The recent news that Alabama head coach Nick Saban has banned all NFL scouts from his facilities during practices in response to his feelings about agent contact with his players will make waves among coaches of major (and minor) schools where passage to the pros is key to gaining a recruiting edge.
Unconfirmed reports indicated at one time that Florida may be doing the same thing, but Urban Meyer's program hasn't followed suit just yet. Saban has since backed off to a degree, saying that scouts will be allowed back on a schedule starting Aug. 25, but will that change on a whim down the road?
"What the NFL Players Association and the NFL need to do is if any agent breaks a rule and causes ineligibility for a player, they should suspend his [agent's] license for a year or two," Saban said in late July, around the same time he made a big stir at SEC Media Week by comparing agents to pimps. "I'm about ready for college football to say, 'Let's just throw the NFL out. Don't let them evaluate players. Don't let them talk to players. Let them do it at the [scouting] combine.' If they are not going to help us, why should we help them?"
"I wouldn't want to take that [exposure opportunity] away from our players," Kiffin told the Orange County Register. "I think that our guys practice at a high level and I would like for scouts to see that because it helps their draft status as you can see by, over the last three years, 27 players drafted here."
Of course, Saban doesn't present too much of a disadvantage to his players from an on-field perspective; as the coach of the defending national champions, he knows that his players will get all the exposure and scout observances they need, even if those observances take place in the film rooms of NFL facilities across the nation. The problem for an Alabama or a Florida is the one-on-one time scouts usually get with kids, and it's hard to see what this has to do with Saban's outrage over agent conduct. Scouts are beholden to the teams that hire them; you'd have to draw a labyrinth path to wind up with a scouting connection that leads to agent misconduct.
I asked Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com how this might affect how the NFL might see potential Crimson Tide draftees. "I do not know exactly how scouts ‘check in' with each school prior to coming in to watch film and interview players and coaches," Rang said. "But once on site, scouts do typically have access to film, including the All-22 [overhead game film which shows all 22 players on each play]. They also have film on every school they need back in their own NFL facilites, so it isn't the access to film that is so critical. It is the ability to scout players in person; talking to the players, seeing how seriously they take practices, and time in the film and weight rooms."
That's where things could get dicey for Saban's kids, or Meyer's players if Meyer follows suit -- in the tiebreakers between similar players in the top edges of the first day of the draft. If you're an NFL team picking in the middle of the first round, desperately in need of a 3-4 defensive tackle, and you keep getting zapped with Saban's electric fence when you're trying to get a sense of how a kid acts when he's off the practice field ... well, more and more schools are running three-man fronts. You can go elsewhere if you so desire. That hurts nobody but the players Saban insists that he's trying to protect. And if you're a high school graduate with a special skill in the middle of a three-man front, you may be thinking the same thing.
If Nick Saban wants to lobby the NFLPA for stricter penalties to be applied to unscrupulous agents, he has every right (and some would say a personal responsibility) to do so. But this move smacks of a personal vendetta in which Saban is swinging blindly, looking to hit any moving target.