The Saban-Fisher Kicks to the Groin

In the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch and Harvey Logan are preparing to fight.  Butch tells Harvey that first they must “get the rules straightened out.”

Harvey responds, “Rules? In a knife fight? No rules.” Butch responds by kicking him hard in the groin.

Welcome to the college football version of that fight. The lead characters are Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. (It is an added novelty that each is from West Virginia.)

At issue is Saban’s accusation last week that the Aggies used name, image and likeness money and “bought every player” to acquire their top recruiting class. Fisher then unloaded on Saban, saying he was a narcissist with a God complex, and suggested his recruiting hands are not clean.

Purely from an entertainment standpoint, it’s always interesting when the rich and famous squabble. It allows the remaining 99.99 percent of us to gawk and guffaw without feeling guilty.

But beyond that, Saban has raised a legitimate point, even if there is a degree of the pot attacking the kettle. Saban, in his subsequent apology interview, said the problem with name, image and likeness is that collectives operating independently from colleges are paying players huge sums with no accountability.

“I think these collectives are the issue,” Saban said.  “I think one of the solutions would be if you have people that are representatives of your school that give money to a collective, then the collective turns around and gives it to the players on the team… then that collective should be a representative of the institution.”

What Saban is suggesting is something basically absent from name, image and likeness, and that is rules. The dearth of detailed rules, and more importantly an enforcement mechanism, has created a vacuum that is being filled by coaches, institutions, alumni and boosters making up their own.

Did anyone else see the irony in SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey issuing a public reprimand to both Saban and Fisher for violation of SEC bylaws related to “ethical conduct for derogatory comments and public criticism” of another institution’s program and staff?

That’s the rule that is being enforced? That is the equivalent of giving someone a warning for parking their 55-ton Abrams tank in the middle of High Street in downtown Morgantown.

According to reports, Texas A&M, or some collective, has paid its 2022 recruiting class between $25 million and $30 million, and in today’s rule-absent recruiting environment, that is not cheating.  Saban drew Fisher’s ire for saying the Aggies “bought” players.  Well, the definition of bought is to “obtain in exchange for payment.”

The word “bought” has a negative connotation in recruiting, but we are learning that one of the driving forces for college athletes in deciding their future is where they can get the best deal.

The Saban-Fisher kerfuffle is the verbal equivalent of kicks to the groin, but it has also brought heightened attention the fact that when it comes to the figurative knife-fighting of recruiting under NIL, there are no rules.

 





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