“Everybody’s got plans… until they get hit.”
—Mike Tyson, pugilist
This week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article questioning the University of Alabama, and specifically Nick Saban, for the use of medical scholarships to remove student-athletes from an active roster.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, this practice, in spirit, serves to provide continuing academic support for players who, due to injury, are unable to perform in the sport for which they were recruited. Its creation was one of altruistic intent.
In practice, though, it makes room for incoming students possessing potentially better athletic caliber by removing those who do not. Twenty-five medical scholarships have been used in the Southeastern Conference in the past three seasons; twelve by Alabama—most during the current coach’s first season transition.
Most young men who play football are segregated by their merits before or during high school. A few are identified while on a college roster. And when those lucky few are unlucky enough to be injured, the razor thin margin on which they stood closed. One back injury or knee surgery, no matter how modest, may have been too much to overcome.
That being said, let us admit their true medical hardship was being human. And, like most people, they are born not with exceptional potential but are matter-of-factly normal. And, like most normal people, they believe in their exceptionalness. A pol reminded me that this is why the working class votes for Republicans: they would rather believe in their potential to be rich than admit to being poor.
In the three cases reported by the Journal, outright fraud is never identified and, in truth, each student did suffer from a serious injury. However, the students in question believed they could have continued to compete. To this, one can only add that some men discover their limits later in life than others. This sounds harsh, but only because severity is one attribute of the truth.
If not playing college football is your life’s tragedy, congratulations. And for every player who lands in this category, there stands an opposite. Cory Reamer and Rashad Johnson (who is now in the NFL) were both walk-ons who earned scholarships. Will Lowery, who will play on the two-deep roster tomorrow, is hoping to earn one now and on his margins, the game may well depend.
A year ago, Ryan Mallet and the Arkansas offense were seen as an impressive work in progress. Now, with a season of work behind them their success is considered a fait accompli, and it is Alabama’s defense experimenting with and interchanging its parts after three games of the season. To this, one can only add that some men discover their potential later in life than others.
For Arkansas, their season’s upside likely hinges on tomorrow’s game. For the plan to work, this game is their path to the division title, the conference championship game, and beyond that? What limits dare they place on themselves then? For Alabama, it is another occasion to measure the brutal distance between merit and potential.
Somebody’s going to get hit.