Nick Saban: Current NIL setup 'creates a situation where you can basically buy players'

The vast changes that college football and other college sports have experienced over the last 12 months are unsustainable, according to Nick Saban.

The Alabama coach told the Associated Press this week that the lack of rules surrounding the ways that athletes can now make money via endorsements have created a situation “where you can basically buy players.” After decades of being unable to use their own image rights to make money while playing college sports, NCAA athletes are now able to sign endorsement deals. That, Saban said, has led to more players transferring to see if they can make more money via NIL deals elsewhere.

“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.”

“But that creates a situation where you can basically buy players,” Saban said. “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.”

Saban isn’t against the concept of athletes making money off their image rights. He even noted that Alabama players likely made more than any other school’s players in NIL deals. That’s yet another selling point for players considering Alabama.

He’s also not alone among coaches who have spoken out against the way the NCAA currently governs NIL deals and the lack of governance’s impact on recruiting. The NCAA waived its provision preventing athletes from getting sponsor income in the wake of myriad state laws that would have allowed college athletes to get sponsorships. And while the NCAA has repeatedly asked Congress for federal rules to govern college athletes’ sponsorship deals, Congress has showed little interest in providing that framework for the NCAA.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 10: Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban leads his team to the field prior to the CFP National Championship college football game against the Georgia Bulldogs on Jan. 10, 2022 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban has some thoughts on NIL setup. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

That’s led to a recruiting landscape that’s been compared to the Wild West as businesses and donors have moved to set up deals for players already on college rosters and incoming recruits as soon as they sign with teams. Though this is where a cynic would point out that boosters have been doing deals for college players for years against the NCAA's previous rules.

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher famously got defensive after signing day amid rumors that a fund for NIL deals was a key factor in his staff securing the top-ranked recruiting class in the country.

“There is no $30 million fund. There is no $5 million. There is no $10 million. This is garbage, OK? It pisses me off,” Fisher said in his signing day news conference in February. “It comes from a site called ‘Bro Bible’ by a guy named ‘SlicedBread’ and then everybody runs with it. So it’s written on the internet and it’s gospel. How irresponsible is that?”

Some of the griping from coaches may simply be because the way they’ve recruited for years was upended in a single summer last year with the NCAA’s waiving of its longtime amateur provisions. But there’s also likely value to other complaints. The NCAA and its member schools had decades to think and work through detailed and specific changes to the outdated amateurism rules. Instead, its procrastination led to state legislatures throughout the country taking action. And that action forced the NCAA to hastily make widespread changes.

The NCAA can still make changes to the way that NIL deals are governed, of course. But it’s much, much easier to slowly loosen rules than it is to quickly tighten them. And if we’ve learned anything in our lifetime of watching the NCAA, it’s that quick and decisive action rarely ever happens.