Clemson coach Dabo Swinney once said he’d quit if players were permitted to make money. (He hasn’t, yet.) Alabama coach Nick Saban has opted instead to pivot — especially since he sees a clear advantage from doing so.
On one hand, Saban is accepting the new reality because he has no other choice. Trends change, and smart coaches adjust. On the other hand, Saban (arguably the best recruiter in the history of college sports) already sees a way to use the new NIL rules to lure more great players to his program.
“Our quarterback [Bryce Young] already has approached ungodly numbers,” Saban said Tuesday, via 247sports.com. “I’m not going to say what they are. He hasn’t even played yet. He hasn’t been a starter. If I told you what he’s . . . it’s almost 7-figures. And it’s like the guy hasn’t even played yet. That’s because of our program.”
The comment about Young making so much money has become the headline, but Saban was sure to add the hammer. Young will be making that money because he’s playing for the University of Alabama.
And so the message to high school kids who suddenly see a path to big money becomes clear. Join us in Tuscaloosa, and you can make ungodly money before you ever even start a game, too.
The dynamic also gives coaches like Saban even more power over their players. Those who get on the field will get more opportunities to earn money from their names, images, and likenesses. While making the coach happy has always been an ingredient in getting reps in games, there’s now a clear and immediate financial benefit to earning playing time.
Of course, ungodly numbers won’t flow from every position. Saban addressed the fact that his locker room will have some players who make a bunch of money and others who don’t.
“Everything in high school and college football has always been equal for everyone,” Saban said. “It’s not going to be that way anymore. Aaron Rodgers makes $24 million a year [editor’s note: Rodgers makes more than $30 million annually on his current deal] and probably several million more in endorsements because he’s the quarterback. The right guard probably makes a million a year and he doesn’t get anything from endorsements. The same thing is going to happen to our team. Certain positions probably enhance opportunity to create value, like quarterback.”
Saban and other coaches will have to figure out how to navigate potential resentment in the locker room of players who get more NIL money than others. Saban’s explanation shows that he already has worked out a fairly reasonable “it is what it is” spiel. So when the left guard starts whining about how little he gets and how much the quarterback gets, Saban can say, “Get used to it, big fella. That’s how it is in the NFL. If you don’t like it, lose weight and learn to throw the ball.”
All coaches and players will have to learn how to live with this new reality of college football, one that essentially dropped out of the sky fewer than three weeks ago. Smart coaches like Saban will find a way to bend this development to their advantage, because that’s what smart coaches always do. Those who huff and puff and pine for the old days won’t have to quit over it; they’ll eventually end up getting fired because they won’t be able to compete with the coaches who embrace the change and benefit from it.