It should come as no surprise that Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari are friends and enjoy mutual respect and admiration. Each has reached the top of his profession while thumbing their noses at the national cognoscenti in the mainstream sports media. Both recognize that the lifeblood of their program’s success is the ability to recruit the best athletes available and mold their talents into an unstoppable dreadnought.
It should also come as no surprise that neither man particularly likes the rules he’s forced to work under. In many cases, the voluminous NCAA Handbook contains by-laws specifically crafted to thwart an advantage that men like Saban and Calipari have obtained through their own ingenuity. Given a set of rules, the two championship coaches developed their strategies and tactics to sign the best recruits. Competitors complained and the rules were changed, only to see the smartest coaches adapt their methods and stay ahead anyway.
So it should come as no surprise that if the NFL changed its policies to mirror those of the NBA and created an environment where the only impediment to entering the draft was the date stamped on a birth certificate, Saban would adapt and continue to recruit the absolute best players he could find without regard to whether they plan to stay for two, three or four years in his program.
Saban would recognize the dilemma he faces.
"I don't like the rules," he would say. "I want Trent Richardson to come back and be my running back next year. It's what I really want. There are only two solutions to the problem. Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I'm recruiting, or I can try to convince guys that should leave to stay for me."
Saban recognizes that most of the players he recruits have NFL aspirations. The first time he convinces a player like Trent Richardson—or Mark Ingram before him—to delay the start of his NFL career to play one more year at Alabama will be the last time. The next Trent Richardson would sign with the coach that represents the quickest path to a first round draft pick and Saban’s reign as college football’s best coach would be over. He’s too smart for that, and so is John Calipari.
It was Calipari who said almost the same thing when asked about his recruiting just prior to the Wildcats playing with their Kansas Jayhawks victims and devouring them in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
Calipari didn’t make the rules he operates under and he doesn’t like them. Saban doesn’t like the rules he operates under either, but if the rules changed and Saban had to adapt again, he would. If the NFL changed its rules such that Saban could win his fourth championship overall and third at Alabama by recruiting players he’d never see again after hoisting the crystal ball, he’d do it in a heartbeat.