Longtime Alabama coach Nick Saban offered a potential solution to college football’s sign-stealing problem — in-helmet communication devices.
In the NFL, a speaker is placed inside the quarterback’s helmet which allows the player to receive the play call from the coach. One player on the defensive side of the football also hears the play call from the sideline. This type of communication is currently not allowed at the college football level.
The second-ranked Michigan Wolverines are under an NCAA investigation after allegations of a sign-stealing operation surfaced. But Saban believes putting speakers in helmets could reduce the amount of time teams possibly dedicate to studying opponents’ signals.
“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 during a recent appearance 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.”
Saban further argued that there is “no reason” to not implement in-helmet communication.
“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,’” he said.
Saban added that players on the defensive side of the ball would also benefit from having the ability to communicate with the sideline.
“And for the defensive players who are going against a fastball team, all 11 guys gotta know the signals, all 11 guys gotta know the signs because they’re going fast and you can’t communicate it, rather than just being able to tell somebody this is the call,” he said.
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Saban was working as an assistant coach in the NFL when the league began using headset communication.
Last week, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel announced that Connor Stalions, a member of the football staff, was suspended with pay. Stalions is accused of purchasing tickets for several games of future opponents to allegedly engage in in-person scouting.
The NCAA rule book does not have rules that specially prohibit stealing signs.
However, the association does have rules against in-person advanced scouting of opponents.
“Off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) is prohibited,” NCAA Bylaw 11.6.1 states.