Nick Saban wasn’t asked about Texas A&M football recruiting on Wednesday. But he sure was happy to talk about it.
In what can be aptly described as a shot fired across the bow of his SEC rival, Saban accused Texas A&M of manipulating name image and likeness rules to pay players and land the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class under head coach Jimbo Fisher. He also managed to rile up Deion Sanders.
Saban was speaking in front of local business leaders in Birmingham for an event promoting The World Games slated to take place in Alabama in July. During a nearly seven-minute statement, Saban spoke about NIL, declaring that he believes in the practice in theory but that it’s manipulated by some of his rivals in a way that threatens the very existence of college sports.
Saban believes in NIL done ‘the right way’
Saban made clear that he’s not opposed to NIL when it’s done “the right way” and that he encouraged his players to hire agents to create opportunities for themselves.
“Our players last year created $3 million worth of opportunity for themselves by doing it the right way,” Saban said. “I have no problem with that, and nobody had a problem on our team with that because the guys who got the money earned it. … The issue and the problem with name, image and likeness is coaches trying to create an advantage for themselves.”
What Saban doesn’t believe in
He then went on to describe a scenario in which programs hire outside agencies funded by boosters that then “funnel” money to players based on what a coach promised them as recruits. He said that Alabama does not do that. He believes that other programs do, and that it creates a situation in which recruits demand programs like Alabama meet those offers or miss out on their services.
And that, he believes, represents the beginning of the end of college sports.
“If we start paying players, we’re gonna have to eliminate sports,” Saban said.
For reference, SEC athletic programs generated $777.8 million in fiscal year 2020-21. That figure doesn’t include bowl revenue.
Saban: ‘A&M bought every player on their team’
Then without prompting, Saban started naming names. The first name was Texas A&M, which beat Alabama for the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class in 2022, the first year in which NIL was in play during recruiting.
“We were second in recruiting last year, A&M was first,” Saban said. “A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. 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.”
Saban then named Jackson State and Miami basketball.
“Read about it in the paper,” Saban said. “Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division I player to come to the school. And they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it. These guys at Miami that are going to play basketball for $400,000, it’s in the newspaper. The guy tells you how he’s doing it. But the NCAA can’t enforce their rules because it’s not against the law.”
Deion Sanders responds
Jackson State stunned college football in December by flipping No. 1 overall Rivals recruit Travis Hunter from Florida State to sign with the HBCU. Sanders coaches Jackson State. He was not pleased with Saban’s commentary.
Stay tuned for more commentary from Coach Prime.
Fisher, meanwhile did not issue a rebuttal Wednesday night. But he’s heard these accusations before. He scoffed them while speaking with CBS Sports in February.
“This $30 million deal is a joke,” Fisher said. “This thing that there’s some fund out there and all these things that went on and it was written on BroBible by some guy named Sliced Bread and all of a sudden the country believes it, it’s a joke. It didn’t affect recruiting at all. … The people who want to make comments on it have no idea what’s going on. It’s insulting to the players who come here and the people around us.”
This is surely not the last we’ve heard from Fisher either.