from the process.
Oregon State receiver Richard Mullaney chose the Crimson Tide after the 2014 season and finished second in touchdown catches in 2015, helping Alabama win a national championship.
“Here’s this veteran free agent out here,” former Saban assistant Lane Kiffin told SI.com in 2016, asked about Mullaney. “We know what he can do because it’s already on tape, we know he can play, we know he’ll line up and do things well.”
Would Mullaney have helped Oregon State? Absolutely. But transferring to Alabama was what was best for him, the student-athlete.
“I do feel that there are cases where that [transfer] may be a viable option if it’s for academic reasons,” Saban said Wednesday.
But academics were not what people were talking about in 2016 when Bowling Green’s best player, receiver Gehrig Dieter, followed in Mullaney’s footsteps and transferred to Alabama.
Rules and waivers
The difference in Kennedy’s case is that he seeks a transfer within the conference.
Saban pointed out on Wednesday that the SEC has a rule that for a player to transfer within the league, he needs to sit out a season.
Of course, not all transfer situations are created equally, and that’s why the SEC has an appeals-and-waiver process.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey can, and has, looked at each situation on a case-by-case basis.
“The standard for granting waivers has been clear and compelling evidence that there is [a] reason for allowing an exception to SEC rules,” Sankey said in a 2016 AL.com story.
“I found, among other contributing factors, that a student-athlete who graduates in three years and exhibits a strong commitment to his or her academic future provides compelling motivation to help them achieve their goals on and off the field.”
Alabama’s staff makeup has changed several times under Saban, none of those coaches — coming or going in conference — have been required to sit out a year.
It’s a blatant double standard.
Saban indicated he doesn’t think it should reflect poorly on coaches when they try to support the rules that are in place.
Saban is missing the point.
What reflects poorly is a coach who only wants to be an advocate for players when it’s convenient to his cause.
“I’ve always been an advocate of players’ rights,” Saban said in a 2014 USA Today story. “I’ve always been an advocate of players being compensated the best that we can to help them.
“I think that having a voice in what happens is something that the players probably ought to have.”
Unless, it seems, it’s not what’s best for Nick Saban.