(NewsNation) — College football season is still months away from kicking off, but already, coaches from two of the sport’s most prominent heavyweights are exchanging verbal haymakers, adding fire to a football rivalry turning personal.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, whose seven national championship wins as a head coach are the most in NCAA history, leveled heavy accusations this week at Texas A&M head coach (and former Saban protégé) Jimbo Fisher, accusing Fisher of paying for recruits.
“You read about it, you know who they are,” Saban said Wednesday. “We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. But 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. It’s tough.”
Fisher, who worked on Saban’s staff when he was head coach at Louisiana State, did not take kindly to Saban’s accusations, to say the least.
“It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way,” Fisher said. “The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top.”
If the annual blood bath to win the Southeastern Conference was not contentious enough as is, as there is already certainly no love lost between other iconic schools including Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, etc. Saban and Fisher’s back and forth almost guarantees fireworks will be flying in the South come fall.
“I don’t cheat. I don’t lie. If you did, my old man slapped me across the face. Maybe someone should have slapped” Saban, Fisher said.
This particular war of words between Saban and Fisher, however, goes far beyond what happens between the white lines on a football field.
Saban’s comments came while he was talking about how the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness rules (NIL), which allow student-athletes to profit from their NIL through endorsements, is affecting the college football recruiting landscape.
Doug Eldridge, a sports agent and former NCAA athlete, told NewsNation’s “On Balance WIth Leland Vittert” on Thursday that this type of feud likely will not be adjudicated in a court of law, but rather the court of public opinion. He believes Saban actually made a “great PR move” with his comments.
“No. 1, it was the Bat signal to his boosters to start stacking sandbags that we need a larger reserve,” Eldridge said. “No. 2, it was an indirect flare gun to the NCAA to say, ‘Hey, I am naming two institutions by name, by coaches … with specific allegation of impropriety.’ But furthermore, in that same sentence, he said he thinks the NCAA needs some level of antitrust protection. That wasn’t an inadvertent sound bite.”
Saban also accused Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders of paying a top recruit to come play for him. Sanders also denied that claim, calling what Saban said a “lie.”
Alabama, along with Ohio State, Georgia and a handful of other schools, are typically considered the gold standard when it comes to recruiting the top high school prospects in the nation. You don’t win seven championships doing it any other way.
But, last year Fisher’s Texas A&M had the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the country, Saban and Alabama were No. 2.
Texas A&M beat Alabama in 2021, handing the Crimson Tide their only regular season loss of the year.
Is there a little jealousy playing out from Saban, whose Crimson Tide are coming off a national championship loss to Kirby Smart (another former Saban assistant) and Georia? Or do Saban’s comments carry some merit?
Fisher first of all vehemently denied Saban’s accusation that Texas A&M had essentially used NIL rules to buy players.
“We never bought anybody, no rules are broken. Nothing was done wrong,” Fisher said.
Fisher, who again worked for Saban at LSU, went so far as to indicate Saban himself was not clean when it came to recruiting.
“Some people think they’re God,” Fisher said. “Go dig into how God did His deal. You may find out about a guy, a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be this czar of football. Go dig into his past or anybody who’s ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to find out what he does and how he does it.”
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork accused Saban of violating SEC sportsmanship bylaws.
Saban is not alleging Fisher simply handed recruits a wad of cash to come play at Texas A&M. He’s saying Fisher was using what is known as a collective.
A collective is essentially when an organization, not affiliated with a university, receives money from boosters and alumni that is then used to entice players to play for a specific school, while the coach is aware of the entire thing and even how much money is in the collective.
Eldridge said the NIL rights are just “the new worm on the hook” for college coaches to attract recruits. He said the worm frequently changes. In the past, it was new stadiums, then locker rooms, then clothing, and now NIL deals.
This kind of underground dishing out of money to recruits has long been talked about in college athletics, but has long been a taboo.
The new NIL rules in college football are now bringing it to the mainstream.
Saban and Fisher’s latest verbal spat is evidence that longstanding football rivalries are beginning to stray from the field and into pocketbooks.