Alabama coach Nick Saban singled out Texas A&M for ‘buying’ its top-ranked signing class and shed light on unintended effect of name, image and likeness rights on recruiting at an event with local business leaders on Wednesday evening in Birmingham.
“I mean, we were second in recruiting last year,” Saban told the audience. “A&M was the first. A&M bought all the players on their team – made a deal for name, image, likeness. We didn’t buy a single player. Okay? But I don’t know not whether we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it.
Saban said Alabama players earned $3 million “doing it right” last year and only 25 players were able to take advantage of NIL opportunities.
Saban wasn’t the first coach to call the Aggies by name. In February, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin joked that “Texas A&M was going to incur a luxury tax on the amount they paid for their signature course.”
This prompted a stern response from Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, a former Saban assistant, at his press conference the following day, when he said coaches spreading rumors about promised rookie deals were “acts of clowning” and “irresponsible as possible”.
The problem with NIL, Saban said on Wednesday, is that “the coaches try to create an advantage for themselves.”
Saban said coaches know how much money is available from their school’s collective – a group of program supporters who pool their resources to provide offers to athletes – and “how much they can promise each player”.
“It’s not what it was supposed to be,” he said. “That’s what it’s become. And that’s the problem in colleague athletics right now. Now every player is like, ‘Well, what am I going to get? “
Saban said people blamed the NCAA, “But in defense of the NCAA, we’re here because of the litigation.”
Last summer, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that limiting education benefits violated antitrust laws. Following this decision, the NCAA adopted much less restrictive rules, including allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.
NCAA rules prohibit a school or its employees from directly paying athletes for their NIL rights.
“If the NCAA doesn’t get litigation protection, whether we have to get antitrust or whatever, from the federal government’s perspective, that’s not going to change because they can’t enforce their rules,” said Saban. “Just like [Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats] said, we have a rule right now that says you can’t use name, image, likeness, to entice a player to come to your school. Hell, read it in the newspaper. I mean, Jackson State paid a guy who was a really good Division I player $1 million last year to come to school. It was in the paper and they were bragging about it. Nobody did anything about it. I mean, those guys in Miami going to play basketball there for $400,000, it’s in the paper. The guy tells you how he does it.”
The Jackson State player Saban was referring to is Travis Hunter, a five-star prospect who flipped his commitment from Florida State and signed with the HBCU program at the start of the signing period in December. Jackson State coach Deion Sanders has denied reports that Hunter was offered more than $1 million.
Sanders strongly responded to Saban’s comments on Wednesday night, writing on Twitter: “You better think I’m going to respond to what LIE Coach SABAN said tomorrow. I was and woken up by my son @ShedeurSanders who sent me l article stating WE PAID @TravisHunterJr a million to play @GoJSUTigersFB! As PEOPLE we don’t have to pay our PEOPLE to play with our PEOPLE.”
Saban’s comments about Miami referred to former Kansas State men’s basketball player Nijel Pack, who was traded to the Hurricanes in April. Shortly after, it was announced that he had signed a two-year, $400,000 NIL contract with Florida-based health technology company LifeWallet.
Saban said he told the players they would all get the same opportunities from the Alabama collective, but made the following distinction: “You can go and win as much as you want.”
“I say the same thing to recruits: our job is not to buy you off to come to school here,” he said. “And I don’t know how you manage your dressing room. And I don’t know if it’s a sustainable model.”