Just to be clear, I am not accusing Nick Saban of running a clandestine steroid program at the University of Alabama, but if it turned out to be true, would it really be a big surprise? Not really. It would rank pretty low on the sports shock meter. Surely below Penn State, Lance, Roger&Barry& Ryan and even Manti T'eo's non girlfriend for pure jaw-dropping WTF? -ness.
Still, shall we ponder the question? We shall! We Shall!
Are the numbers a little too good to be true?
A home run title stands unchallenged for 40 years and then suddenly gets broken 10 times in 3 years. Hmm. A dude with cancer wins the Tour Dr France forty times in a row. Really? A washed up pitcher puts on 30 pounds of muscle and throws harder at 38 than he did at 28. Odd. An NFL linebacker suffers a possible career ending muscle tear and returns 12 months ahead of recovery schedule to star in the Super Bowl. Who woulda thunk it?
In the past five years the Alabama Crimson Tide under head coach Nick Saban have a record of 62 - 7 with THREE national titles. All this while playing in what is considered the toughest football conference in the universe, the SEC. Wow! That is amazing. How could they do it? What a coach! What a team! What is the secret?
Do Your Eyeballs Suspect Something Fishy?
Remember when Alabama mauled Michigan to open the 2012 season? The result of the game wasn't noteworthy as Michigan sucks. However, I watched the game with some friends drinking beer at a lake house and the boozy commentary went something like this, "Look at Alabama! God they are so big, so fast. Michigan looks like a middle school team standing next to them. Jesus, Alabama's receivers are bigger than Michigan's linebackers.. . Why are Alabama's running backs always so jacked? Lacy is bigger than Richardson and neither was even that big of a recruit. I'm glad our (insert your favorite team) isn't playing them. They look unstoppable. Look at them. Just look at them!".
Certainly, the Tide have recruited well (wink wink, nudge nudge) finishing with the top class twice in the past seven years since Saban took over, but filling a full football roster is a hit and miss affair. Ask Texas, Florida, FSU or USC how their top rated recruiting classes have been performing recently? Point is, good recruiting is imperative but using PEDs give you an extra edge, take you over the top. It takes a good player and makes them great. I could take steroids all the live long day and never hit a ball far enough to be a home run. Barry Bonds on the other hand goes from Hall of Fame caliber to other-worldly.
Motive and Opportunity? (well, duh)
College football is about as cut throat as it gets in the sporting world. The Crimson Tide had suffered through a miserable decade and Coach Saban had been a failure in the NFL before being lured back to the sidelines with Bama in 2008 and an enormous multi year contract making him the richest coach in college football.
Let's just say there was major pressure on both the new coach and the institution to win and win big in a timely fashion. Interests were aligned.
Could they get away with it? Absolutely. There are countless ways to dope up for an advantage, testing only works if the invesitgators know what they are testing for. The entire Lance Armstrong Postal cycling team was passing tests for over a decade before the truth was revealed. Or if you want to learn more about steroids than you will ever need to know, read "Game of Shadows" which blew the lid of Balco and the Bay area drug users. Half of the United States Olympic track team was using a substance known as "the clear" and only got caught because a rival coach fished a syringe out of a trash can after sprinter Tim Montgomery suddenly picked up a step in the 100 yard dash. If not for that syringe, "the clear" could have gone undetected for who knows how long. Marion Jones might still be winning medals and Barry Bonds head may still be growing.
I know Alabama is in the SEC, but still, it is a university afterall so I assume there must at least a couple nerdy science types on campus looking to help the football team and get seats closer to the 50 yard line in the process.
And as for keeping it a secret....
If Penn State can keep quiet the fact that the defensive co-ordinator was raping little boys in the football showers for over a decade, I'll assume "mum's the word" on steroids in small town Tuscaloosa. Who would have incentive to rat the program out? The team is winning, the coach is happy, the money is flowing, and more Tide players are being drafted into the NFL then ever before. If some carpet bagging scoundrel did actually spill the beans and ruin the program, It's safe to assume something would be getting poisoned and this time it wouldn't just be a tree.
So this weekend while you watch "Johnny Football" get chased all over the field by those Alabama avatars, you would be wise to remember an old adage that never goes out of style, especially in the world of big money sports: "If something is too good to be true, it usually is".
Colin Gawel plays in the band Watershed. You can read all about him in the acclaimed memoir "Hitless Wonder" by Joe Oestreich. He also writes for and manages the website Pencilstorm in between serving customers at Colin's Coffee, so if the writing could be a little better, please get off his ass. Please visit our contributors page to learn more.