At issue are comments made by Saban criticizing players who leave the college ranks for the NFL while they still have eligibility remaining on their college scholarships.
College football is nothing like basketball in this regard. “One-and-dones” are so common in the NBA draft that nine of the first ten college selections in 2018 (not counting Luka Doncic, selected from Spanish club team Real Madrid and hailing from Slovenia) were freshmen.
The highest-picked senior, Duke’s Grayson Allen, went 21st overall and played in less than half of the Jazz’s games and only for 362 minutes of action in his rookie season. Players who play all four years of college basketball leave pro scouts wondering why he wasn’t good enough to declare earlier.
Saban, speaking to this reality after Alabama’s second spring practice scrimmage on Saturday according to 247 Sports, did not mention Harrison by name, but when he mentioned a third-round pick specifically and Harrison went in the third round as an underclassman, you don’t have to be Adam Schefter to draw the connection.
“I do know there’s some pretty compelling stats out there about guys going out early for the draft. I think in the last five years, not counting this year, there’s been 380 or thereabouts go out early for the draft, and 25 percent of those guys didn’t even get drafted. And another 25 percent weren’t on the team in three years. So, that means 50 percent of the guys that went out early for the draft had failed grades.
“But if you look at the number of guys that were first- and second-round draft picks, there were very few guys that had failed careers.
“Now, we have guys that have no draft grades, seventh-round grades, free-agent grades, fifth-round grades that are going out of the draft. And the person that loses in that is the player.
“If you’re a third-round draft pick, and we had one here last year — I’m not going to say any names — goes and starts for his team, so he’s making third-round money, which is not that great. He’d be the first guy taken at his position this year, probably, and make $15-18 million more. So, the agent makes out, the club makes out, and now they’ve got a guy that’s going to play for that kind of money for three more years.”
Harrison took umbrage and vented via Twitter, even calling Saban “Butt Hurt.”
Coaches get so Butt Hurt Now Days About a Kid Making a Decision to live out his dreams and Go Pro. Makes me think do you really care about the success of the kid or how well your program performs? 🤷🏿♂️💯 #KeepMyNameOutYaMouth #Bama #Saban #GodGotIt
— Ronnie Harrison II (@Rharr_15) April 7, 2019
Harrison’s words were either a cheap shot at Saban or a scathing rebuke about the potential difference between the priorities of college coaches and college athletes.
Saban, meanwhile, pointed to the value not only of a college education to fall back, but also to the value that playing at Alabama brings to players who find themselves drafted higher and therefore paid a lot more in that elusive guaranteed money than players from other schools.
“I tell every recruit that I talk to, ‘The reason that you are going to college is to prepare yourself for the day you can’t play football,’” he said. “I think we have a lot of people way back in high school that look at college as a conduit to get to the NFL.
“I am 100 percent NFL. I am 100 percent guys having careers.
“But people have to be smart about the business decisions they make relative to the NFL because it is all business. And when people make emotional decisions they are going to have to suffer some really difficult consequences for themselves in the future.
“You don’t have to go out for the draft early. You can come back and play.
“We’ve had six or seven guys who had second or third round grades that became top 15 and first round draft picks and made a significant amount of money by doing that. So there are some really good examples of guys who did it that way.
“I’m all for every one of our guys who went out for the draft. I’m going to do everything I can do to try get them drafted as high as they can get drafted, because at the point they say they are leaving, because what benefits our program is that they do great and I want them all to do great.
“Not just our players, but there are a significant amount of players that are not making good business decisions about what they do.
“Yeah, it affects our team. But our team turns over more quickly, we just have to have more better young guys that can go out there and learn how to play and provide depth for the team.
“It’s not going to be an excuse for what kind of quality we put on the field. We just have to do a better job of coaching because we’ve got to do a better job of developing young players because they are going to have to play more quickly.”
And one Twitter user sharply rebuked Harrison for his ingratitude and the implication that Saban did not have his best interest in mind.
The fact that you’re butthurt because the man wanted what’s best for you speaks to your intelligence level. Maybe you should’ve listened to his advice instead of listening to the people holding their hands out that cost you millions of dollars by giving you bad advice #STFU #GTFO
— 🅱️🅰️Ⓜ️ (@big__bam) April 7, 2019
The issue, of course, is never that cut and dried. Players who declare early are trading a year of development in the college game—another difference between football and basketball is that college football has much greater predictive value in the pro game than does its hardwood counterpart, so players can generally only improve their draft stock by playing well—for the chance to cash in before injury potentially prevents them from going pro at all.
If a player could be a third-round pick, goes out for the draft and gets picked in the third round, that player will make no less than a few bucks shy of $3.4 million, per Spotrac.
If that player stays in school and plays their way up to, say, the 20th pick in the first round, they make about a $9.1 million profit, as their new salary slot is a $12.5 million contract.
But if they blow out a knee or otherwise suffer a catastrophic injury, they, at best, get picked later in the draft and, at worst, end up with nothing when they could have had $3.4 million.
It’s fair to say that there are potential benefits and losses for both player and coach when a student-athlete declares early for the NFL. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Ronnie Harrison nor Nick Saban will ever be agreeing on what those benefits and losses actually are.
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