Nick Saban: 'No reason' for NCAA to not allow speakers in players' helmets to prevent sign stealing

Saban noted how the NFL added speakers in players' helmets in the 1990s to curb in-person sign stealing

TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 21:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts against the Tennessee Volunteers during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Nick Saban says there's "no reason" college football coaches can't directly tell the quarterback what play to run. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama coach Nick Saban thinks the easiest way to prevent sign stealing in college football would be to implement communication between the quarterback and the sideline like the NFL.

In the NFL, the quarterback has a microphone in his helmet that allows him to get a play call from the sideline while one defensive player also has the ability to get a call from the sideline. That isn't allowed in college football, and Saban said Thursday that would be the simplest way to prevent teams from spending so much time trying to decipher the other team's signals.

Saban was asked about sign stealing on Thursday's "Pat McAfee Show" because of the brewing scandal at Michigan regarding the way that the Wolverines obtained other teams' signals. Sign stealing is an accepted art and everyone does it. But NCAA rules prohibit teams from scouting in-person at games and Michigan staffer Connor Stalions is accused of buying tickets to numerous games across the country in an effort to decipher other teams' signs.

While he didn't directly comment on the Michigan situation, Saban prefaced his answer about headsets inside helmets by noting that in-person sign stealing was prevalent in the NFL in the late 1980s and how the NFL's answer to the preponderance of in-person scouting to decipher signs was to implement speakers in players' helmets.

"Then they come with the microphone in the helmet, whatever they call it and there was no sign stealing, there was no signs, because there was communication," Saban said. "Which I think we would solve a lot of those problems if we would do the same thing in college football. 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 all gotta get the sign because everyone’s going no-huddle."

"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."

With an NCAA investigation ongoing into Michigan's alleged sign-stealing habits, there will likely not be a ruling anytime before the end of the season nor will there be an in-season rule change regarding the way that coaches and players should communicate. But as the NCAA's rules committee annually reviews college football rules every offseason, giving coaches the ability to directly relay plays to players should be at the top of the list for changes ahead of the 2024 season.