When Nick Saban speaks, people listen.
When he broadsides Jimbo Fisher, his former assistant, and Deion Sanders, the charismatic dude he did AFLAC commercials with, people go crazy.
There are so many layers going on here. Dissension in the SEC, which is rare air, might be the most notable.
Another gem is the greatest coach of the most competitive era in college football basically complaining about Competitive Balance.
But let’s cut to the chase: Once you get past all the juicy infighting, the real issue is that College Football is a riderless horse that needs someone to take the reins.
Boiling down Saban’s complaint: He has no problem with Name, Image and Likeness as a means to the end of allowing players to make money. If a business wants to pay for endorsements etc., fine.
The problem is, if a collective group of alums puts a lot of cash in a bag and a football program can direct that cash to players without actually, um, paying any attention to the players’ Name, Image and Likeness value, that’s no different than a rich booster giving cash to a player.
Saban explained that well on an XM/Sirius college football show the other day.
He also apologized for mentioning Fisher, saying he shouldn’t have singled out anyone.
There’s so much fun personality/gossip craziness in this. The hype when Texas A&M visits Tuscaloosa on Oct. 8 is going to be insane.
But let me say this: From where I sit, Nick Saban is as honorable and sincere as big-time college coaches come. I respect the way he conducts himself as much as I respect the way he has carved out a career that puts him on the Mount Rushmore of college football coaches with Knute Rockne and Bear Bryant—and there may not be a fourth.
That’s why it’s so important that Nick Saban basically said College Football needs to figure this NIL business out. . . and not a minute to lose.
The devil is in the details.
Unable to, um, pay revenue-producing athletes because of Title IX and other fairness issues, colleges had to come up with this endaround NIL thing.
But there are loopholes that you could drive a truck though. A Brink’s truck loaded with stacks of cash.
This new era needs policing. Really good policing that everyone agrees with. Policing that needs to be specific to the major college programs that have mega-million-dollar budgets.
This is a job that the NCAA—with its Slippery Rocks and Idaho Vandals—can’t do.
When the mighty SEC is reduced to infighting, it is time to figure this out.
Whether intentional or not, Nick Saban has put this problem right on the front burner. And I suspect Nick Saban knew exactly what he was doing.
Enjoy the spectacle of Saban and Fisher trading accusations and insults. It is entertaining.
But know that college football needs to get to the heart of the matter. Players need to be compensated. But there need to be some rules that provide an orderly way to do that.