Alabama Football: Why NIL will not bring down Nick Saban

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

There is little doubt the current use of NIL deals in recruiting is bad for college football. Unconstrained boosters have been a problem for the game almost from its beginning. The Alabama football program has not been immune in its history.

Between Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant and Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide head coaches had to contend with interference from boosters, athletic administrators, and in at least one case, a school president.

For 25 years, the Alabama football program under Bryant did not have to deal with such distractions. The combined wisdom of Mal Moore and Robert Witt gave the same absolute control to Nick Saban. Without the control of every detail or every aspect of their programs, the Crimson Tide legends would not have achieved 12 Alabama  Football National Championships.

Some other programs – Texas, Tennessee and Texas A&M would be three – apparently see boosters buying recruits as a way to catch up to Nick Saban. Huge war chests for NIL deals will attract elite players. Adding a group of top players has the ability to upgrade a team quickly.

What comes with buying top recruits is a downside that could also make teams less competitive. Boosters will not take any blame for an expensive player that does not produce. Blame will be placed on coaches. Some players, seeing their NIL value decay will blame their lack of production on lack of opportunity or poor coaching.

Those players will damage the chemistry of teams. Programs whose scales-tipping pitch is ‘rake in the money,’ may be challenged to mold a team-first culture. Coaches having expensive rosters but no resulting championships will have diminished job security.

NIL will not take down Alabama Football and Nick Saban

Nick Saban may hate the new NIL dynamics for multiple reasons, but he is in an almost unique position to be little harmed by them.

Admittedly, many, probably most recruits will take the most immediate NIL money. For those who need or want the fastest infusion of cash, they should go where the most is being offered.

With the occasional exception, the Alabama Crimson Tide program will be stronger without them.

Nick Saban will not stop preaching and selling ‘The Process.’ The foundation of Nick Saban’s extraordinary achievements has been his ability to get so many strong-willed young men to not focus on outcomes – to not be distracted by external factors. Many who learned the lesson well became champions. A large number received NFL opportunities and more than a few earned big NFL contracts.

Nick Saban can still sell that pitch to enough top prospects, and especially to their parents, every season. It is not like their NIL deals after becoming Alabama players will not be competitive. As Lauri Springer wrote recently, Crimson Tide players are doing very well with NIL deals.

Most importantly, Saban only needs to convince between 15-20 recruits in every recruiting cycle.

Let the others go elsewhere for immediate payouts. Even at just 15 in each new signing class, Nick Saban would have no problem building the rest of his roster through transfers.

Saban has been clear he doesn’t want to engage in bidding wars for high school players. He has also implied the Crimson Tide may have no choice beginning with the 2024 class. In fact, with its built-in advantages, new NIL and transfer restrictions might hurt, rather than help the Crimson Tide.

Few are willing to acknowledge it, but Nick Saban is considering what is best for the game of college football. If there is one coach who can hold firm, it will be Saban.

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Underlying the reasoning behind this post is a belief that even before NIL, Alabama Football was not a good fit for some top players. And it will not suddenly become a worse fit because of NIL.