Is it too early to go on the record to say unequivocally that I will not be getting any monkeypox vaccines or wearing a monkeypox mask? Monkeypox madness is already getting out of hand in this country, and it is so bad it nearly obscured the most exciting news from the past week — big-time football coaches having a public tiff.
In case you were busy building a monkey-proof bunker and missed the news, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban got the ball rolling last Wednesday night while speaking at an event. Expounding upon the great changes the advent of name, image and likeness (NIL) payments to college athletes has created, Saban broadsided Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher — his buddy and former assistant — when he made a comment about the Aggies’ number-one ranked recruiting class.
“A&M bought every player on their team — made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. But 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 said.
Saban also took a shot at his Aflac commercial co-star Deion Sanders’ team, Jackson State, saying the HBCU school had gotten $1 million in NIL money to attract a top-ranked high school recruit.
Needless to say, neither Fisher or Coach Prime were happy with Saban’s off-the-cuff remarks. The following day, Fisher held a press conference to fire back, calling the comments “despicable” and making some allusions to Saban perhaps having scandalous behavior in his past. Sanders called Saban a liar in a strongly worded text.
Saban reportedly called both men to apologize, but neither took his call, and Fisher publicly declared their friendship to be over.
All of this makes for some exciting reading and will cause A&M’s visit to Tuscaloosa this fall an even bigger media circus. But regardless of whether Saban is precisely correct about the details at A&M and Jackson State, he is accurately pointing out how crazy things have quickly become as college sports are flooded with NIL cash.
Combined with the new freedoms of the “transfer portal,” NIL has ushered in a “Wild West” era for college sports. Student-athletes now have the freedom to bail out of one program to immediately compete in another, and they can chase cold, hard cash while doing it.
They sound almost like … football coaches!
One of Saban’s less publicized comments from the other night expressed how the way NIL is being used has damaged college athletics.
“It’s not supposed to be something where people come and make money and you make a decision about where you go to school based on how much money you’re going to make,” he said.
Saban said he isn’t against players making money via NIL, but is upset by how it has already been perverted. Certainly, the NIL Frankenstein always had the potential to eventually terrorize the NCAA village. But that’s not inherently because student-athletes can now earn NIL money, but more so because it has created a direct pipeline from the boosters to the athletes.
The same wealthy people who have supported the unfettered skyrocketing of coaches’ salaries and don’t flinch at paying millions to send a coach packing when he can’t beat Saban, now have the ability to throw boatloads of cash at high school kids trying to decide where they want to play ball.
The unrestrained “enthusiasm” of boosters to win has resulted in head coaches making eight-figure salaries, and key assistants making millions as well. On top of that, coaches’ salaries dwarf those of the universities’ leaders. If all that isn’t enough, many of them are paid millions more to leave when they fail. It’s easy to draw a straight line between this frenzy to overpay coaches and what’s happening with NIL.
Is anyone surprised student-athletes might look around and say, “Where’s ours?” Coaches who make millions every year and get paid millions more to leave when they fail are upset because the same people who overpaid them while trying to buy a winner now want to buy the best players, too. Did anyone really think the boosters would or could control themselves?
Before NIL, the relatively small number of “big-time” coaches at least kept the money flow focused in one area and meant that most efforts were wasted on men who couldn’t get the team over the hump. But with NIL, the boosters have a much larger galaxy of stars to collect. Instead of all those blue-chippers sitting on the bench at Clemson and Alabama waiting their turn, the boosters can wave cash under their noses to portal on over to good ol’ State U or sign out of high school.
No doubt this is bedlam and has the potential to reorder the hierarchy of college sports — football being the one we all care about the most. The pitch, “Come play at Alabama. We put the most players in the NFL of any other school around!” may have lost some luster when someone else says, “Come play for us and we’ll get you $1 million in NIL this year — and you’ll start!”
The explosion of ridiculously high college football coaching salaries has impacted everything. The administrators running the universities watch coaches get paid more and more each year and have jacked up their own salaries. After all, they run the dadburn schools!
And that’s all trickled down to the student-athletes, who used to get no compensation at all for playing games that make billions for their universities, the NCAA and gambling interests. Their names could adorn jerseys and their likenesses could appear in video games, but they couldn’t get a ham sandwich for it. And if they tried to go to another school, they had to sit out for a year.
That’s been turned on its head. The kids can now move to another school, and at least some of them are making money doing it.
Saban may be right, that it’s unsustainable. But the arms race started with the coaching salaries. The same people willing to give away boatloads of cash to get the best coaches, or to pay them off when they weren’t the best coaches, can hardly be expected to temper that behavior now, especially when they can have such a direct input on who’s on the field.
Ultimately, you have to wonder how much this new paradigm might upset the applecart. A quick check of 2020 Census data shows California with 189 billionaire residents, New York with 114, Texas with 58 and Florida with 60. Alabama was tied for 45th with zero billionaires.
I can see why Saban might think NIL could be a monkeypox on his house.
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