Image via Sports Illustrated
On Wednesday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban ruffled some feathers in the college football world when he accused Jimbo Fisher of buying his #1 ranked recruiting class. For context, Texas A&M finished atop of both Alabama and reigning national champion Georgia’s respective recruiting classes. Almost immediately, Saban was accused of being a hypocrite as there’s been an abundance of circulating rumors that Saban and Alabama have been paying players for years and that they were the NIL before NIL.
In terms of evaluating the impact these comments will have on the landscape of NIL, it could cause the NCAA to investigate possible violations or retroactively enforce their recent guidelines against A&M. Colleges in states that don’t have an NIL law are at an advantage because they only have to comply with the looser NCAA guidelines compared to those in states with NIL laws that tend to be stricter than the ones put forth by the NCAA. If federal legislation governing NIL ever comes to fruition (which is a big if especially in the near future), it would preempt any state law on the matter. The issue of an NIL bill at the federal level is that it would most likely have to originate in the Senate and it seems there are more pressing matters in this country than regulating how much a college athlete can be compensated. The lack of uniformity and lack of enforcement of booster-funded deals by the NCAA seems to be what many, and Saban particularly, seem to be taking issue with.
If you’re looking at the initial goals of NIL, to allow college athletes and not just their respected universities, to be able to profit off their own name, the current landscape and massive endorsement deals seem to go too far. There has to be a fine line established between enticing a recruit or highly sought after transfer player to attend a university, (See Nijel Pack, 4-Star guard averaging 17 PPG paid $800,000 to attend Miami) and an athlete endorsing a company. As Colorado AD recently pointed out, what’s been going on recently is not NIL and just a modified pay-for-play system. If the NCAA continues to allow wealthy donors and established collectives to run rampant, college football, and college athletics, in general, will be a pure free agency and the wealthiest fan base will attract the most talent. Of course, in response to that, one can make an argument that that’s what was already going on, as Tua Tagovalia’s entire family moved from Hawaii to Alabaster, Alabama possibly promised more than just a spot on the Alabama football team. Or the stories of the University of Tennessee handing out wads of cash in McDonald’s bags.
Jimbo Fisher wasn’t the only target of Saban’s tirade, as he called out both Jackson State and Miami’s billionaire booster, John Ruiz. The solution to the madness would appear to be one uniform law that is enforced either by the NCAA or at the federal level that applies to each state and includes a provision regarding university collectives and possibly a cap on the amount an NIL can be, like topping out at 6 figures. To avoid the booster-plagued era epitomized by SMU, the NCAA might require a return on investment showing so that the athlete isn’t just paid to attend the university or paid to play and it might actually make sense, from an economic standpoint, for that company to want to pay the athlete to endorse it or act as a brand ambassador. Ruiz is likely the NCAA’s next target if the NCAA chooses to act, although he’d likely be protected by his legit company Life Wallet.
Duncan can be found on Twitter @dunkun