Nick Saban’s stance on NIL proves dinosaurs still roam Planet Earth

Let’s ruffle some feathers, shall we?

Far be it from me to criticize the man who is commonly considered the greatest college football coach of all time, or at least of this generation, but Nick Saban has just released his take about the decline of college football.  He’s not alone.

Every time someone complains about how “NIL has ruined college sports,” I choke on the hypocrisy.

Allow me for a moment to refer to one of the most underrated and prescient sports movies of the 1990s.  Thirty years later, college sports are still dealing with the same issues they did back then, which are the same issues they dealt with long before the movie was crafted.

In Blue Chips, Nick Nolte portrays a college basketball coach who had always done things “the right way.”  That means recruiting athletes without having to pay them, accompanied by the earnest desire to teach them right from wrong.  As the movie begins, Nolte’s program is on the decline because he refused to play ball.  Little did he know.

The brilliant, late JT Walsh plays the evil booster, representing the dark reality of college sports, who ultimately reminds coach Nolte that this is the way things are and the way they’ve always been.

Perhaps the obviously innocent, if not wholly hypocritical, Nick Saban could use a little JT Walsh in his life as a reminder that college athletes have always been swayed.  Just ask them.  Now that the sordid underbelly of big-time college athletics has been exposed, with athletes getting paid over the table rather than under it, that doesn’t mean that college sports are any better, or any worse.  We just now see it for what it is. 

College programs, and the body that governs them, the NCAA, are still printing money, probably more so than ever.  They’re just having to share a (small) portion of their take.  If you don’t like the way things are now, wait until the Dartmouth basketball union movement picks up steam.

When asked about the current state of college athletics, former Alabama head coach Nick Saban replied “It’s whoever wants to pay the most money, raise the most money, buy the most players, is going to have the best opportunity to win. I don’t think that’s the spirit of college athletics.”  Barf. 

Had I been in the room, my follow up question to Coach Saban would have been, how is this any different than it’s ever been?  Better yet, let’s hook Saban and every other major college coach up to a lie detector and ask them if they knew of athletes getting paid before NIL existed.

College sports are, and will always be, just fine.  If anything, one could make the case that paying college athletes keeps them in school longer for now they no longer need to jump to the pros, far too often before they’re ready, for the opportunity to support their families.  The only institutions complaining about NIL are those that haven’t been able to keep up with the Joneses.  A program like Alabama’s should not have these problems yet for many schools, the learning curve has been a slippery slope. 

If you mean to tell me that John Calipari has never been aware of the reimbursement of Kentucky basketball players, then I have a bourbon trail of tears to sell you.

Coaches are so caught up preserving the way things were that they’re disillusioned about what that means.  Any coach that doesn’t want to maximize his players’ potential is not one I’d want to send my kid to.  The game has changed, largely because the system was grossly unfair to begin with and those getting screwed took it to court.  Accordingly, programs need to change the way they cater to college athletes.  If that means athletes now hold a stronger hand, then who cares if they’re making money.  They still need to be coached right from wrong, regardless of whether they can now afford to eat.

Saban continued, “All the things I believed in, for all these years, 50 years of coaching, no longer exist in college athletics. … That was a ‘red alert’ that we really are creating a circumstance here that is not beneficial to the development of young people.”

Come on, Coach.  So only recently have poorer families used their child’s athleticism as a way out?  I’m not buying the argument that the opportunity to cash a check earlier than expected comes at the expense of a kid’s education or long-term growth.  It’s not like many of them ever studied anyway.  What exactly were all those ideals Saban believed in and how did they benefit the athlete then when they’re not now?

If the NCAA didn’t levy punishment with such a heavy hand, we’d have more coaches admitting this kind of thing has always gone on, like Nolte coming clean at the end of Blue Chips.  The film’s final scene is its only unrealistic part, as no coach would ever have the balls to speak the truth, for fear of vacated losses or a ruined reputation.

Jim Harbaugh recently left his alma mater, where he won a national championship.  His was one of the cushiest (albeit pressure cooker) gigs in all of college sports, yet he abandoned it for an NFL gig at a consistently underachieving team simply because he no longer wanted to deal with the NCAA’s bullshit.

Contrary to popular (or Nick Saban’s) opinion, NIL has not ruined the game.  If you think that it has, I remind you that Reggie Bush is no longer in possession of his Heisman Trophy.  There is still plenty of talent in college sports and there always will be.  People still watch in droves.  As of today, you’ve filled out multiple brackets and are counting down the days towards football season.  Television ratings are through the roof and stadiums remain packed with rabid fans who only complain about players getting paid when they lose.

I recently saw a USC female basketball player on TV.  I’ve seen Caitlin Clark in a State Farm commercial.  It didn’t bother me, nor do I see how granting kids this opportunity to promote themselves and get paid for it ruins the laughable, long-standing integrity of college athletics.

Paying kids to play sports and preparing them for their future are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they go hand in hand.  NIL is not eroding the “spirit of college athletics” any more than the NCAA has for decades.  It’s only eroding those who have failed to adjust with the times.

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8 Replies to “Nick Saban’s stance on NIL proves dinosaurs still roam Planet Earth”

  1. I wonder how coaches would feel about being paid with room and board and a free education in ethics.

  2. I know that Chris always says that I speak off topic and don’t connect my opinions to his articles. But, the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach attended law school. The only law school at which every student gets to go to a courtroom, to practice speaking in front of a judge. And Jon Cooper’s investment in education about ethics helped him become the best hockey coach in the world. So I agree with Deacon Blues.

  3. Deac…

    Saban was the highest paid state employee in Alabama.

    What he made while there is a mere pittance compared to what the University brought in thanks to their football program.

  4. Greg…

    You are always more than welcome to discuss any topic, at any time, here on this site.

    And did I ever tell you of the time Coach Coop came into the pub?

  5. This is spot on, Saban has a problem with NILs because he was no longer able to have 3 5-star recruits sitting in the same position on his team and not getting any play time until 2 years in when he felt he needed them! They now have the opportunity to go to another school and start in a program.

  6. Nice commentary Chump, but I have too throw a finch in the engine by looking at those universities that are not part of the “power 4” conferences, (given the PAC 12 is all but dissolved), then NIL only benefits schools with a brand name. Mid major institutions really don’t derive any benefit from it. A bigger question would be how can the NCAA develop standards that create more parity, (if that’s possible)?

  7. Paris…

    Good to hear from you, man.

    The system’s been shook. The programs that don’t adjust with the joneses will be left out in the cold.

    Schools like Alabama should always be fine… but… there was a time where Bama wasn’t Bama by Bama standards.

    We’ll see how their NIL committee rolls with the punches, and how deep their pocketbooks really are.

  8. Mony…

    I’m not sure I see a salary cap sort of level playing field in the cards. And why would the field be level, particularly for the smaller schools, when it’s never been that way? They should be used to getting fucked.

    I think kids will still want to come to a school regardless of a paycheck, and once they get ’em there, they better be coachable.

    It’s a big gamble, that’s for sure. And now, an expensive one.

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