BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Want a better recruiting class than Alabama’s?
How much cash is it worth to you?
Those are questions being asked of powerful boosters with near-bottomless checkbooks, and Nick Saban knows it. The Alabama football coach headlined an event marking the 50-day countdown to The World Games 2022 in Birmingham Wednesday, in what was billed as a fireside chat.
There was no fireplace, but there was certainly fire.
The Saban comment that set social media ablaze was that Texas A&M “bought every player on their team” with name, image and likeness deals in order to assemble the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country this year. And with that, we were all given the gift of another Jimbo Fisher rant just as soon as the Texas A&M coach can get to a microphone.
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Deion Sanders didn’t even wait for a microphone. Saban also made mention of a million-dollar NIL deal that secured Jackson State signee Travis Hunter, a five-star defensive back, and the JSU coach fired back via Twitter in no uncertain terms. Sanders called Saban’s assertion a lie, and posted that a further response would be forthcoming. Here’s guessing Aflac will need to find a new duo for its fall ad campaign.
Once all the associated viral moments spin out all their energy, however, Saban’s broader point will still loom large: as deep as Alabama booster pockets are, they aren’t the nation’s deepest. And because of that, NIL jeopardizes Alabama’s standing as the biggest fish in the recruiting sea. Edging out Saban in that department has been all but impossible for well over a decade. The Crimson Tide coach had more to sell recruits on – elite facilities, national championships, and an unmatched pipeline of NFL draft picks – and sold it better than any coach out there.
That was then.
NIL is now.
Saban said even in-state recruits who’ve grown up wanting to play for Alabama are trying to leverage the Crimson Tide to match NIL offers they’ve received elsewhere.
“I know that we’re going to lose recruits because somebody else is going to be willing to pay them more,” Saban said.
Think not only Texas A&M, but SEC newcomer Texas as well. There’s no competing with oil money, and the booster war chests at those schools are immeasurably deep. Think Oregon, and what Nike founder Phil Knight could do for the Ducks’ signing classes. The Oregon graduate and the school’s top benefactor is worth about $60 billion, per Forbes, and he’s behind Oregon’s NIL collective. How about Notre Dame? Now there’s an alumni base with some wallet clout. The Notre Dame collective, FUND, was founded as a non-profit, which makes donations tax deductible. Clever, huh? It’s a little early for a victory lap, but the Fighting Irish currently have the No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2023.
As deep as Alabama booster pockets are, bidding wars in recruiting spell bad news for the Crimson Tide. Not panic-level bad news – as long as Saban is coach, there’s no reason to think UA won’t at least have a prime place at the poker table when it comes to recruiting. But some new players are about to take a seat, too, and they’ll have enough chips to ante up all night. Alabama has attracted the nation’s top recruits as the ultimate destination for on-field development, a launching pad for an NFL career. That was the currency in recruiting, and Saban had more of it to offer than anyone else. Going forward, however, maintaining top-shelf signing classes is only going to get harder for Saban as more NIL collectives mobilize bigger dollars.
“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.
One thing NIL can’t change is Saban’s ability to get the most from his players and prepare them for a pro career like nobody else. But player development is no longer the coin of the realm.
Now, it’s actual coins.
Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @chasegoodbread.