Hannah Karp and Darren Everson at the Wall Street Journal have decided to probe the Alabama football program and the topic of medical hardship scholarships. The results are interesting.
At least 12 times since coach Nick Saban took over the program in 2007, Alabama has offered players a "medical" scholarship, according to public statements made by the team. These scholarships, which are allowed under NCAA rules, are intended to make sure scholarship athletes who are too injured to play don't lose their financial aid. A player who receives one of these scholarships is finished playing with that team.
Three Alabama players who've taken these exemptions say they believe the team uses the practice as a way to clear spots for better players by cutting players it no longer wants. These players said they believe Mr. Saban and his staff pressure some players to take these scholarships even though their injuries aren't serious enough to warrant keeping them off the field.
"I'm still kind of bitter," said former Alabama linebacker Chuck Kirschman, who took a medical scholarship last year. Mr. Kirschman said Mr. Saban encouraged him to accept the scholarship because of a back problem that he believes he could have played through. "It's a business," Mr. Kirschman said. "College football is all about politics. And this is a loophole in the system."
The article is pretty much in line with everything we have been saying here on this topic, except this time it's actual former Alabama players saying the things we have said instead.
In light of the admission from former Alabama players that they felt pressured to take the medical hardship scholarships to free up scholarships, are we really still supposed to believe that guys like Star Jackson transfer completely on their own free will and that there is no pressure whatsoever from the coaching staff to move guys out in order to make the 85 limit every year.
"Alabama isn't the only school that has given players medical scholarships. Including the Crimson Tide, the 12 members of the Southeastern Conference have given at least 25 of these scholarships to football players in the past three years. Ultimately, it's the school's decision whether a player is healthy enough to play football."
No one is forced against their will to take a medical hardship, some players said they were pressured, some said they were not pressured.
In some cases, the players who took these scholarships say they didn't feel pressured. Charles Hoke, a former Alabama offensive lineman who took a medical scholarship in 2008 because of a shoulder problem, said the choice was left entirely up to him and was based on the many conversations he had with the team's doctors and trainers over the course of his junior year.
Others who took these scholarships say they believe the school is violating the spirit of the rule. Mr. Kirschman, the linebacker, said he injured his back in April 2008 but continued practicing with the team through the spring of 2009. That May, he was approached by coaches and trainers and asked to take a medical scholarship.
"I wasn't playing significant minutes, but I was personally upset because I did anything coach asked, I was a team player, I had a 4.0 average," said Mr. Kirschman, who played in two career games, both in 2008, and is now working full time as a robot programmer at Mercedes.
But that doesn't mean all of the players were happy about it.
On the surface this looks like the perfect little loophole to get around oversigning. These kids are given a scholarship to continue their education, so the coaches can sell them on that, plus the coaches can work the "it's for the good of the team and your school, which you'll still be able to attend" angle, which is much more appealing than, "hit the bricks we don't need you and we need to make room for better players."
Couldn't this be looked at as giving players money to go away instead of giving them money to come? "Hey, we'll give you $20-30K in the form of paid education and perks such as game tickets if you'll just leave your football scholarship so we can give it to someone else, and by the way, you'll need to sign this medical waiver so the NCAA doesn't slap us with rules violations and probation."
Mr. Kirschman said the school offered in the summer of 2009 to pay for his graduate degree in business—an offer he accepted—and that he still gets some of the same perks as players. "I still get game tickets, which is nice," he says.
Mr. Kirschman said the decision to take the medical scholarship was ultimately his, and that he decided to do it to open up a scholarship for the good of the team. But he said he felt he was pressured. "It was pushed," he said. "It was instigated for several players."
In today's day and age, it's becoming increasingly harder to give players money and gifts on the front-end to entice them to come to a school without someone noticing, so why not give it on the back end to make room for better players. That is what this is all about. You don't build the kind of teams LSU, Alabama, and UNC have, as quickly as they have, without making as much room as possible for new, better players.
Just like the oversigning abuse, this is an issue that is being exploited by certain schools and it needs to end. You would think the schools that abuse these loopholes would take more pride in just competing straight-up without having to bend every rule in the book or exploit every loophole, but that is obviously not the case some places. What good is winning a National Championship if you oversigned 40+ guys in a 4 year period and ran off a bunch of kids in the process? And shame on the conference commissioners, athletic directors, and university presidents that allow their coaches to do this kind of stuff to innocent kids.