Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher wasn’t alone in getting called out by Alabama coach Nick Saban on Wednesday night regarding the chaos created by name, image, and likeness payments. Jackson State coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders heard it, too.
“Hell, read about it in the paper,” Saban said Wednesday at an event in Birmingham. “I mean, Jackson State paid a guy $1 million last year that was a really good Division I player to come to the school. It was in the paper, and they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it. I mean, these guys at Miami that are going to play basketball there for $400,000, it’s in the newspaper. The guy tells you how he’s doing it.”
Sanders vowed to respond on Wednesday night, via social media. He did so on Thursday, in comments to Jean-Jacques Taylor of Andscape.com.
“Coach Saban wasn’t talking to me,” Sanders said. “Coach Saban wasn’t talking to Jimbo Fisher. He was talking to his boosters. He was talking to his alumni. He was talking to his givers. He was trying to get money. That was what he was doing. He was just using us to get to where he was trying to get to.”
Sanders is right. Saban keeps whining about the new reality because he knows he can’t compete when the floodgates open to paying players legitimately. Sanders, possibly echoing Fisher’s direct assault on Saban’s recruiting practices, suggested that a level playing field for paying players disproportionately hurts those who previously cheated the rules.
“I don’t even wear a watch and I know what time it is. They forget I know who’s been bringing the bag and dropping it off,” Sanders told Taylor. “I know this stuff. I’m not the one you want to play with when it comes to all of this stuff. . . . Once upon a time the bag was just a bag. Now, there’s equality among the big boys. We don’t have those types of bags. We don’t have the boosters and donors and givers. Leave me out of that mess y’all got going on.”
As to the notion that Jackson State “paid” a player $1 million last year, Saban was referring to Travis Hunter. Taylor reports that Hunter has two NIL deals and two more pending, and that they are worth less than $250,000.
Saban said Thursday that he has tried to contact Fisher and Sanders. Sanders told Taylor that Sanders won’t take Saban’s call.
“We need to talk publicly, not privately,” Sanders told Taylor. “What you said was public. That doesn’t require a conversation. Let’s talk publicly and let everybody hear the conversation. . . . You can’t do that publicly and call privately. No, no, no. I still love him. I admire him. I respect him. He’s the magna cum laude of college football and that’s what it’s going to be because he’s earned that. . . . But he took a left when he should’ve stayed right. I’m sure he’ll get back on course. I ain’t tripping.”
While Saban vs. Sanders lacks the same sizzle of Saban vs. Fisher, Sanders knows what’s really going on. Saban knows that the new NIL reality will make it harder for him to get the best of the best players. And without the best of the best players, it will be hard to continue to be regarded as the best of the best coaches in the history of the game.