For Alabama Football, the NCAA Transfer Legislation Offers Both Hurdles and Opportunities

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban spoke at-length about the new policy that will allow transfers one-time immediate eligibility
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On Thursday, the NCAA Division 1 Council adopted new legislation that will allow any athlete across any college sport a one-time transfer opportunity where the athlete would maintain immediately eligibility to play at a new school.

While the legislation cleared its largest hurdle on Thursday, the new set of rules will still have to clear the NCAA’s Division 1 Board of Directors but is expected to do so in a vote being held on April 28.

The news spread quickly around now just the college football world, but that of college athletics in general. The new legislation has been a hotly-discussed topic for quite some time, and the approval of the legislation by the board brought many a sigh of relief while others also questioned the new ruling.

For Alabama coach Nick Saban, he noted in his Thursday press conference that he and his staff have already discussed strategies for recruiting prospective transfers from the portal.

“We do [have a plan], we have thought about a strategy that we're going to use,” Saban said. “You've heard me speak about this before, but now that it is a rule, we're going to adapt to it and make it an advantage for us. I think what's going to happen as you see how often in a lot of leagues, you know the good players go to a good team and the bad players leave good teams because they're not playing.

“So is that going to make the rich get richer? I don't know. You can decide that, but we will only look for transfers that can really, that are going to help our team be better.”

While players can now more easily join Alabama after a year or two at the college football level, they can also just as easily leave. This fact has caused some slight concern among Crimson Tide fans at the thought of highly-touted players now having the ability to leave the Capstone at a moment’s notice and play for another program.

A player doesn’t like the amount of playing time that they’re getting? They can now transfer easily. A freshman athlete is impatient and doesn’t like the fact that he isn’t starting in his freshman season? He can now transfer as well.

While it is certainly a small concern to be had, Saban seems confident that those scenarios won’t be the case. On Thursday, Saban said that he doesn’t believe that the Crimson Tide’s best and brightest will want to leave the program.

“I don't think we're going to have our best players on our team want to leave Alabama,” Saban said. “I mean we do a great job here of helping players develop be more successful in life. Lots of player development, you know, most guys that have left here, call back 100 times wanting to come back. So I don't think — because we do such a good job academically with our guys career development program, we've done a really good job and have a good track record of graduating players, developing guys play at the next level.

“So, I don't think our good players are going to be leaving. But I think we'll be able to get some good players to join us, when we have room to do that.”

One of Alabama’s mantras for quite some time now has been ‘At Alabama, they don’t rebuild. They reload.’ The new rule could provide greater hurdles to that happening. At the same time, however, it could also provide the program with even more opportunities than it did before.

While players might be able to leave Alabama with more ease than they did before, they will also be able to join more easily as well. A player that Saban and his staff recruited heavily at the high school level that chose a different school can now transfer over should he regret his initial decision. A player that Alabama didn’t recruit in high school because of certain underperformance or risk factors now might have a chance should they prove their value at the college level.

If there’s anything that the past year has proven to college football fans, it’s that Saban and his staff are able to not just adapt and overcome new rules but thrive off of the benefits that they provide. Despite all of the hurdles and new legislation that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to college football, the Crimson Tide was at the forefront of taking everything in stride.

The result? The program’s 18th national title.

While adapting to the NCAA’s new transfer legislation will have its growing pains, Saban said that players who want to have a shot at transferring to Alabama will have to have proven that they can provide value to the Crimson Tide.

“They have to be better than a guy is that we have in the program right now at their position,” Saban said. “And so we'll be selective and how we choose guys, we're still going to recruit quality players that we can develop in the program. I don't think it's going to change our philosophy on that, because if we save spots to be able to do this, then what happens with the guys that leave your program? You just replace them with guys from other programs.”

While that statement adds pressure to players from other programs who think they might have something to offer at Alabama, it also adds pressure to current players as well. In time, there is no doubt that Saban and his Crimson Tide will benefit from the new legislation. While the NCAA transfer portal has now certainly gotten more interesting, a new world of opportunities for Alabama football is waiting.

And with Saban, there is no doubt that he’ll be there, ahead of the curve as he always is.