DESTIN, Fla. – In a quiet moment, Nick Saban asked if he had gone too far.
“You think I’m crazy for saying all this stuff?” Alabama‘s coach wondered after his brief media availability Tuesday at the 2023 SEC spring meetings.
Well, no, if you believe whatever is left of the collegiate model has been shredded and put in a dumpster somewhere out behind NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. Saban was merely speaking his truth when suggesting that college football is headed toward an NFL model.
In fact, the great coach practically endorsed the idea when asked about whether players should be made employees.
“I have no problem,” Saban said. “I mean, unionize it. Make like the NFL. It’s going to be the same for everyone. I think that’s better than what we have now.”
What we have now, he continued, is a mish mash of states with a mish mash of NIL rules that make the whole thing mish mash. Coach after coach who took the podium Tuesday veered into saying the way to make it all work was to forcefully create that level playing field. You know, like the NFL.
“Why are we playing around?” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz told Saturday Down South. “Why are acting like that’s not what this is?”
In making his point, Saban went back to one of his greatest hits: “Is this what we want football to be?”
That phrase was uttered almost 11 years ago on an SEC conference call with media regarding no-huddle offenses.
“… and you all ripped my ass,” Saban reminded reporters on Tuesday.
Well, yeah. The coach who called into question up-tempo offenses back then won three of his six Alabama national championships by completely overhauling his philosophy beginning in 2014 … with an upempo offense.
But this is bigger, more serious. By the time Saban retires — whenever that is for the 71-year-old — it’s likely some sort of employee-employer relationship will exist. This after the NCAA long dragged its feet on giving athletes its basic NIL rights.
The courts are closing in. The National Labor Relations Board is ready to declare USC athletes as employees, and by extension, athletes in the Pac-12 and NCAA.
The Alston v. NCAA decision kicked the underpinnings out from whatever was holding amateurism in place. A Supreme Court justice (Brett Kavanaugh) actually said these words in that landmark decision two years ago: “Traditions alone cannot justify the NCAAs decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs student athletes who are not fairly compensated.”
So, don’t blame SEC coaches for going off the deep end. There is a way to make it fairer.
“Everything they do in the NFL is to create what? Parity,” Saban said. “If they can have everybody going into the 17th week of the season 8-8, that would be like a dream for the NFL.
“You think there is disparity right now in college football; there’s going to be more in the future.”
And he’s right. The question is what difference is it going to make? Since NIL started on July 1, 2021, the likes of Alabama and Georgia have been exceedingly successful, while the Akrons and Texas States continue to struggle. If anything, there is more parity in the NIL era with San Diego State (basketball), Cincinnati and TCU (both football) playing for national championships.
Saban doesn’t want to hear it.
“You think [parity is] here?” Saban asked. “I think the way Southern Cal, Texas and Texas A&M are spending money … it hasn’t hit yet. What are you willing to spend?”
Someone run that back to Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. We may have a renewal of The Beef.
For now, it seems that a lot of folks in the most powerful conference is coming to some sort of agreement.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a level playing field because some people were showing a willingness to spend more than others,” Saban said. “Whereas, if you want to bring the NFL into it, they have a salary cap. They have all the things that level the playing field. We can put guidelines on this stuff that would do the same thing.”