For some reason, nearly a year after Blake Barnett decided he no longer wanted to compete for playing time at the University of Alabama — and over six months after Cooper Bateman decided he’d play his fifth and final year of eligibility elsewhere, as players often do — the ex-Crimson Tide quarterbacks are back in headlines talking about (who else?) Nick Saban.
No one questions that either Barnett or Bateman had the right to transfer elsewhere. No one questions that they have the right to voice their opinions. I don’t like the word “quitter,” which gets thrown around too much in reference to young men who have spent most of their lives playing a grueling sport. But is this still news, the way ESPN made it out to be on Tuesday? The fact that the story featured a screaming headline about Saban’s “tactics” but contained no attempt to get a response from Saban is unsurprising.
In his defense, Barnett indicated on social media that the ESPN story wasn’t something he was enthusiastic about doing.
“We were both “asked” to do the interview and we just answered the questions we were asked,” Barnett said in a Twitter reply to a former Alabama teammate, Alphonse Taylor. “Never grudges, much love.”
I’m a trifle curious as to who did the “asking” and why, but the best route is probably to let the two players get on with their lives and careers. If they feel like “communications” were an issue, they can certainly say so. The fact is, they were beaten out by a better player, Jalen Hurts. Maybe they didn’t see it that way, and needed to be better informed of the obvious. If so, it’s too bad that notification didn’t happen.
Bateman, for his part, said he “didn’t want to be a part of it,” presumably meaning Alabama football, after the first week of the 2016 season, but said he “toughed it out” until the end of the year. He eventually returned to his home state, walking on at the University of Utah. Barnett, given an NCAA instant-eligibility waiver, transferred to Arizona State. Neither is expected to be a starter this fall, although Barnett is No. 2 on the Sun Devil depth chart (or administrative grouping, if that’s the terminology in Tempe) and is still competing for the job.
Every year, a couple of hundred high school quarterbacks sign college scholarships with FBS schools. More than half of those quarterbacks end up transferring before their career ends.
Some of those transfers will go on to be tremendous success stories. Jake Coker won a national championship at Alabama. Cam Newton won one at Auburn. Baker Mayfield is a Heisman candidate at Oklahoma after starting his career as a walk-on at Texas Tech. There’s no stigma attached to looking for greener pastures, nor should there be. Alabama fans generally like to see their former players do well when they transfer — even when, like running back Alvin Kamara, they end up playing at a major rival like Tennessee. That doesn’t mean any fan base is 100 percent supportive. There are always an angry few among the faithful. Usually, though, it’s live and let live — in both directions.
Even Saban’s 2016 quotes about Barnett, which Barnett again mentioned in the latest interview, had nothing to do with his transfer per se. The issue was Barnett leaving after the fourth week of the season. At this point, I suspect Saban cares more about the quarterbacks on the 2017 team and, short of wishing them well, devotes little, if any, thought to the departed.
Here’s hoping that both have success in the future.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.