OU football: Don’t throw stones at Alabama
It’s become fashionable in recent weeks to bash Alabama coach Nick Saban for skirting recruiting rules. Showing up at Heritage Hall and accidentally bumping into Barry Sanders Jr. Finding himself on the Bama basketball video board, with Sanders sitting next to him, which incited the Crimson Tide crowd to chant Sanders’ name.
Both apparent secondary NCAA violations and both an example of Saban’s tendency to play loose with rules not deemed major.
But Oklahoma fans can’t go around ripping Saban with a clear conscience. The secondary violations reported this week by OU are worse.
OU reported that some players worked out longer than the maximum eight hours permitted in the offseason, and that four coaches questioned players about their lack of participation in voluntary workouts.
This goes to the heart of a very important subject: the pressure applied to players for offseason and voluntary workouts.
I chatted with Cory Brandon out in Phoenix during the Fiesta Bowl week. He’s the OU offensive lineman who started much of 2009, then barely played in 2010. Went into the 2010 season not even listed on the two-deep roster.
It’s obvious what happened. Brandon’s participation in voluntary workouts was not exemplary, and he paid the price. Brandon maintained his poise in telling the story, saying he missed a week of summer workouts because of his grandmother’s funeral.
“Whatever their reason is, I’m sure it’s pretty good,” Brandon told me. “I respect their decision. Maybe it’s just that they think I didn’t work hard or wasn’t committed to the team … I told everybody I wasn’t going to be there. They felt I wasn’t committed.”
Bob Stoops said “I don’t know anything about that,” and while he declined to discuss why Brandon went from Outland Trophy watch list in June to third-team in August, Stoops did address why any particular player doesn’t play.
“Guys play by earning time on the field, how they perform on the field,” Stoops said. “There isn’t any one specific reason why.”
But this is a wink-wink deal. One of college football’s dirty little secrets. Players are expected to totally dedicate themselves in the offseason, when eight hours a week of supervised workouts are permitted, and in the summer, when no coaches are allowed and everything is supposed to be totally voluntary.
There’s nothing voluntary about it. If you want to play football, you be there. That comes across clearly in the violations reported by OU. Four coaches — Jay Norvell, James Patton, Willie Martinez and Jackie Shipp — were cited, either by discussing with players who was in attendance or receiving reports from strength coaches.
This is a difficult culture to change. The summer workouts basically turn football into a year-round commitment. Banning strength coaches like Jerry Schmidt from the process might help, but coaches would then likely be asking players to report on each other.
What’s most interesting in this case is that a player refused to sign a weekly practice log and provided an OU compliance officer with a recording of Martinez asking why he had missed a voluntary workout. I don’t know who the player was, but a good place to start would be check the depth chart and see who fell.
I think it’s a little encouraging that a Sooner stood up to the demands, even if in a small way. We saw the same thing at Michigan a couple of years ago with Rich Rodriguez, when some Wolverines revolted against practice weeks that went past the allotted 20 hours.
Coaches are getting paid more and more, and we’re asking more and more out of players. That strikes me as odd. Coaches’ jobs haven’t changed appreciably. High pressure, long hours during some parts of the year, short hours during other parts of the year.
But players’ lives have changed dramatically from 30-40 years ago. The time demands, much greater. The physical demands, much greater. Their compensation, the same. A scholarship.
This is not a call for paying players. This is a call for coaches to back off the summer demands on football players. And a call for the NCAA to figure out how to return the voluntary portion of workouts back to voluntary.
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