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Thanks to the transfer portal and amended rules regarding compensation for name, image and likeness for athletes, college football has undergone a significant transformation in a short amount of time. Alabama head coach Nick Saban isn’t convinced the new normal can last.
“I don’t think what we’re doing right now is a sustainable model,” Saban said to the Associated Press’ Ralph D. Russo.
He expressed concerns with what he believes is a warping of the aim behind the NIL legislation:
“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. 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. 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 somewhere else than they can get at your place.”
Saban isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to lament what has become a Wild West in college sports, particularly football.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN’s Chris Low the landscape is “out of control,” “not sustainable” and “an absolute mess and a train wreck.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert has called upon Congress to “find a single legal model by which NIL and other relationships with student-athletes can be regulated” because different states have different NIL laws.
Of course, there’s a level of irony in seeing well-paid coaches and administrators wringing their hands now that college athletes can earn their share of the financial pie and keep things above board.
Those athletes are also getting to enjoy the same freedom of movement that has been afforded to coaches.
The professionalization of big-time college athletics has been happening for decades, and the ongoing arms race has only widened the gulf between the haves and have-nots. When the University of Alabama rolls out a plan to spend $600 million to upgrade its athletic facilities, the horse was out of the barn before the NIL reforms.
While it’s difficult to see how the NCAA can close Pandora’s box, the market may correct itself.
The boosters lining up NIL deals and helping to fund NIL collectives expect to see some return on their investment, be it financial or through success on the field of play. If they don’t see the results they hoped for, then it stands to reason they might shy away from future support.