Saban defends Tide's medical redshirting in wake of critical report

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With the practice of medical redshirting seemingly on the rise — or, at least, the subject of more reports than it’s been in the past — the Wall Street Journal aimed a critical spotlight last week on what some consider a nefarious form of roster manipulation, with most of the harsh light placed squarely on the Alabama football program under Nick Saban.

The piece quoted three former Tide players — one who describes himself as “still kind of bitter” — who were among the 12 medical redshirts given out by the Saban-led program since 2007.  That number is nearly half of the estimated 25 medical redshirts handed out by SEC schools the past three years.

Medical redshirts are designed for players who are no longer able to play football due to injury, but still allows them to receive the financial aid that permits them to continue their schooling as if they were on scholarship.  At least one of the former Tide players interviewed for the piece claims he was still medically able to play, but was urged — or pressured — by the school to take the medical waiver in order to clear a roster spot for better players.  With scholarship limits set at 85, and the pressure to build and sustain a successful football program higher than it’s ever been, roster spots are at a premium, and there’s likely no program in the nation that doesn’t look to “massage” the outer edges of NCAA rules as it pertains to how a roster can be constructed.

When it comes to medical redshirts, however, Alabama’s head coach says that’s out of his hands.

“I didn’t really read the article. I didn’t see the article,” Nick Saban said when asked about the Wall Street Journal article Wednesday. “But we don’t make the decision about medicals. I have nothing to do with that. Those are medical decision made by our medical staff. I think we have one of the finest medical staffs in the country.”

Saban dismissed claims by his former players that the medical redshirts were given to clear roster spots for better players, claiming that there were legitimate medical reasons for what’s occurred.

“I don’t have any question about the fact every player we have given a medical to, it’s been because of the medical opinion of the medical staff,” Saban said. “Those guys should not continue to play football because it would put their future in tremendous risk.

“Those decisions are always made in the best interest of the player. Whether the player agrees with that or not, I can’t control. I don’t make the decision. They don’t make the decision as players. That’s why we have a medical staff.”

Do schools such as Alabama err so close to the side of medical caution that the medical redshirt practice takes on a “shady” hue?  Perhaps, but there’s a pretty damn positive side for any players who may feel jilted because they were “subjected” to such “indignity”: even as they will not be allowed to remain a member of the football program, they will still get a free education.

Or, if they truly feel that they are medically able, they can transfer to another school to continue their football career.

Either way, they still get a free education.

With all of this medical redshirt talk and the sudden surge in wailing and gnashing of teeth when it comes to paying college football players, that’s something that unfortunately seems to get lost in all of the bluster.

San Diego State will play at Qualcomm Stadium through 2020

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 01: A general view of the San Diego Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs en route to Chiefs 37-27 win over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on January 1, 2017 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
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The Chargers have left San Diego for Los Angeles and San Diego State is working on figuring out the best possible plan for a long-term football home. For the time being, the Aztecs will continue to call Qualcomm Stadium home. The current lease with the football stadium in San Diego was to expire after the 2018 season, but the university has agreed to tack on two additional years to the lease.

Qualcomm Stadium still continues to be a short-term solution for the Aztecs. The university is hoping to find a suitable plan that will see a brand new football stadium constructed that is more suitable for the program’s fans and perhaps more accommodating. San Diego state is also reportedly open to the idea of sharing a new stadium with a potential Major League Soccer franchise, which typically plays in smaller venues than NFL stadiums.

“There’s a lot of really good football fans in this town that maybe don’t want to drive four or five hours to see a football game when they can see a pretty good product right here at home, and maybe they’ll become fans of our team,” San Diego State head coach Rocky Long said during a news conference on Thursday to announce a new contract extension. “I think that college football has a lot of things to offer that pro football does not.”

Long’s recently extended contract with San Diego state runs through the 2021 season. The hope is Long will be able to coach the Aztecs into a new home stadium in the final year currently under contract.

Alabama RB Derrick Gore transfers to ULM

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03:  Derrick Gore #27 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown against the Florida Gators during the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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It seems to happen every now and then, but Alabama is losing a running back to a transfer this spring. Derrick Gore, a redshirt junior, is transferring to Louisiana-Monroe to continue his college football career, as reported by The News-Star.

Gore will be given a better chance to compete for a significant role in ULM’s offense as he gets out from the deep running back stable at Alabama that makes it difficult to get everyone involved. Gore had played a reserve role on offense behind the likes of Derrick Henry, Bo Scarbrough and Kenyan Drake at a position that is generally stacked for the Crimson Tide. Gore did find a role for himself on special teams. Gore blocked a punt against Florida in the SEC Championship Game last December and returned it for a touchdown. He was a walk-on at Alabama.

Gore will be eligible immediately to play for ULM starting this fall and will have two years of eligibility to use with the Warhawks.

Mike Locksley’s new role on Alabama staff will be co-offensive coordinator

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Mike Locksley of the Maryland Terrapins looks on during a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Alabama took advantage of a staff opening on its coaching staff this week to promote Mike Locksley to a full-time offensive assistant’s role. Now, his role appears to be a bit more defined. According to a report from Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports, Locksley will be taking on the role of co-offensive coordinator.

Locksley has previous offensive coordinator experience, of course. Locksley coached the offense at Maryland and Illinois prior to arriving at Alabama. Feldman reports Locksley turned down “several coaching offers” so he could remain a part of the Alabama coaching staff for the 2017 season.

Locksley was previously added to the Alabama football staff as an analyst. Now he will share the offensive coordinator duties with another recently promoted analyst, Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian was promoted to offensive coordinator in the week leading up to the College Football Playoff national championship game after Nick Saban made the decision to force Lane Kiffin out of the position and send his offensive coordinator to take on the full-time work of being the new head coach of FAU.

NCAA proposal to shut down spring break off-campus practices passes

FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2015, file photo, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh calls for a flag in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland in College Park, Md. Michigan and Florida both entered the season hoping to revive storied programs that had begun to look more pedestrian than they were accustomed to. Enter Wolverines coach Harbaugh and Gators coach Jim McElwain, who both brought their own style and approach to the sidelines in their first seasons on the job. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
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Michigan’s spring break trip to conduct spring practices at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida will be its last. An NCAA proposal to ban such trips outside of the college football season passed by a count of 58-22 on Friday.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh caught a lot of criticism for his decision to take Michigan’s spring practices down to Florida over Michigan’s spring break. The move was a bold strategy for Harbaugh and the Michigan program, but it ruffled the feathers of coaches from the ACC and SEC, leading to a move to ban such practice plans in the future. The debate over such a move was debated with similar intensity that satellite camps received, and now we await to see just how Harbuagh will respond, because he is known to chime in when something like this happens.

So no more trips to Florida for Michigan football players over spring break. That means Harbaugh will just have to go to the drawing board to find a new idea to find an edge.