HOOVER, Ala. -- After back-to-back national titles and three championships in four years from 2009-2012, the Alabama Crimson Tide have been turned away from postseason wins in each of the last two seasons. Head coach Nick Saban believes that dreams of the NFL might have had a small part to play in consecutive Sugar Bowl losses.
"I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC Championship game to the playoff game was affected by something," Saban said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. "I think that to have a Dec. 15 deadline from when a junior can submit for a draft grade and then you get that assessment back sometime right before or right after Christmas, and then you have a playoff game coming up on Jan. 1 or 2, and I think it's my obligation as a coach to inform that young man when I get that information.
"Because it's his information, it's not my information, to make him aware of that. And we're talking about a young person who has to deal with a lot now."
After winning the SEC Championship, Alabama lost to Ohio State 42-35 in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Underclassmen who begin to ponder an early jump into the NFL can request a draft grade from the NFL College Advisory Committee. This committee, which includes personnel from NFL teams and scouting directors from the league's two sanctioned scouting organizations, returns to the college athlete an evaluation that could include a potential first-, second- or third-round grade, an idea that the athlete will not be drafted in the first three rounds but could be drafted, or the notion that the player likely won't get picked by an NFL team.
The process has never been guaranteed for accuracy. The veracity of the advisory committee's evaluation, however, wasn't the target of Saban's ire. Saban questioned the timing of the process that hands college athletes a tangible response to their future, or potential thereof, in the NFL.
"We're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game," Saban said. "I think that it would be better not to submit that information to a player until he was finished competing in college."
Alabama had six players last season, and 11 in 2013, that received evaluations from the advisory committee, Saban said. He alluded to the fact that players worried about their NFL status might sometimes play to avoid injury instead of playing to win a football game.
However, Amari Cooper, who was taken fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2015 NFL draft, didn't need the advisory committee to tell him he was a first-round pick. After 14 regular-season touchdown catches in 2014 and more than 1,600 receiving yards, Cooper was a cinch to go early in the draft. Cooper also added nine catches, two for touchdowns, in Alabama's Sugar Bowl loss. Not many can look at that performance with an accusation of thinking ahead for personal gain.
Nevertheless, with the College Football Playoff culminating in a title game played in mid-January, Saban called to push back both the deadlines to request a draft grade and to declare for the NFL draft.
"We used to play bowl games on Jan. 1," Saban said. "Now the championship game's on Jan. 11 or 12, and the 15th is still the day that people have to declare for the draft. So I think a week, 10 days would be beneficial, and I think a rule that says you don't get information to players on draft status until after they've completed their college competition would be beneficial."