What hath NIL wrought? Only the SEC’s goofiest impromptu offseason news conference since Steve Spurrier stepped forward on a July afternoon in 2015 to label an Atlanta newspaper weasel the “enemy.” As amusing as that was – even to yours truly, Mr. Weasel – it pales in comparison with current events.
Nick Saban spoke in Birmingham on Wednesday and accused Texas A&M, which just assembled the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, of having “bought every player on their team.” Three guesses whose program finished with the No. 2 class.
Saban on Alabama: “We didn’t buy one player, all right?”
The Saban scorecard reads thusly: Scurrilous A&M bought everybody; pristine Alabama bought no one. Yet Saban conceded that Bama players made $3 million in NIL money last season. And what was A&M’s alleged crime? Saban’s own words: “(It) made a deal for name, image and likeness.”
Got that? Texas A&M’s NIL deals are an affront to truth, justice and the American way. Alabama’s are A-OK.
Before noon Thursday, A&M coach Jimbo Fisher had pulled a Spurrier, though we stipulate the Evil Genius never said as bad about his favorite weasel as Jimbo did of his former boss. On the brink of hyperventilation, Fisher said: “We never bought anybody. No rules were broken. We did nothing wrong. ... It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way or things don’t go his way. The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top.”
After that warm-up, Jimbo brought the heat: “Some people think they’re God. Go dig into how God did his deal. You might find out about a guy, a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be this czar of football. Go dig into his past or anybody who has ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to know about what he does and how he does it. It’s despicable.”
Then, pivoting to the homespun: “My dad always told me this: ‘When people show you who they are, believe them.’ He’s showing you who he is.”
Asked if he’d spoken with Saban, Fisher said he declined a call. (Aren’t iPhones great?) “We’re done. He showed you who he is. He’s the greatest ever, huh?”
Then: “You coach with people like Bobby Bowden and learn how to do things. You coach with other people and learn how not to do things. There is a reason I don’t go back and work with (Saban). I don’t want to be associated with him.”
It was only yesterday that this space was devoted to college football’s absence of oversight. The NCAA hasn’t announced any regulations – only a shortish release mentioning “guidelines” – regarding NILs because they’re allowed by state law. The Supreme Court has ruled that curtailing NIL money would constitute an antitrust violation.
Saban: “If the NCAA doesn’t get some protection from litigation, whether we’ve got to get an antitrust (exemption) or whatever it is, from a federal government standpoint this is not going to change because (the NCAA) cannot enforce their rules.”
Amid this vacuum of clarity, St. Nick has hopped on his high horse and begun to name names. (Alabama has, after all, gone one whole year without a national championship.) He ripped Fisher, who ripped back. He ripped Deion Sanders, Saban’s fellow Aflac spokesperson. Sanders coaches Jackson State, which signed five-star recruit Travis Hunter.
Saban: “Hell, read about it in the paper. Jackson State paid a guy $1 million last year (who) was a really good Division I (prospect). It was in the paper, and they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it.”
Coach Prime on Twitter: “You best believe I will address the LIE Coach SABAN told.”
It’s unclear what, if anything, will arise from Saban’s whistleblowing. He’s the biggest winner in the history of his sport. He’s also 1-2 in his past three games against former assistants Fisher and Kirby Smart. Jimbo’s unveiled threat – “Go dig into how God did his deal” – makes for yummy discussion fodder, but does anyone believe the toothless NCAA is eager to dig into his 16 years in Tuscaloosa?
With Saban, there are no idle words. He knows exactly what he’s saying. Much of what he said is true. In this time of NIL and the transfer portal, somebody needs to decide if these are still amateur sports. But who gets to make that decision? Saban himself?
Jimbo: “I don’t cheat and I don’t lie. I learned that when I was a kid. If you did, your old man slapped you upside the head. Maybe somebody should have slapped him.”
By “him,” Fisher meant Saban. Whoa, Nellie.