Alabama’s Nick Saban weighs in on helmet communication amid Michigan sign-stealing scandal

Nick Saban doesn’t think cost should stop college football from using in-helmet communication

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Alabama coach Nick Saban has a solution for college football’s sign stealing issue. In light of the NCAA’s investigation into No. 2 Michigan’s purported use of an illegal sign-stealing scheme, Saban sees some form of helmet communication as an answer to the controversial topic. 

“If you look historically, you’ll know that there were reasons that they (the NFL) changed the rules so you couldn’t do that (steal signs),” Saban said on the Pat McAfee Show. “Then they come with the microphone in the helmet, whatever they call it, and there was no sign stealing. There was no signs because it was just communication. Which I think we would solve a lot of those problems if we would do the same thing in college football. 

“There’s no reason not to do that. There’s no reason that you just can’t tell the quarterback what the play is rather than having signs and signals and three people signaling and all this stuff to try to get the play, which is more difficult for the players, incidentally, because they’ve all got to get the sign because everybody’s gone no huddle.”  

Sign stealing isn’t inherently illegal in college football, but electronic recording and in-person scouting of future opponents is. The NCAA’s investigation into Michigan centers on off-field analyst Connor Stalions, who allegedly bought tickets for 30 games at 11 Big Ten stadiums while acting out a scheme that violated NCAA rules against in-person scouting of future opponents. 

Saban was an assistant coach in the NFL when it implemented headset communication. According to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, the NCAA Rules Committee is giving college teams the option of coach-to-player helmet communications during the 2023-24 bowl season. It seems to be the first step towards a future where college football adopts the technology. 

The issue at hand is cost, and the disparity between different levels of college football. Power conference teams could easily afford the technology and assume the risks that come with it. However, there are certain programs — even at the FBS level — that don’t have access to the same level of funding. Saban doesn’t believe economic disparity should hold back progress. 

 “It’s important that we have opportunities for all levels of college football players,” Saban said. “I’m all for that and I’m all for supporting that. But for those who play in leagues like we do, who have the funds to do it, in the SEC or the Big Ten or Big 12, whatever it is, we should be able to do it. Power Five conferences should be able to do it.     

“There’s such a discrepancy that we shouldn’t be living by the same rules. It’s like taxes, you know. I mean, some people that make a lot of money pay a lot more taxes than people that don’t make a lot of money. Well, we should have the same kind of rule differentiation in college athletics, which we’ve always tried to govern it all the same but it’s not the same.”


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