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Friday, September 30, 2016

Nick Saban is Just Wrong about Blake Barnett

Fact:  Top program in country recruits elite players. 

Speculation:  To program in country perhaps recruits too many of them.

Fact:  Only one quarterback can play that position at a time.

Speculation:  Top programs recruit many elite quarterbacks, realizing that not all can handle college, the pressure, their system and that not all improve after high school.

Fact:  Quarterbacks transfer.  Blake Barnett, a five-star recruit out of California, just pulled the plug on his stay at Alabama, will transfer to a junior college and then be eligible to play for an FBS program this time next year should he have the grades and credits.  Read more about his story and Saban's reaction here.

Analysis:  Barnett did not quit in the sense that Saban says he did.  Saban gets the analysis partially right -- the kids do get all sorts of ideas in their heads about how good they are and how much they should be playing.  Heck, the top programs help foster a system that creates a star system among recruits and pumps them up with all sorts of ideas as to what they can achieve at a big-name program.  It's a circular system, in that that's how the big-time programs get these kids -- by pumping them up or underscoring the hype.  Atop that, it used to be the case that the programs had all of the power and that a commitment meant an unbreakable bond between school and kid, even if it turned out that the kid will sit for most of his career because, well, he isn't all that good.  But it also was the case that programs tried to and succeeded to run kids off the team, precisely because they weren't all that good.  Today it's the case that programs cannot offer an unlimited amount of scholarships (they are limited to 85) and that scholarships are one-year renewable, which means that if a kid has a bad year, the team can "non-renew" him and cut him loose without any commitment to his education.  So if a program can do that, what's wrong with Blake Barnett's departure?  Perhaps the timing -- he isn't sticking out the year and he has no promise of a smooth path to a starting job elsewhere -- but that's about it. 

So why is Nick Saban wrong?  Because everyone simply doesn't have to do as he says.  Is it frustrating that a coach "never knows" who will stay and go and therefore a coach is frequently on edge about what his depth chart at QB can be?  Maybe.  But the coach can alleviate that pressure through building solid relationships with his QBs and engaging in meaningful conversations.  That's not to say that Saban didn't try that or do that in his mind, but that's not always the case.  It's hard to think of the term "poor Alabama" in this situation.  The Crimson Tide will get over this setback.  I do feel for the QB, because, well, he's a kid, and kids go through a wide range of thoughts and emotions about major decisions.  It may be that he's not as good as advertised, and it may be that Alabama just isn't a great fit or that he fears he'll sit behind the current starter for way too long.  That's his right, and it's his right to leave.  Besides, why would Saban want him in the locker room if he is this unhappy?  Isn't the goal to provide for the kid's happiness first?

Sorry, Nick, but the kids have very little power as it is.  College football and coaches like you have made it so.  Just remember that in the absence of a greater balance of power, you create a situation where kids can feel too pressured and sometimes squeezed.  Change the system and you might not get a precipitous departure.  Maybe.  At the end of the day, you might have gotten it right -- these are elite prospects who have a lot of people whispering into their ears and who have come to a program like Alabama on a wave of hype, whether it's justified or not.  That's the world you chose, so occasionally you have to realize and come to grips with the fact that it will disappoint you.


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