The Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher feud is a microcosm of the two schools of thought in college football right now. Texas A&M beat Alabama for the top recruiting class in the nation this year and one coach, Saban, was none too pleased, saying, “A&M bought every player on their team.”
Fisher responded, saying, “No rules were broken. Nothing was done wrong… The narcissist in [Saban] doesn’t allow those things to happen. And it’s ridiculous when he’s not on top. And the parity in college football that he’s been talking about — go talk to coaches who coached for him. You’ll find out all the parity. Go dig into wherever he’s been. You can find out anything… Some people think they’re God. Go dig into how God did his deal.”
These are some of the most openly hateful comments that college football coaches have directed toward one another in the public eye in recent memory. It reads like two scorned lovers, like they’re divorced and Saban is furious that Fisher is winning over the kids by giving them an Xbox for Christmas.
Fisher seems to be alleging that Saban has some not so squeaky clean recruiting practices of his own, which I doubt would surprise many people, and he would surely know about it seeing as he’s a former assistant of Saban’s.
Fisher in many ways is one of the biggest faces of NIL deals right now because he adapted quickly and has reaped the benefits of it in the form of the top recruiting class. Saban in some ways represents the old guard, those who were too slow to act on NIL, and whose programs are losing power because of it. Saban and coaches like him are feigning outrage at those who have taken advantage of NIL, not because they see anything unethical about it, but because they’re losing on that front.
Whether or not what Saban is saying about Fisher and Texas A&M is true, that they bought players, is kind of a moot point. The school may not be able to offer recruits money, which Fisher insists they didn’t, but boosters and companies are allowed to. That’s just how things are now, and it’s not going to change back.
The truth is that college football programs have always bought players, even if they couldn’t offer them sums of money outright. The uneven playing field that coaches like Saban are protesting has always existed. It just doesn’t work in their favor any more.
Remember a couple of years ago when LSU’s $28-million locker room, complete with sleeping pods, whatever those are, warranted coverage from ESPN and Business Insider among others? Spending tens of millions on the room where the players get dressed doesn’t count as trying to buy players?
Do you think that schools like, let’s say Bowling Green, can compete with that? Apologies to any Bowling Green fans. I don’t mean to single you out, I just need an example. Recruiting has always been unfair.
LSU was always able to, dare I say it, buy players by offering nicer facilities, a bigger stadium, more nationally televised TV games, and promises of becoming high NFL draft picks, which leads to millions of dollars. Bowling Green was never able to offer that, at least not to the degree that LSU was and is. Now the currency that players can receive is actual currency. If anything, NIL has leveled the playing field a bit now that a wealthy Bowling Green booster can work out a deal with recruits.
And that’s just the stuff that’s above board. Fisher is far from the first to suggest that the Alabamas of the world have been doing some shady stuff to recruit. I’m sure college players waited until the Supreme Court ruling on NIL to accept payment much in the same way that most people wait until their 21st birthday to try beer. Louisville vacated a basketball national championship after it was found that former players were paying for escorts for recruits over a four-year span. Who knows how many similar instances have happened at other schools but haven’t been found out?
One man was caught astray in the Saban vs. Fisher quarrel and that was Deion Sanders, head coach of Jackson State. Saban actually apologized to his cringey Aflac commercial co-star after saying, “Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division 1 player to come to school — it was in the paper — and they bragged about it.”
The player Saban was referring to is Travis Hunter, the No. 1- or 2-ranked recruit in the country depending on the publication. Sanders has since called the allegation a “lie,” but I don’t personally care if Hunter was paid a million dollars for his own talent. Good for him if it’s true.
It’s laughable that some coaches claim NIL deals are ruining the competitive balance in college football. This is the first semblance of competitive balance there’s been in a long time. In all likelihood, a player like Hunter would’ve never gone to an FCS school if it weren’t for NIL.
Big schools just can’t stand the fact that they need the top players more than the top players need them. If all the top players decided to go to schools in the MAC, the conference of our dear friends Bowling Green, then the eyeballs, TV deals, and money would follow. No one would care about Alabama’s name recognition if they didn’t have the top players.