Alabama head coach Nick Saban is a legend of college football, but he’s also an increasingly curmudgeonly man now in his 70s. In May, he took aim at Texas A&M’s No. 1 recruiting class, remarking that “A&M bought every player on their team.” Now, he’s at it again.
With that sort of chip on his shoulder, the casual NCAA fan might never suspect that Alabama is the favorite (+190) in the college football odds market to win this upcoming year’s college football playoff.
Regardless, Saban is displeased. While speaking with former Alabama quarterback and current SEC Network host & podcaster Greg McElroy, Saban lamented the direction of college football.
In particular, he made a series of sweeping statements about the changing nature of competitive balance in college football. Here’s one example:
“We don’t have any guard rails on what we’re doing right now,” Saban said earlier this week. “We have no restrictions on who could do what. Some people are going to be capable of doing certain things. Other people aren’t going to be capable, but the bottom line is we’ll lose competitive balance.”
Nick Saban Quotes About “Competitive Balance” Are Transparently Self-Serving
I am not unsympathetic to certain elements of the competitive balance argument. Financial power has undoubtedly shaped the landscape of modern college football, but the burgeoning age of Name, Image and Likeness is transforming the sport into a product that shows a much more linear relationship with conventional wealth.
Big-time programs with deep pockets and rich boosters will dominate. Everyone else will merely exist. Damn the cultures, the conferences and the history.
In no way is that my preferred outcome. I certainly didn’t enjoy watching the long tendrils of the Miami Hurricanes stretch into Morgantown this offseason and lure key players away from West Virginia.
But I accept that in college football – as in life – there are haves and have-nots. I had the misfortune to be born into a family that roots for the latter.
“Families are always rising and falling in America,” Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote. Clearly, they didn’t have college football in his day.
So I don’t necessarily have an issue with the general idea that Saban is talking about. Rather, I have an issue with the messenger himself, and the obvious self-interest that belies the comments.
There are a lot of complex ways to explain Saban’s hypocrisy here. Here’s a simple one:
Under Saban, Alabama has won six of the last 13 FBS national championships. Who has the most to lose from a change in the status quo?
The history of college football is littered with competitive imbalance. For most of the last 15 years, Saban has been the primary beneficiary of that imbalance.
I acknowledge that without scorn or malice. Saban deserves a ton of credit for taking a storied program to new heights and building the modern model for team culture in college athletics. It’s not like the guy simply got lucky.
Comments like this, though, are so tone-deaf that they immediately ring hollow to just about everyone outside of the immediate vicinity of Tuscaloosa.
This is all old hat for Nick, who has often tipped his cards as a bit of a cultural conservative. Remember when he thought the spread offense was bad for football?
But Saban’s issues with NIL are different in scale because they represent an existential threat to his program’s path to continued success.
Alabama can out-culture and out-coach the Texas schools, but it’s much more difficult to outspend them.
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