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


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.

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.