Last winter, a bulletin board poster titled “Sliced Bread” wrote that Texas A&M’s No. 1 recruiting class was, at least in part, a product of the school handing out some $30 million to prospects. via name, image and likeness agreements.
No proof has been provided. No credibility existed. The actual figure was well outside the market rate and therefore made no sense.
It didn’t matter. In the modern media world of aggregation, this was turned into a story and went viral from there. It was repeated so often that A&M coach Jimbo Fisher felt compelled to respond.
He said that wasn’t true. He said the SEC coaches who repeated it (hello, Lane Kiffin) were “acts of clowning” and “irresponsible as possible”. He just couldn’t believe it.
“Things got pulled from a message board…by a guy named ‘Sliced Bread,’” Fisher said. “Anybody.”
Well, turns out he could be Nick Saban.
In other words, if Saban had a burner count, “Sliced Bread” would be a fitting handful since, at least in college football coaching terms, he’s the best thing since.
And, it turns out he most definitely believes that A&M used NIL money of a certain amount to tag all those recruits.
“A&M has bought every player on their team,” Saban said Wednesday night at an event in Birmingham, Alabama, according to al.com. “I made a deal for the name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy a single player. OK? But I don’t know if we will be able to maintain this in the future, because more and more people are doing it. It’s hard.”
College players can now earn money from endorsements and appearances – Saban said players on his team have collectively earned more than $3 million. However, schools are not allowed to enter into agreements and they cannot serve as an inducement to a recruit.
What Saban was alleging against A&M would be a major NCAA violation…maybe 30 times more for each of the Aggies’ 30 rookies. Well, that’s if the NCAA actually wanted to enforce the rules.
It was a figurehead of historic proportions. While college coaches are known to gossip like college kids, it’s hard to remember a coach publicly calling another major program cheating.
Not to mention Saban’s stature against a former assistant. Fisher worked for Saban at LSU from 2000 to 2004.
And Sliced Bread Saban wasn’t done.
“Jackson State paid a guy [top ranked recruit Travis Hunter] a million dollars last year…to come to school,” Saban said. “It was in the paper and they were bragging about it. Nobody did anything about it.
Jackson State coach Deion Sanders, who stars in Aflac commercials with Saban, immediately clapped back and repeated a denial that Jackson State used NIL money in a way that violates NCAA rules. He objected to the idea that Hunter, an African American from suburban Atlanta, chose to attend a historically black college and university (HBCU) because of money.
“You better believe that I will respond to what LIE Coach SABAN said,” Sanders tweeted. “…As PEOPLE, we don’t have to pay our PEOPLE to play with our PEOPLE.”
Saban also mentioned a Miami booster offering a $400,000 basketball transfer deal to endorse his company, LifeWallet, as a recruiting ploy to come play for the Hurricanes. This booster says what it does is NCAA legal.
Saban was candid about NIL’s impact on recruiting, but these were his boldest comments to date.
Fisher, meanwhile, has been all over the place. He once joked on the Paul Finebaum Show that “there was always some lousy stuff, it just wasn’t legal.” At other times, he railed at the very idea that money had anything to do with the Aggies getting the top-ranked class for the first time.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. Texas A&M is a great place to play football and Fisher is a National Championship (Florida State) coach whose staff has done an exceptional job with many local recruits, especially out of the Houston area.
That said, the Class of 2022 was Fisher’s fifth recruiting class since arriving at College Station and he had never been so successful (A&M had ranked no higher than sixth per rivals.com).
Was money, or the promise of money, circulating? Most likely.
Was it $30 million? Almost certainly not.
Did they violate NCAA rules? Who knows.
Is Saban, 70, just salty about the changing recruiting world? Perhaps. And maybe it’s genuine or maybe because under the old system it’s scored the nation’s No. 1 class in nine of the last 13 years (and finished second, by rivals, two more time). That’s part of why Saban won seven national titles at Alabama.
Oh, and Fisher last year became Saban’s first assistant to defeat the Mentor.
What’s clear is that Saban thinks Alabama follows one rule when it comes to recruiting — those that are actually on the books — that other schools don’t. He can survive that for now, as many top players will be looking for a coach/program that can get them into the NFL with the little money from a recruiting incentive. Saban had 41 first-round picks at Alabama.
Plus, if you’re a star in Tuscaloosa, you’ll make money (QB Bryce Young reportedly made $1 million last year).
Saban therefore has every right to call double standards. There are certainly plenty of Tide boosters ready to open the checkbook at Saban’s command.
Alabama, however, is not as wealthy a school or state as Texas A&M and many others. If open money is part of the recruiting process, then Saban is right, he won’t be able to deliver first class year after year after year.
That, of course, is a big reason to see NIL – or pay to play – as a positive, not a negative. Compensation is how smaller, newer, or remote companies compete against larger, established companies for the best employees in the professional world. Distributing the talent should help bring parity to a sport that has been dominated by only a handful of schools for the past decade and a half.
That’s quite a discussion for another day, however.
Sliced Bread Saban spoke loud and clear on Wednesday night and the reverberations and rivalries will be considerable.