Alabama coach Nick Saban singled out Texas A&M for “buying” its senior undersigning class and highlighted the unintended impact of name, image and likeness rights on recruitment during an event with local business leaders Wednesday night in Birmingham.
“I mean, we were second in recruitment last year,” Saban told the audience. “A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team – made a deal for name, image, likeness. We didn’t buy a single player. In order? But I don’t know if we’ll be able to keep it going in the future because more and more people are doing it. Its hard.”
Saban said Alabama players made $3 million last year “if they got it right” and that 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 quipped that “Texas A&M would put a luxury tax on how much they paid for their signing class.”
That prompted Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, a former Saban assistant, to have a stern reaction during his press conference the following day, when he said coaches spreading rumors about deals promised to recruits were doing “clown acts” and “hellishly irresponsible”.
The problem with NIL, Saban said Wednesday, is “coaches trying to gain an advantage.”
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 deals to athletes — and “how much he can promise each player.”
“It wasn’t what it was supposed to be,” he said. “It has become. And that’s the problem in peer athletics right now. Now every player is like, ‘Well, what am I going to get?’
Saban said people are blaming the NCAA, “But in defense of the NCAA, we’re where we are because of the litigation.”
Last summer, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that capping education-related benefits violated antitrust laws. In the wake of that decision, the NCAA passed rules that were far less restrictive, including allowing athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness.
NCAA rules only prohibit a school or its employees from paying athletes directly for their NIL rights.
“Unless the NCAA gets some litigation protection, whether we have to get an antitrust office or whatever, from the federal government’s perspective, that’s not going to change because they can’t enforce their rules,” Saban said. “As well as [Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats] said we have a rule at the moment that says you can’t use a name, picture or likeness to trick a player into coming to your school. Hell, read about it in the newspaper. I mean, last year Jackson State paid a guy who was a really good Division I player a million dollars to go to school. It was in the newspaper and they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it. I mean, these guys in Miami who are going to play basketball there for $400,000, it says 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 turned commitment from Florida State and signed with the HBCU program during the early signing phase in December. Jackson State coach Deion Sanders denied the rumor that Hunter was offered more than $1 million.
Sanders responded strongly to Saban’s comments Wednesday night, writing on Twitter, “You best believe I’m going to address what LIE Coach SABAN said tomorrow. I was woken up by my son @ShedeurSanders sending me the article saying WE PAID @TravisHunterJr a million to play @GoJSUTigersFB! We as PEOPLE don’t have to pay our PEOPLE to play with our PEOPLE.”
Saban’s comments about Miami referred to Nijel Pack, the former Kansas State men’s basketball player who joined the Hurricanes in April. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that he had signed a two-year, $400,000 deal with Florida-based health technology company LifeWallet.
Saban said he told players they would all get equal opportunities from Alabama’s collective, but he made the difference that “you can make as much as you want.”
“I tell the recruits the same thing: our job is not to buy you guys to school here,” he said. “And I don’t know how you manage your locker room. And I don’t know if this is a sustainable model.”