Nick Saban Joins Houston Nutt in the Fight to Keep Oversigning

It appears the battle lines are taking shape as the SEC meetings draw near.  On one side we have the chronic oversigners clamouring to come up with excuses as to why oversigning should remain in tact, reasons such as “It’s a very difficult job to try to manage, to keep two, three deep at every position” (Houtson Nutt), or  "oversigning is 'helpful' because so many of the players in the state come from underprivileged backgrounds and may not qualify academically" (Steve Spurrier), or  "I don't see it as a bad thing unless you're being dishonest or waiting until the last minute, which eliminates their visit opportunities with other schools" (Bobby Petrino).

Nick Saban added his name to the list of coaches that will fight to keep oversigning alive and well in the SEC on Thursday.

"The innuendo out there is that all these things are being manipulated in a negative way," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "But nobody has ever really brought to the forefront the positives by doing it the right way. People hang onto all the situations that aren't done the right way and act like in every situation that somebody is getting screwed in some sort of way, and that's just not the case."


Shouldn't the situations like Elliott Porter, Chris Garrett, and Steven Wesley be the situations that everyone holds onto, not the positives?  Did he even mention any positives other than the competitive advantage aspect?  The stories of kids having their scholarship offers pulled the day before signing day by Spurrier and their High School coaches being irate about it, shouldn't that be what we hold on to? 

If just one kid gets screwed by oversigning, isn't it enough to seriously crack down on the practice?  Think about it in terms of the way the NCAA creates its rules.  Often times, an NCAA rule is created not because the area in question is nefarious, such as the rules regarding selling personal memorabilia, but rather because of the potential for abuse.  The rules regarding selling personal memorabilia are in place to prevent a booster from buying a jersey from a player for $100K, not because they don't want some kid selling his ring at a fraction of its value.  Even if you believe that oversigning only harms a few and only when not done right, shouldn't it be addressed in the same way as the rules regarding selling memorabilia?  What's more harmful, a kid getting a few extra bucks or some poor kid losing his scholarship at the last minute because a coach oversigned his class to bring in better talent so that he can keep making his millions of dollars?

Those positives that Saban refers to by the way are the competitive advantage that these coaches gain by exploiting this practice.  Nearly every coach that oversigns has stated that it provides them with an advantage.

"In my opinion, it would really affect the quality in our league," Saban said. "You can't know the attrition from signing day until August, which guys who're going to be fifth-year seniors that decide they don't want to come back and play football. Well, you can't count those guys. You're going to have to tell those guys they're going to have to decide in January.


This is where the competitive advantage issue comes into play.  By oversigning, coaches can bring in a few extra guys and work them through the spring while at the same time working the 5th year guys that have eligibility remaining, and then after spring training is over coaches can make a decision as to whether or not they want to renew a 5th year guy who may or may not have graduated yet, knowing all along they have an ace in the hole and will end up with the best 85.  The coaches want their cake and eat it too. 

Why is it that 5th year guys can't make a decision as to whether or not they want to come back in January, but Juniors leaving early for the NFL can?  Are Juniors that much more prepared to make a life-altering decision than 5th year seniors?

Furthermore, if the question is whether or not they want to come back, isn't their participation in spring practice an indication that they would like to come back?  Just recently Alabama had a 5th year RB Demetrius Goode participate in spring practice, indicating he hadn't given up on football, but then after spring practice decided he wanted to go to UNA instead.  Perhaps he wanted playing time, fine.  But can't that decision be made in January at the same time Juniors make decisions to go to the NFL? 

On the other side of the battle line you have Florida and Georgia who have both been very outspoken about the abuses of oversigning and greyshirting.  Mark Richt has been especially outspoken about the abuses taking place:

Georgia coach Mark Richt is in the opposite camp. He said that it was an "awful thing to do" to bring in players to participate in the summer strength program and then ask some to leave or wait until January to sign based on which ones performed the best.

He didn't stop there, either.

"These other coaches have been oversigning, trying to make sure they never come up short of that 85 number," Richt said earlier this month at a Georgia booster club speaking engagement in Greenville, S.C. "But in doing so, have they done it in an ethical way?

"I'd say the answer is probably not."


It has become extremely clear that the coaches that want to continue oversigning all want  you to believe that there is nothing wrong with the practice as long as it is done the right way.  Again, there is nothing wrong with selling your jersey for a few bucks, so long as you don't sell it to a booster for $100K, right?

At the end of the day it all comes back to the competitive advantage aspect of the argument and the pressure on these coaches to win.  These coaches are under more pressure to win than anywhere else in the country, so of course they want  you to believe their practice of oversigning is okay as long as it's done right, they can't afford to live without it based on the pressure to win.

Houston Nutt is already starting to feel the affects of the 28 rule, named in his honor, and he knows if further rules are passed that he could be in serious jeopardy of losing his multi-million dollar job, so of course he's fighting for the right to continue to exploit the spirit of the signing process and the loopholes inherent to the NCAA's 25/85 rule.

Quick Note Regarding the Medical Hardship Aspect of the new Legislation:

The new legislation that is on the table includes a proposal to address the issue of medical hardships and how those are being used to game the system and fudge the scholarship numbers.  As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Nick Saban's medical hardship numbers are way above the norm, and then when former players were asked about those medical hardships and whether or not they felt pressured to take them the players revealed that they were pressured and that they thought the medical hardship was loophole used to bring in better players.

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."


That is THREE former players coming out and saying they believed the team used the medical hardships to clear roster space for better players, one of which says he's still bitter about it calling it a business and a loophole.

Here is what Nick Saban had to say about it.

Saban is also quick to defend the charge that he pressures players into taking medical redshirts or dismisses players who aren't contributing on the field in order to open up more scholarship room each year.

"First of all, I've never gotten rid of a player who didn't create his own circumstances for why he had to leave the program, whether it was academic, whether it was behavior, whether it was drug-related, whatever," Saban said. "Really, I've always given guys more rope than they deserve, and I think the innuendo out there is that I'm just picking and choosing which guys to run off, and people bring it up that I've medical-ed more people. Well, yeah, I medical them so they can stay in school and graduate, where other people just get rid of them. I don't make those decisions, either. The doctors make them, and we have great doctors."

In one breath Saban says, "I medical them so they can stay in school," and in the next breath he says, "I don't make those decisions, either.  The doctors make them, and we have great doctors."  Which one is it?  Who is making the final decision to issue the medical hardship?  Hard to believe everything is on the up and up when you have 3 players claiming they were wrongly pressured to take those medical hardships to clear roster space and another player calling it a loophole.

The new proposal on the table includes a measure for medical hardship monitoring, but is it enough?

Giving the SEC league office more oversight concerning those players placed on medical scholarship. In other words, the league would be involved in reviewing outcomes. A team doctor, trainer and athletic director would need to sign off on each case.


The new legislation would require 3 people to sign off on the medical waiver, does anyone in their right mind believe that a trainer or an athletic director are going to go against the decision of a doctor?  And if what we read above from Saban is true, it appears that he has great influence on whether or not a medical is issued to a player.  The details are still unclear, but you have to believe the athletic director would only be signing off on whether or not to grant the medical hardship or to just not renew the player -- if coaches are allowed to continue oversigning and continue to be in a numbers crunch, is there an athletic director out there that is going to refuse to sign off on a medical hardship and have his school face NCAA violations for going over the 85 limit?

Unless there are more details regarding the medical hardship oversight, what we have on the table doesn't appear to be anything other than window dressing in reaction to the WSJ piece on Alabama's medical hardships. 

We have a couple of suggestions: 1. many of these medical hardships are the result of a numbers crunch because of oversigning, eliminate the oversigning and you would see a drastic decline in the number of medical hardships issued by schools that oversign, 2. have the NCAA conduct an exit interview with the kids placed on medical hardship so that guys like the 3 Alabama players who told the WSJ that they thought they were being pushed out to make room for better players can tell the NCAA and have the NCAA conduct an investigation.

Filed under: SEC 92 Comments

Quick Thoughts on Medical Hardship Scholarships

Nick Saban's abuse of the medical hardship scholarship, which has been documented by the WSJ in a piece called Alabama's Unhappy Castoffs, has caused a lot of controversy.  The number of players placed on medical hardships in addition with comments such as these from a former player tends to raise a collective eye brow and point it in Nick Saban and Alabama's direction.   

"It's a business," Mr. Kirschman said. "College football is all about politics. And this is a loophole in the system."

"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.

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."

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.

How can anyone read those comments and not think that there is something wrong with the current system for determining a medical disqualification?  If a student-athlete is injured enough to warrant a disqualification why should there ever be the need to get them to agree to it?  Furthermore, why should they be asked to take a medical hardship by coaches and trainers?  Shouldn't a doctor be the one to make the final determination and disqualify the student-athlete?  Instead, we have a WSJ report where a student-athlete says he felt pressured into the disqualification and that others who took these scholarships, but wouldn't go on record with their names, believed the school was violating the spirit of the rule.  Forget that it's Alabama -- this could be any school in the country and it would still be a serious problem.  This is a problem of college football becoming more and more like the NFL than it is about one particular school abusing the rules.

The NCAA by-laws state that the player must be unable to PARTICIPATE ever again; it says nothing about being able to compete at a certain performance level.  How do you define participation?  Guys that are walk-ons that never see the field participate, guys that are on a medical redshirt, which is different than a medical hardship in that medical redshirt players are only sitting out for a year and plan to return, are able to participate.  So how was Mr. Kirschman, who was PRACTICING with the team unable to participate according to the NCAA by-laws below? Counter Who Becomes Injured or Ill.  A counter who becomes injured or ill to the point that he or she apparently never again will be able to participate in intercollegiate athletics shall not be considered a counter beginning with the academic year following the incapacitating injury or illness. Incapacitating Injury or Illness. If an incapacitating injury or illness occurs prior to a prospective student-athlete’s or a student-athlete’s participation in athletically related activities and
results in the student-athlete’s inability to compete ever again, the student-athlete shall not be counted within the institution’s maximum financial aid award limitations for the current, as well as later academic years.

We believe he was able to participate but was pushed into a medical hardship in order to free up scholarship space, which in our opinion is unethical, skirts the NCAA by-laws for medical disqualification, and looks very much like something that would happen on an NFL team, not in college athletics.

In a recent article regarding how Nick Saban runs the Alabama football program, Greg McElroy is quoted as saying that the program is run like a professional organization.  The type of professional organization that he is referring to is most certainly an NFL franchise.

"At Alabama we're all professionals except we're not being paid," McElroy said. "The fact remains we live in a professional organization. Coach (Nick) Saban runs a professional organization. He expects you to be punctual in the way you arrive in meetings. He expects you to come and not wear a hat to meetings. He expects your hair to be a certain length. There's rules and regulations within the organization that are run like a professional franchise."


In the NFL teams are limited to 53 players, but they are also allowed to utilize an injured reserve roster.  In order to free up a spot on the 53 man roster, NFL teams are allowed to move injured players to the reserve roster and replace the player with someone from free-agency or from the draft.  The player on IR is not allowed to practice or play with the team until the end of the season, at which time the coaching staff can reevaluate the roster and the health of the players on IR and make roster changes as needed.  College football doesn't have free-agency (yet) and it is generally accepted that when a student-athlete commits to a school the intention is to be there for 4 years and get an education while playing football.  In addition, there are transfer rules in place that require a student-athlete to sit out a year after transferring, so it is really difficult on a player to change schools in the middle of his career -- this is completely unlike the NFL.

What we think we are seeing with the abuse of the medical hardship scholarship and the large number of players that are being pushed into it is that some coaches who run their college football programs like a professional NFL team are using the medical hardship scholarship as an injured reserve loophole. 

This raises a lot of questions.  Let's take Alabama and Nick Saban's name off of this and just talk about the issue -- this is not a hit piece on Alabama or Nick Saban and this topic can be discussed without focusing in on the particulars of the Alabama case in the WSJ.  Here are some general questions for discussion.

1. How do we reform the Medical Hardship Scholarship process and ensure that kids are not being pushed into taking one because a coach is oversigned and needs to make space in the roster?

2. If a student-athlete is given an inducement to take a medical hardship scholarship, such as season tickets in Mr. Kirschman's case, is it a violation of either the written NCAA by-laws or the spirit of the by-laws?  You can't give a kid season tickets to commit to come to a school on a football scholarship, why should you be able to give him season tickets to leave, or any inducement for that matter?

3. How do you feel about coaches trying to make college football more like the NFL?

4. At what point does college football become so much like the NFL that players have to start being paid?  It appears in some places they are already dealing with annual roster cuts, being placed on an IR list, and essentially drafted and placed in farm systems...all we need is a player's union, free agency, and to have the players quit going to classes and we'll have a mini NFL.   

We ask these questions because we see the direction all of this is heading with the oversigning, roster cuts, medical hardships, pay-for-play, etc., and if you love college football like we do all of this is headed in the wrong direction.

Filed under: SEC 100 Comments

Michigan State Player Diagnosed with Cancer Keeps Football Scholarship for 3 Years

Arthur Ray Jr. accepted a scholarship offer from Michigan State in 2007 and signed a letter of intent with the Spartan during his senior year in high school.  The day before the MSU spring game that year, shortly after he arrived at Michigan State, Ray was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.

This kid has endured 14 hour surgeries, chemo, and had his tibia removed for 8 weeks and reinserted.  And never once was his FOOTBALL SCHOLARSHIP in danger.  Never once did ANYONE at Michigan State consider pushing this poor kid out of the football program and onto a medical scholarship so they can free up his spot and give it to someone better who can help them win more games, or heck just play in a game.   Instead they all sucked it up and kept Arthur Ray a part of the team.

"This doctor, he didn't have too good of bedside manner," he said. "He was just like, 'You've got to start immediate chemotherapy. Throw football out the window. The most you'll do is run around with your grandkids.' I'm 17. I'm not trying to hear that at all. I'm not thinking about grandkids.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A large man appears at the entrance to the Skandalaris Football Center, braces himself with his crutches, swings open the door and hobbles inside.

The interview will be held on the second floor, and while the stairs are navigable, the football-shaped elevator is the safer option. When Arthur Ray Jr. reaches his destination, the lobby outside Michigan State's football offices, he lowers himself onto a couch and places his crutches to the side.

The crutches have accompanied Ray since July 2007, when he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his right leg. Last week, doctors gave him the go-ahead to use only one crutch, but he hasn't fully supported himself for nearly 21 months.

He has enough hardware in his leg to fill a shelf at Ace or Home Depot. He has undergone four surgeries in addition to several other chemotherapy procedures. Amputation is still a word doctors use around Ray, who had a type of bone cancer that often results in patients losing a limb.

Bottom line: Ray doesn't look like a man who could play offensive line for Michigan State.

If Ray's leg continues to heal and can supply blood to the infected area to support his 6-foot-3, 307-pound frame, he can start increasing his activity. He returns to Chicago every six months for a series of tests -- MRI, X-ray, CT, bone scan -- and so far everything has been clean.

"Walking is the big step," Ray said. "Because before I can run, I've got to walk. Before I can sprint, I've got to run."

But skipping steps or rushing his rehab could have disastrous consequences. Infection remains a major risk, and Dietzel constantly stresses the importance of taking things slow.

"If you don't stay off of this and allow it to heal, the plates and the screws and the rod that's in your leg cannot support your weight by themselves," Dietzel tells Ray. "Bottom line is we are going to amputate your leg.

"My discussions with him are essentially, 'I want you to leave here in four or five years with a degree, being able to walk down the aisle and get your diploma and not going down with crutches or a wheelchair.' If he does play football, that's just gravy."

But football remains in the forefront of Ray's mind. He attended practices throughout the spring, wearing his No. 73 jersey on the sideline.


Regardless of what side of the fence you are on with regards to the debate over medical hardships, we strongly encourage you to read the entire story, it is truly unbelievable.

And the next time you read a Wall Street Journal article about Nick Saban's former players who felt they were pushed into medical hardship scholarships and asked to leave the team in order to free up scholarship space under the NCAA 85 limit, think about Arthur Ray Jr. and his missing tibia, chemo, and bone cancer, and how Michigan State didn't kick him to the curb and off the football team just so they could get a better player and have a better chance at winning games.

Also think about Arthur Ray Jr. the next time you hear Alabama placing a guy on a medical hardship scholarship when his knee won't function effectively.

“He hasn’t been out there at practice, so he is getting a medical,” Saban said. “He can not function effectively on his knee. Those things happen on occasion. He tried to go through the summer conditioning program and struggled. It’s always a mutual decision when we make that decision with a player, as to what he wants to do in the future.”

Bottom line, if you aren't at practice, Nick Saban has no need for you.

Medical Hardship Scholarships Under Nick Saban

Year Player
2007 Tyrone Prothro
2007 Arron McDaniel
2007 Jake Jones
2007 Byron Walton
2008 Ivan Matchett
2008 Charles Hoke
2009 Jeramie Griffin
2009 Charlie Kirschman
2010 Darius McKeller
2010 Taylor Pharr
2010 MiltonTalbert

The real issue here is that the medical hardship is a safety net of last resort and Nick Saban has made a mockery of the process by using it as a tool to trim his roster, but as those who would defend him would say, it's legal.  Our advice to the guys currently on the roster - stay healthy - most likely 8-10 of you will have to go by next August.

Filed under: Big 10 29 Comments

Paul Finebaum Interviews WSJ’s Darren Everson

Those of you who are really passionate about the topic of oversigning and interested in hearing more about the Wall Street Journal article Alabama's Unhappy Castoffs should find Paul Finebaum's (a sports talk show host on Sirius Satellite Radio) interview with the author of the article, Darren Everson, interesting. 

The Darren Everson interview comes around the 20 minute mark in the link below.


One thing that we found interesting was that it was Phil Steele's list of "players lost for the year" that triggered Everson to do a little more investigative work on the specific topic of medical hardships.  Everson states in the interview that Alabama's numbers, and a couple of other teams, really stood out; Alabama having 3 medical hardships in one year and roughly 12 since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa stood out to him and prompted him to take a closer look.

Obviously, Everson was well aware of the numbers crunch for Alabama over the last couple of recruiting seasons, and he mentions that he was interested to see if there was a connection between the medical hardships and the roster crunch. 

Everson made a couple of phone calls to players and as it turns out some of the guys he interviewed, not all of them willing to go on record out of fear of possible backlash from what they have to say, said that they feel as though they were pushed in the direction of taking a medical hardship to free up a scholarship for a new recruit, AND that they thought that not only did it happen to them, but that they thought it was something the coaching staff did to other players as well.  It's important to note that a few players did go public with their comments, but it would really be interesting to hear what those who wouldn't go public had to say - sure wish the NCAA could interview those players and find out their side of the story. 

Part of the problem here is that the by-laws and the process for handling medical hardships are somewhat of a grey area, even the NCAA by-laws are a little vague. Counter Who Becomes Injured or Ill.  A counter who becomes injured or ill to the point that he or she apparently never again will be able to participate in intercollegiate athletics shall not be considered a counter beginning with the academic year following the incapacitating injury or illness. Incapacitating Injury or Illness. If an incapacitating injury or illness occurs prior to a prospective student-athlete’s or a student-athlete’s participation in athletically related activities and
results in the student-athlete’s inability to compete ever again, the student-athlete shall not be counted within the institution’s maximum financial aid award limitations for the current, as well as later academic

One key word for us is the word PARTICIPATE.  What do you define as participation?  To us it could be defined as doing everything with the team except contact drills, scrimmages, or playing, which would leave individual drill work, film study, team meetings, etc.  There are ways to participate in intercollegiate athletics without actually playing on the field on game days...walk-ons and scout team guys do it every week.

This is yet another example of the NCAA writing vague by-laws that speak to the spirit of the rules instead of the factual details that need to be monitored and regulated.  No different than the by-laws for signing players.  The NCAA is trying to give schools and players enough room to protect the student-athlete, but they leave enough room for crass coaches interested in winning above all else to exploit the loopholes and gain a competitive advantage, use youngsters like pieces of meat, and lower the overall ethical standards of the game.


There are a couple of solutions to this problem (abusing medical hardships and pushing kids to accept them in order to get an oversigned roster down to 85, which is clearly what Alabama, LSU, and UNC have done over the last 4 years). 

1. The NCAA should hire a third-party medical team to provide a final exit examination so that some of these mysterious medical conditions can be investigated.

2. The NCAA should create an exit interview for players who transfer or who are asked to take a medical hardship scholarship.  An exit interview, where players can speak freely about what they were told or asked of by the coaching staff would have revealed that there are players at Alabama that have been pushed into taking a medical hardship in order to free up room and avoid NCAA penalties for going over the 85 scholarship limit.

3. Make the medical hardship scholarships count towards the 85 limit and make guys continue to earn their financial aid.  Unless a student-athlete is paralyzed from the waist down, there are plenty of things they can do to earn their scholarship and help the team. 

4. Eliminate the motivation to use this loophole.  If you eliminate oversigning then you can drastically cut down or eliminate all together situations where coaches are looking to push innocent players off the football team in order to make room for better players.

Common Arguments and More from the Paul Finebaum Radio Show: 

1. This happens everywhere, what's the problem?  No. This does not happen everywhere, according to Darren Everson there were 25 Medical Hardships in the SEC and 12 of them were Alabama's.  But that's not the real issue, it's the combination of three things that makes it an issue, and those of you that want to argue against this to really pay attention here:  A.) It's the higher than average number of medical hardships, B.) combined with a motive to issue those hardships (being oversigned and needed to cut players to get down to 85, and most importantly, C.) combined with the FACT that you have ALABAMA players ON RECORD stating that they think they were pushed into the medical hardship IN AN EFFORT TO WORK THE RECRUITING NUMBERS OUT and BRING IN BETTER PLAYERS.

If you take away those 3 factors then there is nothing wrong with the medical hardship, in fact, it is great and should be preserved.

2. This is just another example of northern media out to put down the SEC.  No, it's not.  This is a widely recognized issue that has been addressed by media outlets around the country.  That is nothing more than a lame excuse.

The sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, Cecil Hurt, tried to use that as an excuse or a reason as to why this is an issue, he even went so far as to say that this is all coming from the Big 10 in response to losing to the SEC all the time.  Cecil Hurt is very well respected, but he is slightly off in his comments.  If anyone has been affected by oversigning in terms of competitive advantage it has been the ACC who signs the fewest number of players of any BCS conference and has a miserable record against the SEC.   His comments are at 32:20 in the link below.


3. This is all not true.  Typical argument from a delusional fan that is willing to do whatever it takes to defend his team or coach.  Finebaum actually had a guy call in and take this position with him, to which Finebaum responds with the following...go to the 3:45 mark in this link and listen to this argument.  


4. This freaking article is a bunch of crap - you could write this article about any of the 119 teams.  Another insane argument posed to Finebaum in the link above at the 21:00 minute mark.

5. This is not against the rules. Yes, medical hardships are not against the rules, but does anyone like the idea of a school abuse them to gain an advantage?  Probably not.

Note: The site to the links for the audio is temporarily down; will probably be up again soon.  Be sure to come back and check out the audio, it's well worth it if you enjoy discussing this topic.

Filed under: SEC 9 Comments

Medical Hardship Scholarship Abuse

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.

To be fair, Alabama is not alone here, LSU and UNC are just as bad when it comes to abusing the bogus medical hardship scholarship loophole.

"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.

Filed under: ACC, SEC 59 Comments

LSU’s March to 85 – Clay Spencer

We recently added LSU to the March to 85 list and had their magic number at 2 in order to get down to 85.  It is now down to 1 with the departure of Clay Spencer to the coveted medical hardship scholarship, which makes 3 for LSU this year. 


The March to 85 - LSU

Player Position Reason for Leaving
Akiem Hicks Defensive Tackle Removed from the team - was involved in NCAA investigation
Kyle Prater Linebacker Transfer
Jhyryn Taylor Wide Receiver Transfer
Thomas Parsons Fullback Medical Hardship Scholarship
John Williams Wide Receiver Medical Hardship Scholarship
Clay Spencer Offensive Lineman Medical Hardship Scholarship
Chris Garrett QB Cut - Scholarship Not Renewed
Houston Bates Defensive End Released from LOI in April; refused Greyshirt
Elliott Porter Offensive Lineman Asked to Greyshirt in AUGUST; refused Greyshirt; released

Filed under: SEC 1 Comment

The Oversigning Cup v1.0

We mentioned a while back that we would like to award the team with the most oversigned roster going into the fall with a special award, The Oversigning Cup.  As it turns out, Matt Hinton (Dr. Saturday), has already done the legwork for the 2009 class.  It appears the 2009 Cup goes to Alabama.  It also appears as though they are working on back to back Cups, as they lead the 2010 race with yet again 10 players too many.  Currently that number is down to 7 due to 2 players not returning for their last year of eligibility and 1 medical hardship scholarship.

Matt wrote  a great piece on oversigning and hit the nail on the head.

"These numbers are always murky enough that they fall into the category of "best guess," but Alabama, North Carolina, Auburn and UCLA -- and probably some other schools that weren't part of the very small group I delved into -- are all far enough over the line here that, if the season started today, I'm confident they'd have to straight up cut some kids with whom they had a mutual commitment."



Medical Hardship Scholarships

During our investigation into Alabama's attrition, codenamed "The March to 85," we have stumbled across two things that have really baffled the life out of us, medical hardship scholarships and the Bryant scholarship program.  But before we dive off into the Bryant scholarship topic, we want to recap the medical hardship scholarship process that moves an injured football player from his football scholarship onto a "medical hardship" scholarship so that he can finish his education on scholarship but not have it count against the limit of 85 players.  Plus we want to share the story of Zeke Knight.

To the best of our knowledge medical hardships are handled on a university by university basis, meaning that each school's medical team determines, on their own, which players are deemed medically eligible to play or not.   This is not something that is regulated by the NCAA, and to the best of our knowledge a player can not hire a doctor on his own or challenge a medical ruling by the school's doctors. 

Once the school's medical team deems you as medically ineligible that is pretty much it; it then becomes a decision by the head coach as to whether or not the player should be released from his football scholarship to free it up to be used on a new recruit or to allow the player to continue to contribute in whatever limited capacity for which he is medically cleared.  In some cases there is no question that the coach has absolutely no say in the decision.  However, as we pointed out earlier, Mike D'Andrea remained on football scholarship and continued to rehab and work with the team at Ohio State for 3 years after his initial injury - and although he never saw the field again, he graduated with his class and worked with the team in whatever capacity he was cleared to and given the nature of his injuries we can only imagine that at times he couldn't do much more than walk around on crutches and attend team meetings or film review sessions. 

Alabama's Zeke Knight on the other hand was placed on medical hardship scholarship and released from his football scholarship, but didn't believe that he should have been removed and filed a request to transfer to a smaller school in hopes of continuing to play out his career. 

"In a very heartfelt speech, Coach Saban thanked Zeke, but said he could no longer play at Alabama for medical reasons.

He said:

"Zeke is a fine young man and we appreciate all that he has done for this program.  Zeke did a great job for us as a starter and, more importantly, is on track to graduate in August. I would like nothing more than to have him with us for one more season on the football field... I wish him and his family nothing but the best. Zeke Knight will always be a part of the Crimson Tide family."

With that, he graduated from Alabama and wasn't sure where to turn with eligibility left. He needed to figure out what it was he had and how to take care of himself. He took some time off to get well and regain medical clearance. Knight said, “I felt like I might as well go back for one more year and eliminate all the questions about me being able to play.” Knight said he considered several options. After a year away from football, a host of skeptical cardiologists, neurologists and other doctors examined him. After hours of testing Zeke to see if he was able to play the sport he loved again, on July 30, 2009, they completely cleared Zeke to play football. His APO was resolved and the clinical neurological examination did not reveal any localizing cranial, motor, sensory or reflex deficits.

What to do? “It kind of dawned on me a little bit, like maybe I was meant to finish my last year in Tuscaloosa,” Knight said. After all, he now bled Crimson and had so many friends in Tuscaloosa.

His new Coach, said it best, “People had doubts that he could play anymore. It was a life-threatening situation for him. He made it through, and we got one more (year of eligibility by the NCAA)... I take my hat off to the young man.” After seeing him play, his coach bragged, "It helps us to get Ezekial Knight. He’s a real experienced linebacker that’s going to really bring something to the table for me... I’m very impressed with him. I can see why he played at the University of Alabama. That guy, to me, is a top-round draft choice. He’s an amazing football player... Zeke is a quiet leader. He doesn’t say very much on the field, but he’s always working to get better.” Stats were not well tracked at Stillman, but Zeke had around 8.5 sacks, second in the nation in Division II. He had around 42 tackles, 3 forced fumbles (2 returned by teammates for touchdowns), and 1 interception.

He finished well and now Zeke Knight is looking towards proving that, like Tedy Bruschi, he has the (healed) heart... and courage of a Knight. He is ready for the next level, with only his past as his present obstacle."


This is an emotional topic and an emotional story, no question.  There is also no question that anyone could argue that the University of Alabama was simply doing what they thought was best for Zeke Knight given his health condition, and after all, if something were to happen to Zeke, the University doctors could be liable for putting him at risk.  You could walk that argument into a court of law (or public opinion) and win every single time without breaking a sweat.

There is, however, another side to this story, one that is going to sound like we are trying to spin Zeke's story into a tale of blatant player abuse, one that probably makes it sound like Nick Saban has no heart and is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer.  We don't believe any of those things.  Nick Saban at his worst is only guilty of being a high-paid coach who is being paid millions of dollars to win football games, championships specifically, nothing more, nothing less.  It's up to each individual to determine whether or not they think that Saban will win at any cost or whether or not he discards players in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.  We happen to think he does by the way, but that is just our opinion. 

The other side of Zeke Knight's story is that the year he was released from his football scholarship and placed on a medical hardship scholarship was also the same year that Nick Saban signed 32 new recruits to Alabama and was facing a tremendous numbers crunch in order to get his roster down to 85 players or face penalties from the NCAA.  Nick Saban and Alabama were also coming off of a dismal 7-6 season and it was imperative that Saban improve the team immediately to justify his salary, which at the time was one of the highest in college football.

Zeke Knight was not alone in the list of players that were removed from football scholarships in order to get the roster down to 85, several others were removed for various reasons as shown above.

In addition to Alabama being in a numbers crunch, it probably didn't help Knight's case any that Saban had signed 4 linebackers that year, 1 five star and 3 four star, and freshman linebacker Rolando McClain was bursting onto the scene as a future star.

Honestly, if not the for the oversigning and the mandatory roster cuts as a result of oversigning, we probably wouldn't scrutinize things like this so much, but when you have a coach and program that are habitual abusers of oversigning one can't help but find situations like Zeke Knight's extremely intriguing or suspicious.  Let's put it this way, if Saban took regular numbers and didn't need to cut players in order to get his roster down to 85 and avoid NCAA violations, and Zeke Knight was still released from his football scholarship, we would be much more inclined to think that Knight's departure had nothing to do with roster cuts.  In fact, we would probably be writing a piece on what a stand up guy Saban was for protecting Knight at the risk of roster shortfalls and depth problems at his position - we would be commending Saban for recruiting by the numbers in the spirit of maintaining a level playing field and not abusing loopholes, and for putting his own career at risk in order to do the right thing both by the game of college football and by Zeke Knight.  But that's not what happened, instead Saban over-stuffed his roster with scholarship commitments and had no choice but to pick 8-10 guys to cut from the team.  It is that simple.

Moving players to a medical scholarship, in legitimate cases, is a win win scenario, the player gets to continue his education for free and it lessens the likelihood of APR penalties for the school because as long as the player continues his education and graduates the school is in the clear; it also frees up the player's football scholarship so that it can be given to a new recruit.  Seems harmless.

We found several cases of legitimate medical hardship cases, but for some reason, medical hardship scholarships and oversigning seem to go hand in had at Alabama, and other schools such as North Carolina; whereas you just don't see or hear about it anywhere else around the country.  We did some digging on Ohio State's medical hardship cases and found about 4 or 5 over the last ten years; Saban has that many in 2 or 3. 

The only thing we know to do is to somehow get oversigning removed (for real) and then let's see if the medical hardships continue, and if they do then we know they were legit; the only downside, for guys like Saban, is that once you do away with oversigning, the medical hardships become holes in the roster that lead to depth problems.

Filed under: Coaching, SEC 6 Comments

Mike D’Andrea, No Medical Hardship Scholarship

If you can't already tell, we've been bitten by the medical hardship scholarship bug.  If anyone out there can help shed some light on the topic it would be greatly appreciated.  In the meantime we are going to look for cases of players who we know were injured badly enough to be unable to continue to contribute to the team on the field, yet remained on football scholarship and remained part of the team. 

Despite how warn and fuzzy it feels to hear that an injured player is given a free ride to continue his education as long as he leaves the football team to free up a scholarship for another player, we believe that guys in this situation, unless they simply can't walk, should be allowed to stay with the team, work hard at whatever capacity they can, and continue to earn their scholarship by working as hard as they can, instead of just kicking them to the curb with a free meal ticket in order to avoid APR penalties, but then again, we believe in commitment and teaching guys commitment by sticking with them through injuries and continuing to mold and shape them through the 4 most life-altering years of their lives.  Of course we're not getting paid $4 Million Dollars a year to win football games either, though. 

Maybe for some coaches the pressure to win is so great that they don't have a problem talking a kid into leaving the team and taking a medical hardship scholarship (which we still don't understand how it works other than the player has to leave the team and he gets his education paid for).

First stop, Mike D'Andrea, former #1 linebacker recruit from the 2001 recruiting class.

 "Mike D’Andrea (6-3, 248, Sr.) – D’Andrea was the third member of the shining 2001 recruiting class that included Clarrett and Zwick (and, of course, Smith) but, so far, Mike’s career at OSU has been plagued with bad luck and injuries. A man-child as a freshman, D’Andrea worked hard and saw some playing time backing up Matt Wilhelm but had shortened sophomore and junior seasons. His junior season ending with knee surgery. He sat out all of last year and seems to be struggling to get back in health for this season. If he can get everything together and stay healthy, OSU will be thick at middle linebacker."


Why was Mike D'Andrea not given a medical hardship scholarship so that Ohio State could replace him with a new recruit?  Simply put, because that is not how Jim Tressel rolls.  He doesn't oversign and he doesn't abuse the medical hardship scholarship thingy.  Instead, Mike D'Andrea finished his degree while on a football scholarship and watched the last 33 football games of his college career from the sidelines, with no real hope of ever seeing the field in a meaningful way. 

Here's a nice summary of Mike D'Andrea's time at Ohio State: http://www.nfldraftscout.com/ratings/dsprofile.php?pyid=10399&draftyear=2007&genpos=ILB 

Obviously there is a fine line between protecting a player that is truly at risk and abusing a loophole to make room for an overstuffed roster.  It's hard not to be suspicious of medical hardships that come during spring and summer practice and conditioning when a roster is oversigned and no matter what players have to be released or the school will face NCAA violations for being over the limit of 85. 

Simply put, we would not be so suspicious of medical hardships that Nick Saban and Butch Davis dole out if their rosters weren't so heavily oversigned.  Even if you submit to the notion that the medical hardships are legit, the fact that they oversigned ahead of time still leaves us feeling as though they are taking advantage of a loophole.  We'll state this again, coaches should have to prove where a scholarship is coming from before it is given out.  If a player is going to take a medical hardship then his scholarship shouldn't be given out until he is officially removed from the team. 

What football player do you know of that suffered career-ending injuries but remained on football scholarship and remained with the team until they finished school?  We want to know!

Filed under: Big 10 6 Comments

How 29-for-12 turns into 24-for-24

We ran a search on the most powerful search engines in the world for the following string "what is a medical hardship scholarship" in hopes of learning more about this mysterious scholarship that injured football players are being awarded in lieu of their football scholarship.  The only thing we found that was related to football were links to articles about two different schools, Alabama and North Carolina.

One article we found, regarding how Butch Davis magically converted 12 roster openings into 24 and 29 scholarship commitments into 24, shows that Davis put 3 players on medical hardship in a single season. 

"Butch Davis promised it would work out.

With Angelo Hadley's exit from the UNC football program before he got there, the Tar Heels coach was right. His over-recruiting strategy balanced out in the end.

What was once a 17-scholarship discrepancy is likely to work out to an even 24 signees to 24 available scholarships.

Rewind to December — UNC had 29 commitments with 12 seniors departing the program."


The rest of the article goes on to explain exactly how 12 scholarship slots turned into 24.  Basically, 4 players graduated with a year of eligibility left but were not given a renewal of their scholarships, 3 players were given a medical hardship scholarship (we still don't know what that means, who controls it, who monitors it, etc), 4 players were dismissed from the team, and 1 player left early for the NFL.

Kind of ironic that Nick Saban and Butch Davis are considered two of the best recruiters in the country, despite their long list of kids that have been cut from their teams or placed on medical hardship scholarships.

A reader from the original article is calling BS on UNC's use of medical hardship scholarships:

"14 kids have left the UNC football team since 2002 due to medical reasons. 14!!!!!!! How are all these kids getting hurt so badly to have career ending injuries? A lot of these aren't even during games. As the poster said above, that's just slime ball tactics. You tell a kid who's not that great that if he keeps his mouth shut, he still gets school paid for. Not saying that all cases are the same, but 14?? My God.

What about that world renowned hospital right beside the stadium?

And for comparison's sake - even with the ridiculous injuries NC State has had in recent years (Remember when they had < 60 scholarship players available to play last year at one point due to injuries??), students have received 2 medical hardships since 2002.

14 >> 2."


He's right, what kid in his right mind would turn down a free ride just to leave the team, especially if he is either injury prone or not good enough to see the field.  To guys like Nick Saban and Butch Davis this is like the holy grail to solving roster issues and helping make room for all those players they oversign without facing APR issues; because you see, if a player remains in school and makes progress toward his degree, then the school is safe.  Without APR would these kids get medical scholarships or would they be kicked to the curb, or would they have to remain on football scholarship until they finish school and just do what they can to help the team and earn their degree?

Filed under: ACC, SEC No Comments


Just so everyone knows that we are not pulling numbers out of our ass and we are not making things up as we go along, here is the longest and most detailed account of Alabama's current numbers situation, from an actual Alabama website.  We stumbled on it just shortly after our last post while looking for more information on this medical hardship scholarship thing...and as expected, our numbers are dead on the money.

Side Note: we can only chuckle at comments such as these from Alabama fans:

"Great breakdown of the numbers! I was just talking to my Pops the other day about the necessary attrition number moving from 9 to 7 since your last article. Still seems like a long ways to go. Three or four greyshirts from the 18 to enroll in the summer would help, but I get the feeling that Saban and Co want to be able to take as many as possible for 2011 class. Either way I know that the numbers in the senior and junior class suggest we will only take 18-20 at the most. Considering your laundry list of things that can effect the numbers by August 2011, is there any way you see us signing a full 25, or even 28 next February?"

After classes of 25, 32, 27, and 29, why not sign a 28 next year...ugh

Back to the task at hand; we did see something in the article above that adds more fuel to the medical hardship scholarship fire thing.

"After that, though, is when we will start seeing the numbers change. At the close of the spring the writing will be on the wall for several guys, and we'll likely see a transfer or two. There are a few players who have struggled to stay healthy during their career who are also struggling to stay healthy this spring. If things don't improve by the A-Day, we will likely see those guys moved to a medical hardship scholarship. With the spring semester nearing an end just a few weeks after the close of spring practice, this is when the rumors will run the most rampant."

Again, how many frigging guys can you move to a medical hardship scholarship to free up football scholarships????

It appears that this is nothing new to Saban, this is from back in 2007.

"Alabama football players reported to campus Thursday for the beginning of preseason practice, and the Crimson Tide already has lost two with local ties from its roster.

Alabama coach Nick Saban announced that former West Morgan High standout Byron Walton's career could be finished because of a health issue. In addition, Saban said former R.A. Hubbard player Michael Ricks of Courtland is academically ineligible.

Ricks spent the past two years at Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Saban put Walton on medical hardship because of a recurring issue that has plaguing the 6-foot-3, 299-pound defensive lineman throughout the summer. Saban said he has been told that it is a heat-related issue.

"When he exerted himself at the level to do the things you need to do here, he put himself at tremendous risk," Saban said. "It has something to do with how your muscles break down and how your body dissipates that and how it affects your kidneys and liver. It is a serious issue."

Walton will continue to receive his athletic scholarship, but he will not count against the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players that Alabama has. Saban said three receivers also will receive medical hardships for this season — Tyrone Prothro (leg), Aaron McDaniel (knee)and Jake Jones (leg)."


Does anyone else see the pattern here???  Oversign by 10, send as many as needed to medical hardship scholarships and then transfer the rest, and magically sidestep any APR issues.

Filed under: SEC, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Like Clockwork – The March Continues

As we predicted immediately after signing day and before spring practice, Saban is going to have to cut players, again, for the third year in a row, in order to get down to NCAA limit of 85.  If you are new here go read this, then read this, and lastly read this.

For those of you too lazy to read all that, just read this:  Alabama returned 66 scholarship players after last season, signed 29 new recruits to letters of intent, and now must shed 10 players between signing day and the first day of fall camp in order to stay under the mandated 85 scholarship limit.  Terry Grant and Travis Spikes have already left the team.

To help track the 10 bodies that need to go we have created a table for them.

2010 The March to 85 - Alabama

Player Position Reason for leaving after NSD
Terry Grant Running Back Scholarship not renewed
Travis Sikes Wide Receiver Scholarship not renewed
Rod Woodson Safety Scholarship not renewed
Star Jackson Quarterback Transfer, Georgia State Div 1AA.
Deion Belue Defensive Back Academically Ineligible; headed to JUCO
Alfy Hill Linebacker Academically Ineligible; future unknown
Taylor Pharr Offensive Lineman Medical Hardship
Milton Talbert Linebacker Medical Hardship
Darius McKeller Offensive Lineman Medical Hardship
Ronnie Carswell Wide Receiver Greyshirt
Wilson Love Defensive End Greyshirt

The latest addition is Darius McKeller.  Here is Saban's comment on Darius:

"Our medical staff thought that he would be at severe risk of injuring it again if he continued to play."

Click the link to continue reading >>>

Filed under: Coaching, SEC Continue reading