Bradley’s Buzz: Even the SEC hates what college football has become

SEC media days began with commissioner Greg Sankey bemoaning NIL money, the coin of the realm in what’s no longer an amateur sport. “Our student-athletes deserve something better than a patchwork of state laws,” he said.

Then: “Our student-athletes deserve something better than a race to the bottom at the state legislature battle.”

Then: “They deserve something better than to sort through a fully unregulated market.”

Those remarks came on Day 1 in Nashville. The concluding Day 4 – you just know a Day 5 to accommodate Texas and Oklahoma is coming – saw Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin label his sport “a disaster.” With NIL and the transfer portal, there are “different caps and no luxury taxes.”

Kiffin also said, “I’m not complaining,” which was LOL funny. This time a year ago, the same coach sought to brand his program as Transfer U. (Lincoln Riley’s USC wound up claiming that dubious distinction, though Ole Miss ran a strong second.) And here pause to ponder the incongruity of Lane Kiffin, whistleblower.

He left Tennessee for USC after one season strewn with self-reported NCAA violations for excessively exuberant recruiting. (That was back when the NCAA mattered, sort of.) He got fired by USC on the tarmac at LAX. Nick Saban showed him an accelerated exit – Kiffin was headed to Florida Atlantic anyway – for describing his time in Tuscaloosa in “dog years” to Sports Illustrated.

Kiffin’s Rebels started 7-0 last season. They finished 8-5. They did, however, enable Georgia Tech and Auburn in offering accelerated exits to Geoff Collins and Bryan Harsin, respectively. Kiffin was himself seen as the leading candidate to replace Harsin. He wound up staying in Oxford. He’ll earn $9 million this season, there being no salary cap for coaches, either.

The point being: Kiffin is a brat and a joker and a bit of a hypocrite, but he’s not wrong about college football. NIL money began as a noble concept – let’s pay players above the table! – that, like many noble concepts, crashed on the shoals of unintended consequences.

Big-money boosters seized on above-the-table part, big-money folks having a keen eye for legal loopholes. Stetson Bennett came to Georgia as a walk-on and, six years later, moved to the NFL for what might or might not be a pay cut. Who saw that coming?

There’s no national standard for NIL money. “Only Congress can resolve these issues,” Sankey said. When you seek relief from the world’s most dysfunctional body, you’re in a world of hurt.

The transfer portal went live in 2018. NIL money became a thing in 2021. The combination, Kiffin said, amounted to “legalized cheating. You just told donors they can pay the players.”

A bit later, Kiffin was asked where Ole Miss boosters “rank” in the SEC. “I am not about to start putting rankings on boosters,” he said. His audience laughed. Then: “God, I want to so bad, though.” More laughter.

It’s safe to say the Ole Miss boosters have done their bit. 247 Sports rates the Rebels’ 2023 transfer class, which numbers 25 incoming players, No. 6 nationally. LSU is No. 1. Said Brian Kelly, who coaches LSU: “I’m not here to fix it. I’m here to navigate it.”

Back to Kiffin: “It is what it is. We’ll deal with it like we do with everything else. But somehow it’s got to get fixed because there’s no system around it.”

And here we ask: Does it? Who’d be the fixer? How would fixes work? A cap on NIL money? A limit on the number of times a player can transfer? (This might be known as the JT Daniels Rule, after the former Georgia Bulldog who’s on his fourth school.) Wasn’t freedom of movement the NCAA’s dying wish as the steward of college sports?

We leave you with this thought: These comments emanated from the convocation of the conference where It Just Means More. Imagine the Pac-12 reading such plaints and thinking, “At least you’ve got a TV deal.”

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