Nick Saban will spend most of the week stuck in his University of Alabama office or speaking at banquets, unsatisfactory places for a man who some fans joke works 30-hour days.
The NCAA is keeping Saban and his fellow college football head coaches at home this spring instead of at the high schools where top prospects are strolling the hallways. Thanks to legislation proposed by the Southeastern Conference, head coaches are forbidden from making off-campus visits during the spring evaluation period, which runs April 15-May 31.
Known as the “bump” rule, the legislation passed last January is intended to prevent coaches from “bumping” into recruits. Coaches are not permitted to speak with recruits during the spring evaluation period.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we’re doing what we’re doing,” Saban said.
He visited more than 100 high schools during last year’s spring evaluation period. Florida coach Urban Meyer’s trips around the Southeast are legendary. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he used to spend at least two straight weeks on the road.
Saban said he makes those visits to meet guidance counselors, talk to principals, sit down with coaches and watch practices. He discovered little-known prospect Corey Webster, for instance, by attending one of his spring football practices. Webster eventually starred at LSU for Saban.
But all the “bumping” — and even Fulmer admitted it was a problem — prompted the NCAA to ground college football head coaches.
“We probably, honestly, were our own worst enemies with some people taking advantage of the rule,” Fulmer said. “When a head coach walks into a high school, it almost ends up an event. The contact with prospects or the threat of that — not that everybody was doing it — but the concern about that was probably the reason they took everybody off. I don’t think I like that, but that’s where we are.”
Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll told The Sporting News last month that some coaches agreed to the rule because “they’re just lazy.” Asked if his lengthy jaunts around the country prompted the SEC to propose the rule, Saban said he didn’t want to answer.
But Saban did suggest that his and Meyer’s ambitious spring travel plans sparked the discussion.
“I know I’m one of the people that everybody always complains about, but Urban did it the same way,” Saban said. “I put it upon myself to make all those decisions by going to a lot of places in the spring, because I wanted to meet a lot of people.
“I think we’ve really limited ourselves with what we’ve done, and I totally disagree with it.”
The problem, according to Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, is the NCAA can’t possibly regulate the “bumping” that occurs inside high schools. Johnson said he favors the rule because he personally witnesses how cheating can occur.
For instance, an SEC coach will sit down with the prospect’s coach at his high school. The high school coach, thrilled to have Saban or Fulmer or Meyer or Georgia’s Mark Richt in his tiny office, will invite the prospect to join the conversation.
“You have no choice but to sit there and tell the guy that you can’t talk to him. But the coach will bring him in there anyway,” Johnson said. “So I agree that’s the only way to keep that rule enforced. And when some of the high-profile coaches go out in the high schools, it’s like an event. Everybody’s waiting for them and everybody comes by. It’s just a hard rule to enforce.”
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino expressed his displeasure with the rule, particularly because he’s new to the school and the league. Petrino is still trying to familiarize himself with the high schools in Arkansas. But he’ll spend his spring watching area players on tape.
“It does make it difficult because you don’t get out and see them in person and get by and talk to the coaches and assistant coaches,” he said. “Your evaluation process is slowed down, and you miss out on a lot of information that you could gather.”
Saban doesn’t need reminding. But he still intends to work those mythical hours — just from his office instead of on the road.
“I’m going to spend more time trying to evaluate from afar,” he said. “I’ll be here looking at tape.”