In a story ESPN The Magazine published on the birth of Georgia State's football program, they interviewed recent Alabama transfer Star Jackson, and when we read the following quote the first thought we had was William Bradford Huie said this 69 years ago.
"Bama is a machine. You do it like this, and if you don't -- your ass isn't playing."
Star Jackson's transfer to Georgia State has drawn a lot of attention, primarily because of when it occurred (which was after Saban accepted more signed letters of intent then he had room for when he accepted them AND after Jackson spent the summer competing against a new QB recruit 5* Sims for a spot on the roster) and the circumstances surrounding his transfer.
His comment regarding Alabama and calling it a machine rings a bell for us because one of the first posts on this site was about a man named William Bradford Huie. Huie wrote a spectacular piece on his Alma Mater in 1941 called How to Keep Football Stars in College, and in his piece he refers to Alabama as a machine.
"Three thousand hopeful young men have entered the University of Alabama to play football during the fifteen years I have been close to that machine. Fifteen hundred fell out by the end of the first semester. All of these initial casualties had played football in high school and had learned little else. When the athletic department dropped them, what could they do? Even if their parents could afford to send them to classes, they were not prepared. They had come to college prepared only to play football. Had football not robbed them of their opportunities in high school some of them might have worked out successful college careers."
More from his piece here. The problem back in the old days at Alabama was not the scholarship limit, but the 5-year eligibility rule.
"The Red Shirts composed the "suspension" squad. They were the fifty or more prospects who had already served their time on the freshman squad but had not yet been chosen for the varsity. You see, under the five-year eligibility rule in the Southeastern Conference a boy can play a year on the freshman squad, a year on some intermediate squad, and still play out his full three-year varsity career. Thus in the spring the coaches look over the varsity and see what is needed to fill the holes resulting from what the sports writers politely call "graduation." They look over the Red Shirts first since they are older and better developed. Then they pick up a few from the freshman squad. Next they consign the rest of the freshmen to the Red Shirt pool to grow and develop another year. The chaff portion of the Red Shirt squad is then fired off the pay roll, and the brain trust promptly allows them to flunk and fall out of school. This fate will already have caught up with more than a hundred freshmen before the end of the first semester."
We highly recommend you read our previous post on his piece and read his entire article yourself.
Things have changed a great deal since Huie's time, or have they? Sure there are scholarship limits now and the sheer numbers have changed, but based on Star Jackson's story and his calling Alabama a machine, how much has really changed? Guys are still trying out for scholarship spots against oversigned rosters and fighting an uphill battle against numbers, just like back in the day. Things were a lot more brutal back in those days, guys nowadays are at least getting medical hardship scholarships and opportunities to transfer to other schools.
In the end, the bottom line is that institutions of higher learning are not supposed to be football "machines." And according to the NCAA mission statement they exist to ensure that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount, not the sports experience.