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.

California’s state-funded travel ban to discriminating states raises mild football scheduling concerns

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The state of California is banning state-funded travel to the states of Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. Those states are added to the previous state-funded travel bans that included Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee due to what California lawmakers say are laws that allow for discrimination against gay and transgender people.

So what does this have to do with college football? My colleague, Bryan, notes this latest decision from the state means scheduling any potential road games for a handful of schools just got a tad trickier.

This development poses a couple of issues for some California schools to address moving forward.

San Jose State is the school affected by this latest news right off the bat. San Jose State has a road game scheduled at Texas on September 9 this season. San Jose State may have to rely on some of that guaranteed money from Texas to cover the expenses, which would put a dent in the total takeaway from playing the game in the first place.

Cal is also scheduled to play at North Carolina on September 2. Cal also plays at TCU in 2021 and at Auburn in 2024. If the ban is still in operation at those times, then Cal will have to budget ahead of time to tackle the expenses. UCLA will play at Memphis on September 19.

The state-funded travel ban to these states may not be an issue for the postseason, as bowl game expenses tend to be carried by the conference and their revenue shares.

Fresno State has a road game at Texas A&M scheduled in 2020. San Diego State has no future scheduling hassles to worry about for the time being.

When ‘physically, mentally ready,’ door wide open for Keyshawn Johnson Jr.’s return to Nebraska

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has yet to play a down for Nebraska, but, if it’s up to Mike Riley, he will at some point down the road.

Earlier this month, the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  This past week, the younger Johnson decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and will not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

Left open at the time was the question of whether Johnson Jr. would ever play for the ‘Huskers, period.  Friday, Riley left the door wide open for a return.

“We’re disappointed that he’s not here with us right now today,” the head coach said according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “I think there’s kind of a wellness factor for Keyshawn going home. We talked to him about the possibility of maybe enrolling part time and taking care of his progress toward his degree, and also getting in great shape.

“And we opened the door for return, which is just kind of left open that we’ll deal with at the time that he is physically and mentally ready to do that.”

A three-star 2017 signee who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, the younger Johnson had been expected to be an immediate contributor for the Cornhuskers this season.

Ex-K-State WR involved in release imbroglio transfers to Appalachian State

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After public pressure helped get him out of the Little Apple, Corey Sutton is going to resume his collegiate playing career on the East Coast.

On his personal Twitter account Friday night, Sutton (pictured, No. 12) announced that he is “[b]lessed to say I will be continuing my collegiate career at Appalachian State University.” The rising sophomore will have to sit out the 2017 season because of arcane and one-sided NCAA transfer rules.

Beginning in 2018, he’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

The move comes three weeks or so after a very noisy exit from his first college football home.

In early June, the transferring wide receiver revealed in an interview that Kansas State had denied a release to all 35 schools he requested, including FCS and Div. II programs.  Bill Snyder both confirmed the accuracy of Sutton’s accounting of events and defended his decision, then inexplicably ratcheted up the public rhetoric by revealing Sutton had failed a pair of drug tests.

Facing a maelstrom of criticism, Snyder subsequently apologized publicly while the football program granted Sutton a “full release” from his scholarship that still restricted him from transferring to any Big 12 school or one that’s on K-State’s future schedule while he still has eligibility. It’s unclear if the Sun Belt Mountaineers were on Sutton’s original list of 35 schools that was denied by the university.

In his lone season with the Wildcats, Sutton played in 11 games, catching four passes for 54 yards. Sutton came to K-State as a three-star 2016 signee after playing his high school football in North Carolina.

ESPN extends broadcast agreement with BYU football through 2019

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BYU’s future as an independent appears to be on solid ground through at least the next couple of seasons.

That’s the biggest takeaway from Friday’s announcement at the Cougars’ annual football media day in Provo as the school confirmed ESPN had exercised their contractual option to extend broadcast rights for BYU home games through 2019.

“We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with ESPN for decades and that relationship seems to get stronger every year,” athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a release. “There is great collaboration, and I feel really good about what we are doing together. We’ve had good dialogue about extending the contract and felt this option would give us some time for additional conversations.”

ESPN agreed to an eight-year deal with the school when they originally opted to become a football independent back in 2011. The network holds the rights to all BYU home games aside from at least one game a year that will be aired on the school’s own network, BYUtv.

In addition to extending the broadcast deal another season, BYU also secured a slot in a bowl game thanks to ESPN’s backing. The Cougars, if eligible, didn’t have a set bowl game to go to in 2017 and their slot in the Poinsettia Bowl for 2018 went away when the bowl folded earlier this year. The end result is that if BYU hits the necessary six wins in the next few seasons, they’ll wind up playing in one of the many postseason games that ESPN owns, operates or televises.