Jan. 23, 2015
Changing Times Don’t Require Hasty Decisions
As you have probably seen, read or heard over the last few days, the NCAA Convention last week was a historic moment for college athletics. Several pieces of legislation that will forever change the landscape of major college athletics were discussed over the course of that convention, and I agree with most of the pundits that significant progress was made in the area of student-athlete welfare, which is now – and always has been – the top priority of all of us who work in college sports.
While I don’t plan to get into a lot of specifics in this blog about what effect the legislative changes may actually have, it is important for you to know a few things about the situation, in general, so as to understand what was actually done at the convention, the motives behind those decisions, and how to view the situation in total in this very early stage of reform.
First, the “Power Five” conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC) were given “autonomy”. In other words, the 65 member institutions of those conferences are now able to put forth and vote on their own legislation to determine the policies that govern them. That move allows us to legislate to improve the lot of student-athletes in ways that more realistically reflect our financial, educational and cultural realities.
It is important to note that this year’s convention was the first time in modern college sports history that the NCAA allowed Division I student-athletes to vote on legislation. Three student-athletes from each of the “Power Five” conferences voted on the autonomy proposals, and they dominated a discussion leading up to the voting session.
The 5 university presidents, athletics directors, faculty and the 15 student-athlete representatives voted on eight proposals, with primary focus on cost of attendance, new concussion protocols, extending scholarship guarantees beyond a one-year commitment, and increasing options to buy insurance to mitigate potential financial hardships caused by career-ending injuries.
Consider a few points about those four areas of discussion:
Cost of Attendance
The motion to provide scholarships that cover the true full cost of attendance for student-athletes passed resoundingly and will become active on August 1, 2015. Student-athletes will be eligible for money beyond the cost of their tuition, room, board, and books, to cover further living expenses. Full cost of attendance numbers have not been determined for the fall semester at Alabama, and won’t be until tuition is approved and set. There is plenty of apprehension nationally about what this will mean. Keep in mind that every institution has a different financial model, a different set of priorities, and differing perspectives on calculating the full cost of attendance. We recognize that paying our scholarship athletes at the full cost attendance numbers will add in excess of $1,000,000 to our 2015-16 budget.
Concussion Management Protocol
This was introduced by the SEC with the goal of requiring colleges to have a concussion-management plan that includes an annual process for ensuring that athletes are educated about the signs and symptoms of a concussion. The legislation passed. The policy requires a medical professional to clear athletes to return to competition, and also calls for safety protocols that include procedures for reducing exposure to head injuries and policies that address returning to the classroom. There was some argument that it didn’t go far enough to ensure that medical professionals were in charge of medical decisions, but I am confident that we have good people at the helm, we are headed in the right direction, and the necessary tweaks to improve the system can and will be made on an ongoing basis.
This legislation allows student-athletes to buy insurance protecting the value of their future earnings against injury. The student-athlete can borrow against potential future earnings by purchasing loss-of-value insurance. It passed unanimously.
The vote on implementing policies that provide multiyear scholarships provided lively debate, particularly by the student-athletes in the room. Some passionately argued against changing the current system that allows schools to grant scholarships on a yearly basis. Several student-athletes noted that coaching changes can put a scholarship in danger (a valid point in arguing for guaranteed scholarships), and that continuing to allow scholarships to be reduced or cut for athletic reasons undermines the claim that athletes are meant to be treated as students first. Other student-athletes against the proposal made the legitimate point that such a rule would restrict coaches from cutting players who were, as several athletes phrased it, a “cancer to the team.”
I was very impressed with the student-athletes. They spoke with passion. They had definitely “done their homework” ahead of the convention. And they only reinforced what I have felt all along, that they are our most valuable voice at the table in determining the future direction of college athletics.
In general, I think it is crucial for everyone who loves college sports to be careful in forming opinions about what this all really means, not to overreact to conjecture, deal with the facts. To be sure, there will be ongoing debate at the conference and national levels about how to prevent any of this legislation ending up serving as a competitive advantage – or disadvantage, depending on the institution – in recruiting and on the fields of play. The intent is to benefit all scholarship student-athletes.
The intent of all of these measures perfectly follows what our Mission for Alabama Athletics has been for years – to recruit and develop student athletes to compete at the highest levels in all sports, to prepare them to compete at the highest levels in life after graduation, and to do both with honor and integrity. I strongly assure you that Mission Statement is not changing. It is more valid today than it ever has been, and we are indeed proud of the graduates we are sending out into the world.
We have always invested in staff, facilities, and comprehensive programs to give the best treatment available to our Crimson Tide student-athletes. That is an unbreakable pact that we won’t allow to change.
Honoring 2 Who Made All of Alabama Proud
Two of the most remarkable young people who have ever worn the crimson and white – former Alabama student-athletes Kim Jacob and the late John Servati – were honored last Friday night during the NCAA Honors Celebration, part of the annual NCAA Convention in Washington D.C. The presentation included very inspiring videos saluting both Kim and John that you can view here (Kim Jacob/John Servati).
Kim was honored with the NCAA Top 10 Award, the 13th Alabama student-athlete and the fifth Crimson Tide gymnast to earn that prestigious honor by which the NCAA recognizes current student-athletes who have completed their athletic eligibility for their success in competition, in the classroom and in the community. She is one of the most decorated student-athletes in Alabama history, the Crimson Tide’s first Honda Cup winner as the National Woman Collegiate Athlete of the Year in July and was also the 2014 Honda Award winner as the National Gymnast of the Year. An 11-time All-American, she excelled in the classroom, earning the 2014 Capital One Division I Academic All-American of the Year as the top scholar in all of NCAA Division I athletics, regardless of sport or gender. She also earned the 2013 NCAA Elite 89 Award as the student-athlete competing at the NCAA Championship with the highest GPA, in addition to earning NCAA and SEC Postgraduate scholarships. While finishing her degree, Jacob is serving as a student coach on head coach Dana Duckworth’s first staff.
By now, I assume most of you are familiar with John Servati’s story. John died last April while saving the life of another Alabama student during a night when severe storms swept through Tuscaloosa. He was posthumously honored with the NCAA Award of Valor. His parents, Janet Gaston and Al Servati, accepted the award on his behalf from Alabama President Dr. Judy Bonner with head coach Dennis Pursley looking on. The NCAA Award of Valor is given to a coach or administrator currently associated with intercollegiate athletics, or to a current or former varsity letter winner at an NCAA institution who, when confronted with a situation involving personal danger, averted or minimized potential disaster by courageous action or noteworthy bravery. The award is not presented annually, but in the event of an outstanding act of valor.
Nationally Ranked Teams This Week
At this time of the spring semester, there are current national rankings out for 10 sports: men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming & diving, men’s and women’s indoor track & field, men’s and women’s tennis, and baseball. Preseason rankings for baseball, men’s golf, women’s golf and softball have not been released at this writing. This week, five of our teams remain nationally ranked among the top 25 in their respective sports, including two ranked in the top 10, and four are currently ranked in the top 20 nationally. Here’s a glance at this week’s rankings:
Men’s Golf – 16th (GCAA Coaches, Nov. 14)
Gymnastics – 7th (GymInfo, Jan. 19)
Softball – 3rd (USA Today/NCFA Coaches, Jan. 20)
Women’s Tennis – 7th (ITA, Jan. 20)
Men’s Indoor Track & Field – 13th (USTFCCCA, Jan. 6)
Men’s Swimming – 18th (CSCAA Coaches, Dec. 11)
Baseball – 20th (D1Baseball.com, Jan. 19)
*The following Crimson Tide teams received votes in the latest rankings, but did not make the top 25: women’s indoor track & field and women’s swimming.
• Signs of progress are starting to become evident in the redevelopment of Sewell-Thomas Stadium as the BASEBALL team officially opened the team’s hitting facility last Wednesday (see story here). The hitting facility is the first step of Alabama baseball’s structural transformation, part of an ongoing project that is scheduled for completion and use at the start of the 2016 season. The new structure provides the team with an indoor training area that allows for year-round preparation for players. Among the many features of the facility: four retractable, 20-foot high hitting bays allowing the field space to serve multiple purposes, including training focused on hitting, pitching or fielding; LED lighting for training at any hour of the day; a fully air conditioned building to manage indoor temperatures regardless of outside conditions; a state-of-the-art sound system throughout the complex; video analysis capabilities; and a weight room and fitness area featuring free weights and benches for pre-practice workouts. As you know, our baseball program is making the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium home for a majority of the team’s home games this season. The home slated begins on Friday, Feb. 13, at 6:30 p.m. as the Tide hosts Maryland-Eastern Shore for a three-game, weekend series that ends on Sunday, Feb. 15.
The SEC Office announced its 2015 baseball television schedule on Tuesday afternoon, with the Crimson Tide appearing nationally on the SEC Network eight times, as well as once on ESPN and another time on ESPN2. SEC Network+ will air 32 more Alabama contests throughout the year. Alabama’s first broadcasts of the 2015 campaign are scheduled for the Feb. 13-15 series against Maryland-Eastern Shore that will air on SEC Network +. On Thursday, March 26, the Tide will make its first appearance on national television when Alabama will travel to Gainesville to take on Florida in a 6:30 p.m. first pitch on the SEC Network. The Tide will take on Ole Miss on ESPN on Sunday, April 26, at Noon in Oxford. On Saturday, May 2, Alabama will tangle with Arkansas at the Hoover Met on ESPN2 starting at 2 p.m. From May 19-24, the SEC Baseball Tournament will air on the SEC Network as well as ESPN2.
• Our MEN’S BASKETBALL team has a big game with Auburn on Saturday night at Coleman Coliseum, and a sellout crowd is already assured. Be sure to wear a white Alabama shirt to be part of our “White Out”, as the first 10,000 fans in the building will be given a white t-shirt free of charge. If you aren’t one of the first 10,000 in the building, make sure you wear white as a show of support. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. If you can’t make it, tune in to watch it live on The SEC Network.
Our team is 12-6 overall (2-3 in the SEC). We lost to top-ranked Kentucky last Saturday afternoon before a packed house at Coleman Coliseum (recap here) before a heartbreaking overtime setback at 19th-ranked Arkansas on Thursday night (recap here), the first of three games over a six-day stretch. Our fan support was tremendous. The atmosphere for the Kentucky game was truly “big time”, and a glimpse of what is possible for our program when all the right elements come together. It’s just unfortunate that we ran up against a team that appears to be pretty special in Kentucky, which is 18-0 as this blog is being written.
As of Jan. 21, Alabama had an ESPN.com Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 47, an NCAA.com RPI of 49, and a rating of 61 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI). The Tide was one of the eight SEC teams with top 50 RPIs, according to ESPN.com. The SEC’s eight teams with top 50 RPIs leads all conferences (as of Jan. 21). Next closest is the Big 12 with seven teams ranked in the top 50 RPI. Alabama has played the second-toughest SEC schedule, according to KenPom.com, trailing only Ole Miss in league schedule strength through the first four games of the SEC slate.
Alabama’s three non-conference losses have come to then-No. 13 Iowa State (13-3) in Kansas City, Mo., at then-No. 11 Wichita State (16-2) and at Xavier (12-6). The combined record of those three teams is 41-11 (.788). Four games into SEC play, Alabama led the league in conference games only in scoring defense (55.0), we ranked second in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.271) and third in field goal percentage defense (.383). The Tide also ranked fourth in scoring margin (+3.8) and field goal percentage (.448) in league games only.
• The WOMEN’S BASKETBALL team (12-9 overall; 1-5 in the SEC) got a big win over Auburn last night in Foster Auditorium (recap here), holding on after losing a big lead by making some clutch shots in the final minutes and playing great defense with the game on the line. That win came after a tough loss last Sunday at 15th-ranked Mississippi State (recap here), the Tide has faced four teams ranked among the nation’s top 25 (No. 1 South Carolina, No. 14 Kentucky, No. 18 Mississippi State and No. 22 Georgia) in SEC play alone. Throw in the loss to now-No. 15 Duke and the win over now-No. 16 Nebraska, and this year’s schedule begins to show its strength. This is still a young team in a rebuilding mode. Still, Alabama won 11 non-conference games before starting SEC play, which is four more than last season and the most since the 2010 campaign. Our underclassmen have stepped up big and are playing beyond their years. Through 21 games, freshmen and sophomores have accounted for 74.1 percent of Alabama’s points and 55.9 percent of our rebounds. Despite typically being the shorter team, the Crimson Tide has outrebounded 14 of its 20 opponents. The 2015 signing class (four early signees in November) is ranked in the top 25 in the nation, and all four signees were recently named nominees for the 2015 McDonald’s High School All-American game.
• It’s great to see two of our freshman FOOTBALL players, offensive tackle Cam Robinson and punter JK Scott, recognized for their outstanding 2014 seasons. Cam JK were named Freshman All-Americans by the Football Writers Association of America last week (see story here). Cam led the team with 32 knockdown blocks while allowing only three sacks in 861 snaps, starting all 14 games to become the first true freshman to start at left tackle since Andre Smith in 2006. He helped Alabama average a school-record 484.5 yards of total offense per game and rank seventh nationally in fewest sacks allowed (1.14 per game). JK shattered Alabama’s single-season punting records as he led the nation with a 48.0 yards per punt average and in net punting (44.7 net yards per punt), leading all FBS punters by placing 56.4 percent (31 of 55) of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He had 23 punts of over 50 yards, including seven over 60 yards and two over 70 yards with a long of 73. For perspective on how amazing was JK’s performance in 2014, consider this: his yards per punt (48.0), net yards per punt (44.67) and percentage of punts downed inside the 20-yard line (56.4) were better than any punter in the NFL this season.
• Thursday, Jan. 15, was a milestone day for our MEN’S & WOMEN’S GOLF programs as the NCAA announced that both Crimson Tide golf teams will host an NCAA Regional in May of 2016 (see story here). The women will host on May 5-7, 2016, at Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham. The men will host on May 16-18 at our home course, the Ol’ Colony Golf Complex in Tuscaloosa, marking the first time in school history that either program has hosted an NCAA Regional event. The men’s program, led by head coach Jay Seawell, has won the past two NCAA Championships (2013 and 2014) after the women’s team, led by head coach Mic Potter, won the national title in 2012. The Alabama golf programs have combined for an impressive three NCAA titles, six NCAA regional titles, 34 NCAA regional appearances. The men’s program has won four NCAA regional titles, including three straight, and have made 18 NCAA Regional appearances. The women’s program has appeared in 16 NCAA regionals, including nine straight under the direction of head coach Mic Potter. The women claimed regional championships in 2011 and 2013. Earning the honor to host a golf regional is a recognition of excellence in a variety of areas, including stature of the program, maintenance of facilities and fan interest. All of that is a tribute to our head coaches, our student-athletes and support staff. Congratulations to all involved.
• Our GYMNASTICS team is currently ranked No. 7 in the nation after its first loss of the season, a tough road loss at 12th-ranked Arkansas (recap here) that was very close all the way. This Friday, the Tide hosts defending NCAA champion and top-ranked Florida at Coleman Coliseum, with competition beginning at 6:30 p.m., another difficult matchup in a season that looks to be filled with tough competition. This Friday’s event will feature the winners of the last four NCAA championships. The Gators are the two-time defending NCAA champions, having won their first title in 2013 and sharing top honors with Oklahoma last season, while Alabama (winners of six overall NCAA titles) won back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012. Our team is off to a strong start on the floor exercise, ranking No. 1 nationally in that discipline entering the Florida meet. The Tide also is off to a fast start on the vault, ranking second nationally in that event. As always, we are hoping for a sellout crowd that will provide a big advantage for our ladies, so come out early, be loud, and go the distance so we can come out with a victory.
• Coach Patrick Murphy’s SOFTBALL team is ranked No. 3 in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll (see story here). Nine SEC teams are in the Top 25, the most of any conference. Coach Murphy is about to start his 17th season at Alabama. Last year, Murph and his staff were named the NFCA South Region Coaching Staff of the Year. This year’s team returns 13 of 18 players from last year, including home run leader Jadyn Spencer (a senior who had 13 HRs last year) and sophomore pitcher Sydney Littlejohn (who led the SEC with a 1.49 earned-run average). The offense figures to be led by junior Haylie McCleney, a two-time All American who was a Top 10 finalist last year for national player of the year and First-Team Academic All-American, too. The Tide will face a tough non-conference schedule that should prepare them well for SEC play as six games against teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 are on the schedule. The Tide opens the season at No. 23 South Alabama on Feb. 5), plays No. 8 Michigan twice at home at the Easton Bama Bash (Feb. 20-22) and hosts No. 9 Louisiana-Lafayette for a three-game series at the Easton Crimson Classic (Feb. 30-March 1).
• Heading into Friday’s final regular-season meet against Cincinnati, our SWIMMING & DIVING team is starting to hone in on preparations for the SEC Championships to be held Feb. 17-21 at Auburn. The Tide’s meet against Cincinnati will be Senior Day for our swimmers and divers, giving proper recognition to a class that was vital in the transition to our current staff and has been a part of our swift rise back up the ranks of the sport’s elite programs. At the recent Pro Swim Series in Texas, head coach Dennis Pursley sent a small contingent of Crimson Tide swimmers to Austin and that group of six fared extremely well against some of the world’s best competition (recap here). Senior Kaylin Burchell was the Tide’s top finisher on the weekend taking second in the 100-meter breaststroke to Olympic gold medalist Breeja Larson of Texas A&M. Sophomores Anton McKee and Kristian Gkolomeev also posted top-three finishes in their specialties in Austin. Heading into the last weekend of the regular season, we have several swimmers ranked in the top 25 nationally, including Kristian Gkolomeev, who is ranked second in the 50 freestyle, the event he won at the NCAA Championships as a freshman. Kaylin Burchell, Emma Saunders, Brett Walsh, Anton McKee and Connor Oslin also have swims among the nation’s elite this season, which bodes well for us heading into the championship portion of the season.
• The MEN’S TENNIS team opened the 2015 season with a pair of wins in a doubleheader with Samford and UAB (recap here) on Monday at the Roberta Alison Baumgardner Tennis Facility, beating Samford, 6-1, before sweeping UAB, 7-0. That was a pair of pretty convincing wins to begin the season for head coach George Husack’s team, whose depth looks to be stronger this season after last year’s top-30 national ranking. All 10 players on the roster are competing for a spot in the lineup and, on Monday, there were two Tide freshmen in those six spots. This freshman class was made up of four players, and was ranked No. 5 in the nation coming in. So, the future looks bright for this team, and there are some good possibilities for this season. The Tide heads to Chapel Hill, N.C., this weekend for ITA Kick-Off Weekend. Alabama takes on Virginia Tech on Friday at 9 a.m. CT, then will face either North Carolina or Oregon on Saturday, Jan. 24, at either 2 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. CT.
• Our WOMEN’S TENNIS team returns seven of the eight players who were a part of the program’s first SEC championship and an NCAA quarterfinals berth in 2014, the deepest the team has ever gone in the postseason. Alabama enters 2015 tied for 8th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) preseason rankings, the highest the team has ever been ranked entering a season. National champion doubles duo of Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe returns this season and is starting the year ranked as the 18th best team in the nation. Coach Jenny Mainz’s team has two doubles pairings: Jansen and Routliffe (18) and Luicelena Perez with Jansen (23); along with three singles players: Routliffe (25), Danielle Spielmann (T56th) and Jansen (59th) ranked to begin the season. This weekend, the Crimson Tide hosts three ranked teams, taking on Syracuse (68th) on Saturday before clashing with Virginia Tech (57) and Princeton (36) in a doubleheader on Sunday at the Roberta Alison Baumgardner Tennis Facility.
• Coach Dan Waters’ TRACK & FIELD team opened its 2015 indoor season last Saturday, Jan. 17, with a strong performance at the Auburn Invitational in Birmingham (recap here). Highlights for the Tide included two individual wins and several performances that rank among SEC and national leaders. Senior Nia Barnes won the women’s weight throw and sophomore Robbie Farnham-Rose beat a field of 39 athletes in the men’s mile with a performance that ranks 10th on Alabama’s all-time performance list in that race. Alabama had 12 freshmen and newcomers making their competitive debuts on Saturday, joining their more experienced teammates in producing strong performances across all disciplines in the meet. But it was the middle distance corps that is showing the most improvement early in the season. Junior Kimberley Ficenec opened the season with an 800-meter time (2:08.31) that ranks eighth in the nation and fifth in the SEC. In Saturday’s race, she trailed only the top-ranked collegiate athlete in the event. The Tide also has the No. 1 and 2 spots on the SEC men’s mile list after strong performances by Farnham-Rose and senior Matt Airola, as they rank sixth and ninth, respectively, on the national list. The Tide competes this weekend at the Vanderbilt Invitational hosted by Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Here’s a summary of athletics events over the next several days (times listed are for the location of the event):
Friday, January 23
|9 a.m. ET||Men’s Tennis||vs. Virginia Tech||Chapel Hill, N.C.|
|4 p.m. CT||Swimming & Diving||Cincinnati||Tuscaloosa|
|6:30 p.m. CT||Gymnastics||Florida||Coleman Coliseum|
|5 p.m. CT||Track & Field||at Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational||Nashville, Tenn.|
Saturday, January 24
|10 a.m. CT||Women’s Tennis||Syracuse||Tuscaloosa|
|7:30 p.m. CT||Men’s Basketball||Auburn||Coleman Coliseum|
|TBD||Men’s Tennis||vs. North Carolina or Oregon||Chapel Hill, N.C.|
|All Day||Track & Field||at Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational||Nashville, Tenn.|
Sunday, January 25
|12 p.m. CT||Women’s Basketball||Vanderbilt||Foster Auditorium|
|All Day||Women’s Tennis||Princeton and Virginia Tech||Tuscaloosa|
Tuesday, January 27
|8 p.m. CT||Men’s Basketball||Florida||Coleman Coliseum|
Catch Alabama Athletics on The SEC Network
Here’s a summary of our athletic events to be televised over the next week on The SEC Network and its platforms. Read this schedule closely as some events can be seen via SEC Network +, which is available online via ESPN3 here. If you can’t make it to our games in person, catch us on radio or TV.
(All times listed are Central Time)
Friday, January 23
|7 p.m.||Gymnastics vs. Florida||SEC Network|
|11 p.m.||REPLAY: Gymnastics vs. Florida||SEC Network|
Saturday, January 24
|11 a.m.||REPLAY: Gymnastics vs. Florida||SEC Network|
|7:30 p.m.||Men’s Basketball vs. Auburn||SEC Network|
Tuesday, January 27
|7 a.m.||REPLAY: Gymnastics vs. Florida||SEC Network|
Our teams need your support, so please plan to attend to do your part! A rising tide lifts all boats and it’s up to all of us to Keep the Tide Rising!