Alabama’s Nick Saban warns NCAA’s NIL-fueled recruiting boom not ‘sustainable’
Nick Saban has long been one of college football’s most successful coaches. He has found success at each of his NCAA head coaching stops and has created one of the sport’s greatest dynasties at Alabama.
But Saban is worried about the future of college football. Why? Because of how the NCAA’s name, image and likeness (NIL) policies are fundamentally changing the sport.
Saban spoke recently with The Associated Press about NIL’s impact on college football. The 70-year-old coach said that he wants players to be able to make money, but he is concerned about the free-for-all that NIL has created.
“I don’t think what we’re doing right now is a sustainable model,” Saban said.
Nick Saban believes NIL is negatively impacting recruiting
Saban isn’t against players making money via NIL. He wants to be clear about that. What he doesn’t like is how the original purpose of NIL has quickly become lost.
“The concept of name, image and likeness was for players to be able to use their name, image and likeness to create opportunities for themselves. That’s what it was,” Saban said. “So last year on our team, our guys probably made as much or more than anybody in the country.”
Indeed, Alabama does have some of the highest-paid NIL athletes. Saban previously said that quarterback Bryce Young was already making close to seven figures in NIL deals before his Heisman Trophy campaign. He figures to make more after winning the award.
But as Saban explained, NIL has quickly gone from a money-making opportunity for players to a recruiting tool. He believes schools now have the ability to “basically buy players,” which he doesn’t see as good for college football.
“You can do it in recruiting. I mean, if that’s what we want college football to be, I don’t know. And you can also get players to get in the transfer portal to see if they can get more someplace else than they can get at your place,” he said.
Saban has a point: Schools can showcase NIL opportunities for prospective recruits. And he isn’t the only coach to note this.
Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin has compared the implementation of NIL to free agency. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney — who is vehemently against the professionalization of college athletics — called NIL “out of control” and “not sustainable” in a recent interview with ESPN. One of his main concerns was the potential free-agent-type decisions that each athlete would have to make.
“It’s an absolute mess and a train wreck, and the kids are going to be the ones who suffer in the end,” Swinner said of NIL. “There are going to be a lot of kids that end up with no degrees and make decisions based on the wrong things. There are going to be a lot of decisions based on short-term stuff, and they’re going to sacrifice the long-term value of education, relationships and connectivity. It will settle out eventually. But, no, it’s not what it was supposed to be.”
How Alabama football is benefitting from NIL
Of course, it should also be noted that Alabama is taking full advantage of the NIL system. The football team has established its own third-party NIL collective to help student-athletes establish “positive business relationships across the city, state, region and nation.” The collective should, in theory, give Alabama an advantage in recruiting.
Still, Saban would prefer to see players consider which school offers them the best opportunity to develop instead of which program gives them the best NIL opportunities.
“It’s fine for players to get money. I’m all for that. I’m not against that,” he said. “But there also has to be some responsibility on both ends, which you could call a contract, so that you have an opportunity to develop people in a way that’s going to help them be successful.”
What does Saban want to see change? He wants there to be a way to level the NIL playing field. He also wants to see every player at a school receive an identical baseline NIL guarantee.
No matter what happens, Saban believes he will still be able to build a winner at Alabama. He’ll just need to do something he has done often during his coaching years: adapt.
“I know we have to adapt to that,” he said. “You’re going to have kids out there that say, ‘Well, I can get a better deal going someplace else,’ and they’ll go there. But you’re also going to have people that see the light and say, ‘Yeah, they’ve got a good history of developing players. They got a good history of developing people, they got a great graduation rate and that value is more important.
“‘And they’re distributing money to everybody in the organization.'”