‘Multiple Schools’ Told NCAA Of Saban Violation?

On Feb. 15, 2009, Ron Higgins of the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL accused Alabama football coach Nick Saban of committing an “apparent recruiting violation” after the coach showed up at the Memphis high school of junior football player Keiwone Malone just days before the Feb. 4, 2009, national signing day for high school seniors - which was a recruiting dead period.

Nick Saban Barry Sanders Jr Photo

The idea behind Saban’s appearance at Malone’s school was to persuade the high school junior recruit to verbally commit to Alabama soon after signing day for high school seniors - locking up the prospect for Saban as soon as possible. The applicable NCAA bylaw governing the Higgins-noted case involving Saban is called the “bump rule”. The rule states that a coach is allowed an incidental “greeting” with a player at his high school during the aforementioned recruiting dead period - but no more than that.

Relevant excerpt from NCAA Bylaw 13:

“Off-campus recruiting contacts shall not be made with an individual before July 1 following the completion of his junior year in high school. Any face-to-face encounter between a prospective student-athlete during which any dialogue occurs in excess of an exchange of a greeting (is prohibited). Such face-to-face encounter that is prearranged or that takes place on the grounds of the prospective student-athlete’s institution shall be considered a contact (violation).”

Following Saban’s reported “visit” with Malone at the Tennessee high school, the Memphis prospect verbally committed to Alabama just days after national signing day.

Higgins:

Just wondering when an SEC football coach is going to turn in Alabama coach Nick Saban on an apparent recruiting violation. Saban obtained a commitment from Mitchell receiver Keiwone Malone, a high school junior. The only problem is that other than a “bump” — which is an accidental “hello, how are ya?”– a coach can’t have direct contact with a junior at the time that Saban did (before signing day for seniors on Feb. 4). That’s a dead period (no contact) according to NCAA rules.

Judging from the quotes given by Malone to the CA’s Jason Smith, there was a face-to-face meeting and a selling job by Saban. Mitchell High didn’t have any seniors that were being recruited by Saban, so his visit wasn’t for that purpose. And it had to be more than a bump. When’s the last time you heard a kid receive a scholarship offer and commit on a bump? The SEC office had no comment on the matter, other than to explain the bump rule. This wasn’t a bump by the Sabanator. This was full-contact recruiting.

Surprising that Higgins also didn’t note that the “bump” rule was actually enacted in response to such past tactics by … wait for it … Nick Saban.

When the new NCAA rule was put in place in April, 2008, reporter Paul Gattis of the HUNTSVILLE TIMES referred to it as the “Saban Rule”:

Alabama football coach Nick Saban vehemently opposes the new recruiting restrictions that went into effect last week.

But Saban is in an overwhelmed minority

By a two-thirds majority, the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in January approved legislation proposed by the Southeastern Conference banning head coaches from making off-campus recruiting visits during the spring evaluation period.

That evaluation period started Tuesday and continues through May 31.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we’re doing what we’re doing,” Saban said last week.

Greg Sankey, associate SEC commissioner for NCAA compliance, said the vote favoring the new rule - dubbed the “Saban rule”by some - wasn’t close when the issue was raised by league coaches.

At the time, many credited the NCAA’s action to the Miami Herald reporting in 2007 that Saban had improper contact with three high school juniors in the Miami area: Etienne Sabino, Brandon Washington and Marcus Fortson.

Considering that it’s now largely accepted that the “bump” rule was put in place expressly to stop Saban from openly abusing NCAA rules, what happened this week between the coach and prized recruit Barry Sanders, Jr., in Oklahoma City is nothing short of stunning.
Corey DeMoss of OKBlitz.com reported of Saban’s “bumping” into Sanders at his high school earlier this week:

Heritage Hall running back Barry Sanders, Jr. briefly met Alabama coach Nick Saban Wednesday, and Sanders said Saban told him junior running back Mark Ingram will declare for the NFL Draft.

“He just said ‘We need running backs,’” Sanders said. “How Trent [Richardson] would be a senior if I were to go [to Alabama]. He told me Ingram’s leaving, he’s making it public probably Friday.”

Saban came to Heritage Hall around noon Wednesday and picked up film on Sanders before receiving a tour of the school, during which he ran into Sanders.

(Heritage Hall coach Andy) Bogert texted me saying he was coming,” Sanders said. “I happened to run into him and he seemed like a pretty good guy. It was cool.”

Not so cool was the reaction of local schools Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Especially Stillwater, the alma mater of Sanders’ famous father.

Oklahoma State Director of Compliance Kevin Fite obviously didn’t appreciate Saban’s off-season “greeting” to Sanders:

Per these bylaws, Saban’s conversation with Sanders – who is still a junior in high school – is potentially a violation of NCAA rules. And the compliance office at Oklahoma State – the alma mater of Sanders’ Heisman Trophy-winning father – is taking notice.

“My job is to deal with compliance on our campus, but when another coach from another institution comes in and starts doing stuff like that in our backyard it certainly causes us some concern,” said Kevin Fite, the Associate Athletics Director of Compliance at OSU.

Fite said he cannot directly investigate Saban’s actions, but he can call the attention of Alabama’s administration to the actions in question and inform the school of the possibility that a violation occurred.

“Institutions can contact other institutions, or that conference, and say ‘Hey, this is going on,’” Fite said. “Especially because things like that are out in the media, it quickly becomes known so it’s almost like we don’t have to. But at the same time, if you have a certain level of concern, I think it’s important to express it.”

From Jason Leonard, the Executive Director of Athletics Compliance at OU:

The University of Oklahoma also is aware of Sanders’ contact with Saban. Jason Leonard, the Executive Director of Athletics Compliance at OU, said the school does not want to get directly involved in the investigation into Saban. But he did share how the potential investigation will likely progress, which could include calls directly to the NCAA.

“In this particular case, someone would send it to the compliance department at Alabama,” Leonard said. “I’m sure there are multiple schools that probably have already done that. There’s some schools that might just call straight to the NCAA. Just call them up and say, ‘Hey, look at this article.’”

Calls to Alabama or the NCAA about Saban’s contact with Sanders likely would be made by schools recruiting against the Crimson Tide for Sanders’ services – which includes OSU – or schools in Alabama’s conference, the SEC.

The “multiple schools” referred to by Leonard likely include Oklahoma State, UCLA and Florida State - all of which are still in the running for Sanders.
Meanwhile Cecil Hurt of the TUSCALOOSA NEWS reported the response from the Saban camp today:

Saban says contact with Barry Sanders Jr. at OK high school was “just a greeting” and within NCAA guidelines.

If Saban is cited for an NCAA violation because of the nature of his contact with Sanders, it would be classified as a secondary violation. If penalized, Saban could face up to a two-game suspension per new, stiffer NCAA sanctions for secondary violations.

Tom Izzo of Michigan State found out earlier this basketball season that those new NCAA penalties in response to secondary violations aren’t always empty threats.