HOOVER, Ala. — When Nick Saban speaks, college football listens.
That happens when you have six national titles, including five at Alabama in a little more than a decade in Tuscaloosa.
So he has the ear of the college football world. But will his strong view on the much ballyhooed NCAA transfer portal go from words into action?
"I think the spirit of the transfer portal in and of itself is a positive thing for players," Saban said during the Q-and-A portion of his remarks Wednesday at SEC Media Days. "You know, I think when we started with the transfer portal, it was a mechanism for players to be able to say I'm transferring, so everybody knows that I'm transferring, so if that creates opportunities for me to go different places, then that's a good thing for the player.
"The issue with the transfer portal is we've gotten very liberal in giving people waivers, so, when we do that, it becomes free agency, which I don't think is good for college football. I don't think it's good for fans."
Alabama has lost a few quarterbacks through the years to transfers, including former Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year Jalen Hurts, who left the Tide for Oklahoma as a graduate transfer in recent months. Graduate transfers — players who have already earned their degree but still have eligibility remaining — have been immediately eligible for several years.
Saban's issues appear to be with the litany of high-profile former five-star recruits looking around for better situations, and specifically more playing time. In some ways it has become a form of free agency for college football, and something Saban clearly does not like.
"If we're going to have a transfer portal that's good for the players, then we ought to have a rule that says regardless of what happens when you transfer, you have to sit out a year," Saban said. "That's how it's been for years and years and years. All right. And now we have, I don't know — at one point in time there was 65 waivers that were given. So everybody's expectation is I can transfer and get a waiver. And I don't think that's a good thing.
"So, we make commitments to players for four years. They make commitments to us to be in our program. It may not work out for everybody, and they may have a better opportunity someplace else, but if they have to sit out for a year, it would be a consequence for them in terms of their commitment."
Commitment is an interesting word in college sports, where the multimillionaire coaches who recruit these kids — including several of Saban's former assistants who are also here this week as head coaches at rival schools — are free to pick up and leave without a portal or a waiver or sitting out a year. And in truth, it's a business decision for coach and player alike.
Commitment also is an interesting word choice considering Saban was famous for "processing" players early on who did not fit his vision or live up to expectations in their time in Tuscaloosa.
And let's not forget that college scholarships are, on the face, a year-to-year deal.
Saban's perception is understandable, of course. He's the best recruiter in the game, and he always replenishes a roster of soon-to-be NFL draft picks with future NFL draft picks.
But it's his perception, and that is dictated by what's best for his program, not the players as a whole.
The avalanche of talent Saban has allows competition. And depth. And an ability to discipline or replace even his best players when the situation calls for it, because the drop-off from 1s to 2s is more like 1s and 1.1s.
Ask Hurts, who had his shortcomings as a passer exposed in the 2017 national championship game against Georgia and was replaced by Tua Tagovailoa, who only became a Heisman Trophy finalist in his first year as the starter.
With those talent tiers — be it at Alabama, Georgia or anywhere else — there can be frustration and occasionally the desire to look around. And the lack of talent in places where the program is rebuilding makes transfers a welcome addition.
"We were active in the transfer portal," second-year Arkansas coach Chad Morris said Wednesday. "I think it gives the student-athletes opportunities, which is great, and it gives our staff and our people (trying) to build program opportunities, which is great."
Great or grotesque? Portal or problem?
That clearly is a matter of perspective, depending on the state of your program and your view on who should have more options — coaches or players.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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