Saban confirms discussions about postponing title game

USA TODAY Sports
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Alabama coach Nick Saban acknowledged there were discussions about possibly moving the national championship game back because of COVID-19 issues.

The Associated Press and others have reported that Ohio State had spoken with CFP officials about possible player availability problems for the Buckeyes that could force the game to be delayed from Monday night in suburban Miami.

Saban said, “There were discussions as to whether it was fair to continue or to move the game back and all that.” But he noted that Alabama students return next week, creating “difficult management issues if we would have moved the game back.”

Asked Wednesday if the game was still on track to be played Monday night, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said: “Correct.”

“We’ll have plenty of players” available, Day said, though he didn’t disclose a specific number.

Saban also cited the Jan. 18 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft as a factor against pushing the title game back.

“So just the whole timing of the whole thing would have been a tough management,” the Alabama coach said. “But I would have put player safety on either team as the most important factor in this decision.”

INJURY NON-UPDATES

Don’t look for either coach to offer specifics on the status of their injured stars, Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields or Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.

Fields was banged up in the semifinal game against Clemson, and Ohio State coach Ryan Day has indicated he would play without specifying the nature of the injury.

“No real update. Don’t really give out injury updates,” Day said.

Fields didn’t either, but did say Thursday: “I’ll be good by Monday night.”

At Alabama, Waddle has been practicing this week trying to return from an ankle injury that required surgery.

Saban was non-committal about Waddle, noting that some players returning from injuries become too sore to practice the next day and others get stronger.

“So that’s a work in progress right now, so you really can’t predict where he might be,” he said.

STILL RUNNING HOT

Day can’t help but feel like he’s been on a treadmill gradually being tilted uphill in his first two seasons as the Buckeyes head coach.

It actually started in 2018 when he was an Ohio State assistant and was thrust into the role of interim coach when Urban Meyer was suspended for three games. He took over after Meyer’s retirement in January 2019, persuaded Fields to transfer to Ohio State and led the Buckeyes to the playoff semifinal game last season. Then, early in spring practice, 2020 was turned on its head by COVID-19.

He’s had little time to slow down.

“Hopefully, after this game I will take a deep breath,” he said. “Anyways, I feel like during these past two, two and half years, even a little bit more, I just haven’t been able to take a deep breath. You know, into March I was able to, and then the quarantine hit and then it just became chaos again.

“So looking forward to finishing this thing the right way and then taking a deep breath and decompressing and trying to reflect on what happened this year.”

SABAN GOT JOKES

Alabama tight end Miller Forristall believes Saban is funnier than people know. But the 69-year-old coach might need some fresh jokes since he’s still using some material from his days coaching Ronnie Brown with the Miami Dolphins.

“He definitely needs some new material,” Forristall said, laughing. “I was talking to Ronnie Brown the other day, another Cartersville (Georgia High School) alum, and he mentioned a joke Coach Saban said to him when he was in Miami, and I said he used that one the other day.

“It’s been a while since he was in Miami. Coach is a lot more lively and a lot more jovial than people just assume … he’s a lot more fun to be around than people take him as.”

Saban is known for a gruff, no-nonsense exterior, but players get to see a different side of him – and the program.

“People take that we have no fun and that he’s no fun,” Forristall said. “He thinks he’s funnier than he is, but he is pretty funny.”

PRICEY TICKETS

Not surprisingly, tickets on the secondary market are pricey for this game. One company, TickPick, said the average purchase price has been $1,759.68, with the cheapest ticket currently available for $1,045.

The average price is 34% higher than the six-year average of title games ($1,313.22). Only the 2018 championship game between Alabama and Georgia cost more on average: $2,210.06, according to the company.

The average for last year’s LSU-Clemson game: $1,584.99.

This time capacity is limited to about 16,000 fans and no tickets were sold directly to the general public.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”