Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has always brought an 'old school' mentality to the way he does things.
So, it should be no surprise that the seven-time national champion has a problem with the new NIL phenomenon that is sweeping college football.
And after Texas A&M upset the No. 1 Tide in College Station last season, he seems particularly angry with his former pupil, Jimbo Fisher, and the way the Aggies conduct their business.
"We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team," Saban said at an event in Birmingham on Wednesday night. "Made a deal for name, image, and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. 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"
Saban is not the first SEC coach to call out the Aggies either.
The Aggies, of course, finished the 2021 recruiting cycle with the unanimous top class in the country across all services. Some even called the Aggie haul, the greatest class in the history of the modern recruiting era.
Amongst the Aggies list of elite recruits in the class, were a handful of players that Fisher beat Saban for, including top corner Denver Harris, defensive linemen such as Lebbeus Overton, Enai White and Shemar Stewart, and a hand full of other prospects.
However, it wasn't just the Aggies that entered Saban's crosshairs on Wednesday. Deion Sanders and Jackson State, who managed to land the No. 1 overall recruit in the country, in part by virtue of the NIL opportunities, were also a topic of discussion.
“We have a rule right now that said you cannot use name, image and likeness to entice a player to come to your school. Hell, read about it in the paper!” Saban said. “I mean, Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division I player to come to school. It was in the paper and they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it.”
Saban doesn't disagree with the NIL at its core. He actually believes that players deserve the opportunity to earn money.
In fact, Alabama is one of the most successful programs in the country in terms of getting its players paid through NIL opportunities.
“I told our players when this whole thing started to get agents, get representation, so you create opportunities for yourself,” he said. “Our players last year created $3 million worth of opportunities for themselves in doing it the right way. I have no problem with that and nobody had a problem on our team with that because the guys that got the money earned it.”
Rather, what Saban disagrees with is how coaches are taking advantage of it, and how the creation of NIL collectives is changing the landscape of recruiting in general.
“The issue and the problem with name, image and likeness is coaches try to create an advantage for themselves by going out and saying, ‘OK, how can we use this to our advantage?’” Saban continued. “They created what’s called a collective. A collective is an outside marketing agency that is not tied to the university that’s funded by alumni from the university. They give this collective millions of dollars. That marketing agency then funnels it to the players. Alright? And the coach actually knows how much money is in the collective, so he knows how much he can promise every player.
"That’s not what (NIL) was supposed to be. That’s what it’s become and that’s the problem in college athletics right now.”
Unfortunately for Saban, things are not likely to change in terms of the way NIL dealings are implemented across college football.
Other blue blood programs, like Texas and USC for example, have already used it to their advantage, and have been able to completely reshape their programs in a single off-season as a result.
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That said, if there is one coach who has the power to make an impact on the rules of college football, it is Nick Saban.
For now, however, the Aggies will continue to enjoy their No. 1 ranked class in 2022, and do their use the opportunities created by the new NIL rules to bring in another top class in 2023.
Something they are already well on their way to doing.
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