The Senior Bowl. To many, it’s just some silly college all-star game that serves as a filler on the weekend that offers us no other football games to choose from. However, to the kids who are participating, the coaches who are working with them and the 32 NFL teams and their scouts who are in attendance, it’s a week-long interview process that could determine the rest of these all-stars’ lives.
Each January prior to the NFL draft, the general managers, scouts and coaches descend on Mobile to scrutinize the weigh ins of these half-naked college all-stars, looking for “good weight distributions” and bodies with little flab. Then, the scouts and coaches get to watch the kids as they absorb the playbooks in the classroom and then watch the all stars put their classroom studies to work on the practice field. For college seniors, if they want to be seen and improve their draft stock then there is no more important event than the Senior Bowl.
This year, though, it’s not just college seniors who are participating in this week-long interview process and no one could be happier about that than Nick Saban. This year, the new director of the Senior Bowl (and Alabama radio color commentator), Phil Savage, met with the NFL and decided that any junior who had already earned his degree could be and should be invited to Mobile. So, in a landmark decision, Alabama’s junior right tackle DJ Fluker became the first ever junior to be invited to the Senior Bowl.
While it’s a tremendous opportunity for Fluker, the real long-term opportunity favors Nick Saban. Saban sells high school seniors on the idea that in three years, if they are good enough, the Tide coaching staff will help them pursue their NFL dreams. Players like Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Trent Richardson are among the numerous Alabama juniors who are living proof of this. Each declared early for the NFL with the blessing of Saban and each has prospered in their NFL careers. The other selling point that goes hand in hand with the three-year NFL plan is the fact that, on the Alabama plan, Saban and company also have an academic plan in place which, if followed, allows their players to earn their degrees in their junior years. In 2009, 22 players who took the field against Texas had earned their degrees. This year, as a result of Saban’s academic plan and Fluker’s work in the classroom, the Bama junior has the chance to make history by participating in the Senior Bowl.
With this landmark Senior Bowl ruling, even more future Alabama players can realize the opportunity of participating in this important week-long interview process. Before this ruling, a player’s value needed to be a first rounder like Ingram, Richardson or Jones because they didn’t need the benefit of a good Senior Bowl performance to boost their stock. But now, if they have their degree, more marginal players will have the opportunity to attend the Senior Bowl as juniors and provide for their families a year earlier than expected. A player who is viewed as a fourth rounder can now participate in the Senior Bowl and have the opportunity of enhancing their draft stock to a third or second rounder with a good week of practice. Players who, for whatever reason, want to provide for their families as soon as possible can now do so a year earlier and perhaps increase their draft stock along the way at the Senior Bowl.
While this ruling likely means a few more early departures by Alabama players in the future, the selling point of this new ruling should encourage even more highly sought after and talented high schoolers to flock to the Capstone. Think about this. As a parent, Saban & Co will offer your son the chance to go pro after three years with their degree in hand and now with the chance to impress the NFL scouts at the all important Senior Bowl. This quiet, under the radar ruling should work to Saban’s benefit as the rich should continue to get richer…all the way around.