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Grow up, Nick ... lose the snarl

Alabama coach Nick Saban answers questions from media Wednesday.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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TUSCALOOSA, ALA.

Nick Saban’s face turned red. His voice grew loud, into a bullying yell:

“I made a statement,’’ he said. “DON’T ASK ME ABOUT THAT AGAIN.’’

Saban took a non-story that nobody on earth was ever going to care about, especially during Texas A&M week — something about a Yahoo! Sports report on a former player getting impermissible benefits and blah, blah, blah — and turned it into another moment of Saban being Saban, a YouTube moment people could talk about.

It’s always kind of funny when you’re sitting there watching a grown man throw a tantrum like a 2-year-old who is being forced to take a nap.

Whatever, Saban wanted to talk about the game, this Saturday’s game against Texas A&M. That’s what people want. In fact, I can’t wait to get to College Station to watch.

But we’ve seen some big investigative sports reports the past few days. Sports Illustrated is doing a five-part series on how Oklahoma State used sex, drugs and some player payments from boosters to build itself into what it is today, which, as far as I can tell, is an above-average football team.

And now on Wednesday, Yahoo! had its report about a former Alabama player serving as a middleman to get cash from agents to players. One was former Alabama player D.J. Fluker.

Here’s a cold truth for the media: People don’t care anymore. Everybody already knows this stuff, this picture of college sports.

I’m not approving of these things, but I think everyone has grown numb to them.

The college-sports system is broken. Everybody knows that. Colleges want to make sure they can keep as much of the incredible money coming into their sport as possible and not share it with the players.

In fact, in the case of football, the system is broken below the college level, too. Entire communities go nuts over watching high-school children play football. They are excited about the middle-school kids coming up, too.

People think there is some sort of problem with college football players being disenfranchised and needing just a little money here and there from the money factory that is their sport so they can, say, go to their grandma’s funeral or buy a pizza.

Please. That accounts for a tiny percent of football players. The bulk of them are not disenfranchised. They are the homecoming kings of America. They are overly beloved. And then they get to college, where that excessive love has led to a multi-billion-dollar industry. And around all that money, people just want to give them stuff, for whatever reason.

So this is a societal issue, and then an NCAA issue, and it’s a huge problem that funnels down, and funnels down, and Sports Illustrated is doing a five-part series on players getting an envelope with $500. Look at those bad athletes?

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Come on. It’s like blaming the ground for getting wet in a rainstorm.

As far as I can tell, most of these stories are written by the media, for the media. If SI or Yahoo! had written this in 1985, it would have been huge. It would have held up a mirror to a part of society that people weren’t overly familiar with. It would have exposed a truth about college sports, and about us.

As for Saban, after he answered, I believe, two questions about the Yahoo! story, he started getting worked up, saying that maybe every one of us in the room should just get in line and ask him about it.

I get why he was upset, just not why he acted like that. Actually, he gave good, thorough comments. He said that he hadn’t read the story yet, but that he was sure the school would look into it and take appropriate action. He said that at a place with so many high-profile players over the years at Alabama, “I’ve been really pleased with the way most of them, most of them’’ had behaved.

Alabama athletic director Bill Battle, a few minutes earlier, had issued a statement saying that, “We have been aware of some of the allegations in today’s story and our compliance department was looking into this situation prior to being notified that this story was actually going to be published. Our review is ongoing.’’

So wait. If Saban is in charge of his program, then why doesn’t he seem to know that his school was already looking into this stuff? Of course he knows. He just didn’t want to talk about it. He does not have a long history of this dirt.

He does, however, have a history of bullying. So he answered three questions and demanded that we not ask about it again.

Here’s some media info for Saban, though: At press conferences, his job is to provide whatever answers he wants. But it’s our job to provide the questions.

Saban said he’d take questions about the game only. And then he stood there while no one said another word.

He went off in a huff, saying sarcastically, “I appreciate your interest in the game.’’

He had a point, no matter how silly he looked making it.

Tagged: Alabama

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