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Nick Saban, NIL and the hypocrisy of it all

There is a lot of blame to spread with NIL and the transfer portal; don't blame the players.

"These athletes generate millions of dollars for the university. What do they get? Nothing! What do you get? You get a multi-year contract. You get a six-figure shoe deal so your team can be a walking billboard. And that is all legal. And then you get another six figures for that lousy TV show." Those are the words of "Happy" Kuykendahl about players receiving money to play for Western University from the 1994 movie Blue Chips.

Head coach Pete Bell's response? "Get out of my face." Though the movie attempted to cast the boosters as villains and coach Bell as the white knight, the boosters were correct, and coach Bell's morality was antiquated --and that was 1994. Now, this is all legal.

You can trace this new era of college athletics back to 2009. Former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon sued the NCAA over name, image, and likeness rights over the NCAA sports game franchise produced by EA Sports and licensed by the NCAA. The suit was simple; it violated United States antitrust laws that players did not receive any income generated from video games using their name, image, and likeness.

Fast forward to 2015, Ed O'Bannon and the 19 former players won the lawsuit. They were awarded nearly $46 million in fees and costs. Somehow between 2015 and where we are now, the NCAA either did not think they would get sued again or thought they could win if they were.

How could the NCAA move forward with either school of thought? College athletes have never been compensated for the income they generate. The argument that these young men and women give their bodies to these institutions is they receive a free education. First, scholarships are yearly awards; they are not guaranteed for four years. Second, if an athlete does not receive a scholarship within their eligibility window, they must pay for school.

Former Wisconsin head coach and Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said that the athletic department stood to lose upwards of $120 million because of the abbreviated schedule during the pandemic. Does the scholarship fairly compensate players in relation to the income schools generate?

In 2022, the NCAA is attempting to put the tube back in the toothpaste. They passed the buck to states to regulate NIL in their local legislatures instead of trying to set those protocols themselves. Now the adults are bickering about what to do.

Saban and Jimbo Sound off on NIL...and each other

Earlier this week, Alabama head coach Nick Saban sounded off on NIL and his former assistant coach, Jimbo Fisher. Among some of what coach Saban said was that he sees nothing wrong with NIL, but the way some schools are doing it is not correct. Saban touted that Alabama players were encouraged to get representation and get deals.

Saban vehemently denounced these "collectives," saying that they are letting coaches know what they can offer players so the coaches can promise these players a dollar amount when they are recruited. Saban had two targets, Texas A&M and Jackson State. He accused A&M of buying every player and Jackson State of paying Travis Hunter, the #1 recruit in the nation this past cycle, $1 million.

In addition to disagreeing with the alleged methods of the Aggies and Tigers, he defended the NCAA, saying that they did not attempt to enact policy because when they do, players file suit, and they end up in litigation.

The issue with Coach Saban's stance is simple; he wants hard and fast rules where there are none. The rules that govern NIL in Alabama are different from the rules in Texas and Mississippi. If the NCAA wants to stay out of litigation, its policies must be less translucent.

While Saban is accusing Jackson State and Texas A&M of pay for play, neither university has violated any rules. Coach Saban's problem is an inability to see the gray in all of this.

Both Coach Jimbo Fisher and Deion Sanders responded.

Fisher called Saban a narcissist, and Sanders questioned Saban's sources. "I promise you this, Fisher said in response to Saban's comments, there are no violations; there [is] nothing wrong." Even Travis Hunter chimed in on Twitter, saying his mother still lives in a three-bedroom house with five kids.

Why the bickering and arguing amongst these coaches? It is the fault of the NCAA. Former President Mark Emmert and the NCAA did nothing to prepare for the possibility of NIL after the O'Bannon decision came. There was no action by the NCAA or university presidents after the Supreme Court ruling.

The NCAA, university presidents, and coaches attempt to legislate policy to regulate NIL retroactively. Some questions need asking, however. Can the NCAA govern monies not paid directly by universities? If these "collectives" are not paying for play, how can they dictate the amount of money these kids can make? How can either entity (the NCAA and the universities) negotiate or collectively bargain with non-employees?

University presidents and the NCAA had six years between the O'Bannon ruling and the first states to rule on NIL policy to do something, and it stood there with its hands folded. Now, it's the wild west, and it will be challenging to put the genie back in the bottle.


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