The situation required one of Alabama’s staff members to hold up a phone as Crimson Tide players worked out Wednesday.
“I had the manager have a phone,” Saban said Wednesday on the Zoom call with reporters during which he announced his diagnosis. “If I wanted a play repeated, I said, ‘Repeat that play. So-and-so messed up.’ I didn’t leave the country or anything. I’m just right down the street. And we have this technology, so it’s unique.”
Despite the technology at his disposal during practice, Saban won’t be able to use it during Saturday’s game should he continue to test positive because of guidelines set by College Football Officiating, a group created by the NCAA and commissioners of major athletic conferences to help standardize rules.
Rule 1-4-11-b allows “allows only voice communications between the press box and the team area, therefore in (a) the coach could not call into the press box or the sideline for anything related to coaching purposes,” according to an interpretation of the rules written for this season by Steve Shaw, the national coordinator of football officials (and, it should be noted, an Alabama graduate).
On Thursday, Saban seemed to be at least a little irked by that interpretation.
“The protocol is, if you’re in quarantine, you can’t have any remote access to the sidelines and you can’t go to the game, even if they put you in an isolated area. So, never having thought much about that — and I’m not being critical here — if you’re the head coach, there ought to be a better way to do it,” he said during his weekly radio show (Saban appeared from his home office).
“I don’t know exactly what that is. But there should be a better way to do that. You ought to have some kind of communication with the sidelines, just like I have communication with somebody on the field during practice. I can’t directly talk to a player, but I can say, ‘Tell 22, that he was supposed to reroute the guy,’ or whatever.
“You can’t have any of that. That doesn’t seem quite right. I think you could probably do without an assistant, if you had to. Maybe a little harder if it was a coordinator who calls the plays and maybe you don’t have somebody that is effective at doing that, or experienced at doing that, on your staff.”
Another rule calls for virtual communication on game day to be prohibited “90 minutes before the scheduled kickoff when the officiating crew assumes jurisdiction of the game and would include the time between periods until the end of the game when the Referee declares the score final,” according to Shaw’s interpretation of the rules.
Saban said the rule interpretation could mean that assistants get unfairly criticized for in-game decisions.
“I get criticized. I understand the game. If you make a call and it works, and it works, it’s a good call. If you make a call and it doesn’t work, it’s a bad call. It’s as simple as that. I get that,” Saban said. “But if an assistant on your staff has to make one of those types of calls, and if it doesn’t work, I’d hate to see someone have to get criticized for something that probably shouldn’t even have been their responsibility to start with.”
Saban on Wednesday did not rule out coaching in Saturday’s game, which will carry major implications for the College Football Playoff, but he admitted, “I’m not sure exactly how this is going to play out in terms of when the game comes.”
Under the SEC’s coronavirus protocol, asymptomatic individuals such as Saban must isolate and may take a second test within 24 hours of the first positive test. If that test is negative, two additional tests can be done, 24 hours apart. If the person remains symptom-free and has three successive negative tests, “they may be released from isolation and medically cleared to return to athletics activities only.”
That timeline indicates Saban would need to receive negative test results on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and be cleared immediately to be able to coach in the Georgia game. Alabama released a statement from associate director of sports medicine Jeff Allen on Friday saying Saban took a second PCR test Thursday that came back negative. The school says the negative test was administered in an SEC-appointed lab whereas the positive test was conducted at a lab not assigned by the conference. If Alabama receives three negative test results from the SEC-appointed lab, with each spaced 24 hours apart, the program will consider the initial test a false positive and will allow Saban to return. Saban reiterated on his radio show that Sarkisian would lead the Crimson Tide on Saturday if he cannot be there.