Deciding the best defense is a good offense, Saban did his own tut-tutting. He’d apologized, yes, but – go back and look! – he hadn’t accused Texas A&M of cheating. Speaking Thursday on SiriusXM, he said: “I really wasn’t saying that anybody did anything illegal in using name, image and likeness. I didn’t say that. That was something that was assumed by what I said, which was not really what I meant. Nor was it what I said. There’s nothing illegal about doing this. It’s the system that allows you to do it.”
The furor over NIL money all but demands that somebody with a bully pulpit say something. Saban has nominated himself. The NCAA has done nothing except offer “guidelines” while urging member schools to play fair. Sankey – the most powerful man in collegiate sports if you don’t count Saban – went to Capitol Hill to ask Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn for legislative relief.
In Thursday’s statement, Sankey averred: “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 (which start May 31).”
Well, that and the cage match between Saban and Jimbo.
NIL money came into being last summer. Every school that takes winning seriously has scrambled to push the letter of various state laws to the limit. In his Wednesday remarks in Birmingham, Saban conceded that Alabama has created an in-house “collective” to oversee NIL payments to deserving players. He called this “the right way” – as opposed, say, to the A&M way. Left unclear was how the ways differ.
Some 25 Bama players, Saban said, earned a total of $3 million via NIL last season. Last summer, he also suggested that then-unproven quarterback Bryce Young was banking close to $1 million. (“Ungodly numbers,” Saban said then.) The website On3 now estimates Young’s NIL value at $3.1 million.
There’s no lid on NIL money. The tottering NCAA dare not make one for fear of being sued for antitrust violations. NIL laws are the province of state legislatures. No legislative body, especially here in the South, is eager to enact a monetary limit for fear of voter backlash.
Said Saban, speaking to ESPN’s Chris Low: “We have free agency (meaning the transfer portal) and no salary cap. … There’s no professional league that has that circumstance because none of them are stupid enough to have it.”
It’s tempting to label Saban a raging hypocrite: He’s so used to having the No. 1 recruiting class that he has a cow when some other program – i.e., A&M – claims that distinction. Still, as self-serving as he might sound, he’s not wrong. Above-the-table NIL money already has replaced those much-rumored under-the-table payments as the currency of recruiting. Is this what even the most ardent pay-the-players advocates had in mind?
Saban on SiriusXM: “I don’t want to go down that road of bidding for players out of high school. … If we go through this recruiting class this year and we lose all the players because they’re making a hundred thousand dollars going someplace else, then what can you do?”
Offer $200K, maybe? In a free market, you’re worth whatever someone is willing to pay. There’s no freer market than college football in the time of NIL.