Nick Saban: "Players are a lot safer with us"
Alabama football coach Nick Saban spoke with ESPN on Monday following reports that both the PAC-12 and Big Ten are close to canceling their 2020 college football seasons.
In an interview with Chris Low, Saban detailed his opinion that student-athletes are safer on college campuses with their teams rather than being sent back home.
"I want to play, but I want to play for the players' sake, the value they can create for themselves," Saban told ESPN. "I know I'll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don't care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2 percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of the July. It's a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can't get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they're in a bar or just hanging out."
Earlier on Monday, reports began to surface that both the PAC-12 and Big Ten conferences were very close to canceling their respective teams' football seasons due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The news came just one week after both conferences announced their restructured, conference-only schedules.
Saban expressed that he doesn't quite understand the rush to cancel college football in 2020.
"It's going to be a challenge when the other students get on campus, and I get that," Saban said to ESPN. "But we really don't know what that entails until it happens. It's a big reason we pushed the season back [in the SEC], to assess that, which is the prudent way to do it."
Saban also said that his staff held a meeting on Monday morning and that a team meeting was also held later on in the day.
Last week, the Southeastern Conference announced its COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming season, including a plan where players, coaches and staff were all to be tested twice weekly. The plan also allows for a third test in the future if a faster method of testing becomes available.
Saban argued that his players are more likely to catch the virus on campus rather than the football field.
"We also test anybody that has symptoms and have an open testing site where they can go and get tested as many times as they want or any time they feel like they need to," Saban said to ESPN. "But our guys aren't going to catch [the virus] on the football field. They're going to catch it on campus. The argument then should probably be, 'We shouldn't be having school.' That's the argument. Why is it, 'We shouldn't be playing football?' Why has that become the argument?"
Along with Saban, both Crimson Tide seniors running back Najee Harris and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood also spoke to Low in the interview with ESPN.
Leatherwood explained that despite all the noise surrounding the PAC-12 and Big Ten's potential decisions, himself along with the rest of the players feel that no one from the conferences are listening to what they want.
"There's a lot of noise and bad stuff out there about playing football with the virus going on, but I haven't really seen anything about what the players want," Leatherwood told ESPN. "We've been grinding all summer, and you don't want it to be all for nothing.
"The story that needs to be written is that we want to play."
Along with Leatherwood, Harris echoes the lineman's sentiments regarding football in 2020.
"Coach Saban listens to his players and wants to hear from us first," Harris told ESPN. "He told us that none of this is about him, but it's about us. He wants to hear our concerns, and we made it clear that we want to play and feel like Alabama is doing everything they can to make sure we can play safely."
Harris informed ESPN that he would be willing to sign a contract stating that if he contracted the virus while on the field, he would not sue the institution. This sentiment has been stated by many players who wish to play this fall despite knowing the risk.
Harris also said that he was on a Zoom call on Sunday with roughly 30 players from across the NCAA and that the overwhelming majority expressed a desire to play football this fall.
"We want our voices to be heard," Harris said. "Our main demand on the call was that we as players know the players we're playing against have all gone through the same testing guidelines, but we want to play."
Saban said that despite the conferences and the NCAA not listening to the pleas of the players, he and his staff are doing their due diligence to listen to their players and let their voices be heard.
"It's more important than ever to engage your players, and if you're not, then you're not doing your job as a coach," Saban said.