By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nick Saban is a spectacular college football coach, one of the best of all time, but he struggles at playing the victim.
That was apparent on Wednesday when Saban singled out Texas A&M’s top-ranked recruiting class, accusing the fellow Southeastern Conference member of buying every player on the team with NIL money.
Saban was speaking at an event in Birmingham with local business leaders.
“I mean, we were second in recruiting last year,” Saban told the audience. “A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team — made a deal for name, image, likeness. We didn’t buy one player, all right? But I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough.”
Saban would go on to say that Alabama players made $3 million in NIL money by “doing it the right way” last year and that only 25 players were able to leverage NIL opportunities.
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin also recently took a shot at Texas A&M’s top-ranked recruiting class, saying in February that “Texas A&M was going to incur a luxury tax in how much they paid for their signing class.”
That prompted an angry response from Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, a former Saban assistant, during his signing day news conference the following day when he said that coaches spreading rumors about deals promised to recruits were “clown acts” and “irresponsible as hell.”
Fisher fired back against Saban on Thursday, calling him a narcissist and saying that his remarks were dispicable.
Fisher also denied any wrongdoing and praised his recruiters for doing a great job and for doing it the right way.
“I promise you this, there are no violations,” Fisher said. “There is nothing wrong.”
It appears that Saban wanted to accomplish two things with his accusations about Texas A&M; expose the enemy and fire up the Alabama donors to dig deeper.
Saban has built a dynasty at Alabama, arguably the best of all time.
But NIL has helped to level the playing field for teams such as Texas A&M, because thanks to having deep-pocketed donors who are willing to pool their resources, some programs can match, or even surpass what Alabama does with its NIL collective.
Some recruits are now being promised lucrative NIL deals when they enter college, taking what already was a bidding war before NIL, and with help from the transfer portal, and turning it into what is now being described by some head coaches as “the Wild, Wild West.”
“That’s not what it was supposed to be,” Saban said. “That’s what it’s become. And that’s the problem in college athletics right now. Now every player is saying, ‘Well, what am I going to get?'”
There is a rule that says name, image and likeness can’t be used to entice a recruit to attend a certain school.
But it’s so easy to work around that rule, especially when you have the United States Supreme Court on your side.
Last summer, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that said limiting education-related benefits violated antitrust laws. In the wake of that decision, the NCAA adopted rules that were far less restrictive, including allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.
The NCAA has been blamed and criticized for failing to act soon enough with NIL, and for bailing on the problems that NIL has created.
Saban defended the NCAA, however, saying the fear of litigation has created the current situation.
“But in defense of the NCAA, we are where we are because of the litigation,” Saban said.
Saban also accused Jackson State of paying $1 million to a prize football recruit, and that was met with a strong denial from Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders.
The impact from name, image and likeness, coupled with the transfer portal has changed college sports, and with change comes problems and resistance.
That’s what is happening right now with NIL, but there is no turning back with the Supreme Court having ruled in favor of the student-athlete.
What used to go on behind the scenes with player enticement is now happening in plain sight, and with the student-athlete having way more control and flexibility.
It’s easy to blame recruits and student-athletes for being greedy and disloyal, and for putting their needs above any team.
But it’s also hypocritical because how is a student-athlete benefitting from NIL any different than a head coach negotiating for a better deal, or leaving for a better job?
Ohio State announced Wednesday that the Ohio State University Board of Trustees is expected to approve this week a raise and a two-year extension for head football coach Ryan Day that will increase his pay from $7.6 million to $9.5 million.
That should make Day one of the five highest-paid coaches in college football, along with Nick Saban, USC’s Lincoln Riley, LSU’s Brian Kelly and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker.
It could be called the Nine Million Dollar club since all five head coaches will be paid at least $9 million in annual compensation.
Day made $4.5 million in 2019 in his first year as head coach taking over for Urban Meyer.
So, in just three years Day has more than doubled his salary.
His 23-1 record against Big Ten opponents, and the fear or losing Day to the NFL, gave him the negotiating leverage that he needed to cash in.
So, while it might be the “Wild, Wild West,” to blame only the student-athletes and the donors for the current situation is short-sighted and just not fair when head coaches at the Power Five level are making so much money.
It’s hard to think of either Saban or Fisher as a victim.
And they more they whine and complain, it becomes even harder.
Saban’s remarks seem more like sour grapes, while Fisher comes off as being sanctimonous and overly dramatic.
In both cases, being sympathetic is just asking too much.