University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban apologized for some of his comments about players being payed by other schools in recruiting, but is not backing down that college football is a mess under its current structure.
“I should have never really singled anybody out," Saban said while on the ESPNU radio show Off Campus on Thursday afternoon. "That was a mistake and I really apologize for that part of it."
Saban emphasized that his problem is not with name, image and likeness per se ("I think name, image and likeness is good for college football"), but with collectives and the lack of enforcement when it comes to using it in recruiting.
Not only does it put prospects in the position of choosing between taking more money upfront at the cost of development, but opens the door to a host of other potential issues.
"I feel bad about it, but I’m not changing my philosophy,” Saban said.
"I'm not against name, image and likeness. Our players made a lot of money last year in name image and likeness. I told our players to get an agent, get representation, you know, make what you can make. Players have always been able to work, and I think that's a good thing.
"I think the issue in college athletics in general now is the whole system of collectives and people making money to basically pay players, whether it's to come to their school or pay the players that are on their team. ... It's the whole system. Is it a sustainable system and is it really good for college football?
"I think name, imagine and likeness is good for college football. I just think our role is to have a program that creates value for guys' futures so they focus on getting an education, becoming better people, being a good person and learning habits that are going to help [them] being successful and see if they can develop a career as a football player.
"I think the focus now is getting a little more on how much money I can make while I'm playing and where can I make it. I'm not really sure that's good systematically for any of us."
Saban also went out of his way to say that he never once said that he accused the other schools or coaches of doing anything illegal.
"I didn't say that," he said. "That was something that was assumed by what I said. There's nothing illegal about doing this. It's the system that allows you to do it and that's the issue that I have."
Saban made his initial comments on Wednesday night at a 50-day countdown event for the upcoming World Games in Birmingham. He was discussing how the various laws in different states had resulted in different standards, and then specifically mentioned Texas A&M, followed by Jackson State and Miami.
“I know the consequence is going to be difficult for the people who are spending tons of money to get players,” Saban said. “You read about it, you know who they are. We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness.
“We didn’t buy one player. Aight? But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future, because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough.”
Saban stated that Alabama players combined to earn $3 million "by doing it the right way."
"I have no problem with that," Saban said Wednesday. "And nobody had a problem on our team with that because the guys that got the money earned it."
On Thursday, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher held a press conference to deliver a scathing response to Saban’s comments, referring to them as “despicable.” The Texas A&M head coach stated that the Aggies had not done anything illegal in recruiting while insinuating Saban had broken rules throughout his career.
“Some people think they’re God,” Fisher said. “Go dig into how God did his deal. You may find out about a guy that a lot of things you don’t want to know. We’ve built him up to be the czar of football? Go dig into his past or anybody that’s ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to find out, what he does and how he does it and it’s despicable."
Fisher served as Saban’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at LSU from 2000 to 2004. During his Thursday press conference, Fisher said Saban has tried to reach him since Wednesday's comments but that he isn’t taking any calls from the Alabama coach.
When asked about their relationship, Fisher responded, “We’re done.”
Aggies athletic director Ross Bjork followed up his head coach’s remarks, stating that the comments from Saban were an attack on both Fisher and Texas A&M.
“I don’t know why Nick Saban would say what he said except he’s threatened,” Bjork told Sports Illustrated. “There is a saying … an emperor who loses their dynasty lashes out. He seems to be making excuses.
“This is personal. Coach Fisher views this as a personal attack on his integrity and on Texas A&M’s integrity,” Bjork continued. “To have personal attacks, to say that the only reason A&M is [recruiting well] is NIL money is wrong.”
Bjork added that he thought Saban's statement violated SEC sportsmanship bylaws. Not only did commissioner Greg Sankey agree, but reprimanded both coaches on Thursday afternoon.
SEC Reprimands Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey issued the following statement related to comments made by Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M head football coach Jimbo Fisher.
“The membership of the Southeastern Conference has established expectations for conduct and sportsmanship that were not met last night nor today,” said Sankey. “A hallmark of the SEC is intense competition within an environment of collaboration. Public criticism of any kind does not resolve issues and creates a distraction from seeking solutions for the issues facing college athletics today. There is tremendous frustration concerning the absence of consistent rules from state to state related to name, image and likeness. We need to work together to find solutions and that will be our focus at the upcoming SEC Spring Meetings.”
"As a result of public comments made on May 18 by Alabama head coach Nick Saban, a public reprimand is issued for comments he made in violation of SEC Bylaws 10.2.3 and 10.5.2 related to Ethical Conduct for derogatory comments and public criticism of another institution’s athletics program."
"As a result of public comments made on May 19 by Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, a public reprimand is issued for comments he made in violation of SEC Bylaw 10.5.2 related to Ethical Conduct for public criticism of another member institution’s staff."
SEC Bylaw 10.2.3 states “Coaches and other member personnel shall advocate the positive advantages and attributes of their university and its intercollegiate athletics program and shall avoid making any derogatory statements concerning another member institution’s athletics program, facilities or educational opportunities.”
SEC Bylaw 10.5.2 states “Coaches and administrators shall refrain from public criticism of other member institutions, their staffs or players. Coaches and administrators shall also refrain from making public statements and accusations with regard to infractions concerning member institutions and their personnel. In response to questions by the media, it is appropriate to state that infractions are reported, investigated and addressed in accordance with established Conference and NCAA procedures.”
On National Signing Day, Fisher made headlines lashing out at reports that his recruiting class was a product of NIL deals. However, he had previously never signed more than two players considered consensus five-star talents in a recruiting class at Texas A&M. He had seven this year.
Jackson State coach Deon Sanders has also denied million-dollar rumors after signing the top player in last year's recruiting class. Saban said he reached out to both coaches on Thursday, but hasn't heard back from them.
Miami hasn't denied anything.
Both Saban and Fisher will be at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin beginning May 31.