OPINION: The Alabama football head coach is feeling salty about players making money on name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, which signal a clear and present threat to the old worldview Saban represents.
By Deron Snyder
Nick Saban knows the business, which explains him pulling $9.9 million in base salary as Alabama’s head football coach. He knows the game, too, reaching six of the last seven title games and winning three championships.
He’s probably the sport’s GOAT among coaches not named Eddie Robinson. Saban is certainly the de facto godfather, the public face of the most powerful outfit. He’s sat atop the organization long enough to know when something’s fishy, like sportsbooks taking a flurry of crazy big bets. There’s a sense the table has flipped, and the smart money is moving to players, most of them Black. He’s worried about Alabama losing its edge as the house.
Saban isn’t with this new normal, where entities happily pay college athletes through name, image and likeness deals (NIL). Players are no longer broke, which signals a clear and present threat to the old worldview Saban represents.
During an event Wednesday night with local business leaders in Birmingham, Ala., he went all-in against “buying” incoming recruits with NIL money. “Jackson State paid a guy $1 million last year to come to their school,” Saban said, rekindling refuted reports about Travis Hunter Jr., the nation’s No. 1 prospect. “It was in the paper, and they bragged about it,” Saban said. “No one did anything about it.”
Jackson State coach Deion Sanders promised in a tweet to “address that LIE Coach Saban told.”
You best believe I will address that LIE Coach SABAN told tomorrow. I was & awakened by my son @ShedeurSanders that sent me the article stating that WE PAYED @TravisHunterJr a Million to play at @GoJSUTigersFB ! We as a PEOPLE don’t have to pay our PEOPLE to play with our PEOPLE.— COACH PRIME (@DeionSanders) May 19, 2022
Hunter wishes it was real. “I got A mil?” he tweeted. “But my mom still stay in a 3 bed room house with five kids.”
I got A mil?😂But my mom still stay in a 3 bed room house with five kids 🤣— Travis Hunter (@TravisHunterJr) May 19, 2022
Saban also had words for Texas A&M and Miami, claiming they opened the vault and broke the code for securing talent while he stays true to the amateurism sham. He bragged that only 25 players got NIL hook-ups at Alabama last year for a measly $3 million total. He called that “doing it the right way.”
It’s the right way if you’re salty that players get anything.
According to Saban, the vast majority of Alabama’s roster didn’t receive a dime from NIL. The 25 lucky players averaged $120,000, loose change in his car. Meanwhile, the school’s stacks grow taller; Crimson Tide football netted $25 million in fiscal 2019.
The University of Alabama is a big dog in college football, but the state itself is a financial poodle nationally, ranking near the bottom in residents’ income, state revenue, and corporate tax base. The program mints money and leans on its booster group—the Crimson Tide Foundation—for expenditures like a new $288 million performance center.
But who’s gonna kick in for the field workers?
Saban is pissed that we’ve reached this point, but it’s strategic. He was addressing business leaders while complaining that Texas A&M “bought every player on their team—made a deal for name, image, likeness.” He assured the audience of Alabama’s virtue before acknowledging a change had come.
“We didn’t buy one player, all right?” he said. “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. It’s tough.”
He should’ve handed the mic to Rakim at that point: All your money’s not spent; dig deeper, and don’t come up with lint.
Saban isn’t concerned that sliding money to players will corrupt the game. He’s worried about keeping up with schools in oil-rich Texas, bling-bling California, and anything-goes Florida. Billionaire Miami Hurricanes booster John Ruiz signed hoops star Nijel Pack to a two-year NIL deal for $400K per. A collective of Texas Longhorns boosters have $10 million in the kitty. Supporters at schools like USC are making it rain, inspired by state lawmakers waving “pay-for-play” banners.
It’s a trend, with many states loosening NIL restrictions as the NCAA objects. Even if legislators are faking and aren’t really down with the cause, they don’t want their schools left behind. College football has been an arms race for decades, with leading forces engulfed in a spending war on salaries, facilities, stadiums, and accommodations. Everyone gets a cut except labor.
Funny how Saban swears by market prices in every area except the roster. A contract clause ties his salary to peers. He must be among the nation’s five best-paid coaches or the SEC’s top three, whichever is highest. His assistants get top dollar, too, including more than $1 million each for his offensive and defensive coordinators.
Yet he insists on gaslighting us, claiming pay-for-play would kill competitive balance.
Saban knows better than anyone that college football is built on the haves and haves-not, the only way he reached six finals in seven years. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was heated Thursday and called his former boss a “narcissist” who can’t stand losing recruiting battles. “And the parity in college football he’s been talking about?” Fisher told reporters in an impromptu news conference. “Go talk to coaches who have coached for him. You’ll find out all the parity. Go dig into wherever he’s been.”
Fisher might even tell us where to look.
Saban should’ve kept Fisher and Sanders’ names out of his mouth. He’s whining about what’s happening in the open, but they know what’s taken place behind closed doors. Saban surely doesn’t have a magnifying glass on the Crimson Tide’s files.
It’s best if the hypocrite simply adjusts and adapts, carries on and conducts his business as usual.
New rules might be in place, but the game hasn’t changed. Just adding some equity for players.