Alabama’s Nick Saban goes in-depth on out-of-control NIL: ‘[Texas] A&M bought

Texas A&M’s top-ranked 2022 recruiting class has long been on the receiving end of murmurs surrounding how, exactly, coach Jimbo Fisher signed more five-star prospects in one class than he had in his entire Aggies tenure prior to this offseason. That’s life for college football‘s elite recruiting programs. On Wednesday night, however, Alabama coach Nick Saban said the quiet part out loud — and it was far from the only thing he had to get off his chest.

Speaking at a 50-day countdown event for the World Games, Saban touched on the ways name, image and likeness (NIL) has impacted the game. He didn’t pull any punches in the process. Specifically, Saban went straight for Texas A&M as an example of what’s wrong with NIL, flatly accusing the Aggies of buying their recruits through NIL deals. 

“It’s going to be difficult for the people who are spending tons of money to get players,” Saban said as part of a 7-minute answer to a question about NIL that was recorded and published by AL.com. “You’ve read about them. You know who they are. We were second in recruiting last year. [Texas] 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. 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 called NIL “a great concept for players,” noting that Alabama football players “created $3 million worth of opportunity for themselves by doing it the right way” in the past year. “And 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,” he added. “There were only 25 guys on our team that had the opportunity to earn money.”

This is not the first time barbs have been directed at Texas A&M regarding its elite class, though prior accusations primarily came anonymously from college football fans — not from the mouth of the sport’s premier coach. Fisher, a former Saban assistant, fired back at the notion that NIL played a role in his program’s recruiting success when asked about it during National Signing Day in February.

“This $30 million deal is a joke. This thing that there’s some fund out there and it was written on BroBible by some guy named ‘Sliced Bread’ and all of a sudden the country believes it, it’s a joke,” Fisher said on CBS Sports HQ. “It didn’t affect recruiting at all. The people who wanted to make comments on it have no idea what’s going on. It’s insulting to the players who come here and the people around us.”

Saban’s comments Friday night were not solely directed at Texas A&M. In fact, during his 7-minute answer, he provided a clear perspective on NIL, including its significant benefits for players and potentially disastrous unintended consequences for college sports as a whole.

Here’s what else the Crimson Tide coach had to say on the topic.

NCAA enforcement is in a near-impossible position

The NCAA Board of Directors issued new NIL guidelines this month with the intent of cracking down on third-party booster collectives disguising pay-for-play deals as NIL. While the guidance is intended to handle individual cases moving forward, the NCAA said it “may pursue the most outrageous violations that were clearly contrary to the interim policy adopted last summer.”  Saban explained why those guidelines will be difficult to enforce. 

“People blame the NCAA, but in defense of the NCAA, we are where we are because of the litigation that the NCAA gets like [for] the transfer portal. If the NCAA doesn’t get some protection from litigation — whether we got to get an antitrust [exemption] or whatever it is from a federal government standpoint — this is not going to change because they cannot enforce their rules. …

Jackson State paid a guy $1 million last year who was a really good Division I player to come to their school. It was in the paper, and they bragged about it. No one did anything about it. These guys at Miami that are going to pay basketball there for $400,000; it’s in the newspaper. The guy tells you how he’s doing it. But the NCAA can’t enforce their rules because it’s not against the law, and that’s an issue. That’s a problem. Unless we got something that protect them from litigation, I don’t know what we’re going to do about it.”

NIL without enforcement will endanger college sports 

Saban also echoed his stern warning in April about NIL’s sustainability in college football when he asked if “that’s what we want college football to be.” He’s hardly alone in voicing that concern, but with NIL deals already rampant throughout college athletics, adjusting to this world looks like the only option — no matter how difficult it may be. 

“Our job is not to buy you to come to school here. I don’t know how you manage a locker room — and I don’t know if this is a sustainable…

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