HOOVER, Ala. — If you wanted the latest answer to an age-old question — Does Nick Saban still have his fastball? — the 69-year-old Alabama coach zipped a 98-mph heater underneath everyone’s chin this week.
His proclamation Tuesday that quarterback Bryce Young has made “almost seven figures” to date in name, image and likeness compensation was brilliant. Genius, really. The statement raised eyebrows as well as the temperature in every recruiting office.
You see, it doesn’t even have to be true that Young is making $1 million in NIL money. In fact, three persons with a direct hand in developing NIL rights told me the figure was probably unlikely at this point. Young’s father, Craig, had no comment when contacted by CBS Sports.
But it sends the message that it’s possible at Alabama. Actually, it sends the message that anything is possible.
“… that’s because of our brand,” Saban told the Texas High School Coaches Association at their convention.
The brand, if you haven’t noticed, is the best in college sports. The brand has landed the No. 1 recruiting class in nine of the last 11 years, according to 247Sports. The brand is perhaps only matched by teams like the New York Yankees and New England Patriots. It screams: Come here and win.
Now it screams cold, hard, this-could-be-you, completely legal cash.
In the short three weeks that NIL benefits have been allowed, Saban has scanned the country and acknowledge the competition.
The owner of a string of mixed martial arts gyms has promised every scholarship player at Miami, Saban’s Week 1 opponent, $6,000 per year for endorsements if they opt in. Even with the NCAA rulebook rendered all but moot, that’s clearly an inducement to play for the Hurricanes.
So with an NIL free-for-all in full effect, it’s up to coaches like Saban to respond. Other programs located in larger cities feature oceans, resort-level weather and Fortune 500 companies. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has a lot of championship hardware thanks to Saban, but T-Town has none of those other amenities.
The great equalizer is that script A. The logo. The dream of a championship symbolized. It should be no surprise Alabama’s in-house NIL platform is called “The Advantage”.
That’s why Tuesday’s statement should be interpreted as the opening salvo from a man armed with an extension that will take him to age 77.
I ain’t going anywhere.
Saban won’t say that, but he didn’t get to his lofty position with merely an iron will. It takes a deft touch of a savvy marketer. Few of us have ever seen Saban in a living room recruiting, but after Tuesday, it’s easy to understand his success.
When asked Wednesday at the 2021 SEC Media Days to expand on the Young comments, he went philosophical.
Players have always been able to work, he said, but couldn’t earn much. Summer school came along and was covered by the scholarship. That pretty much ended the work thing. College football became a 12-month-a-year endeavor.
Then NIL arrived, and three weeks in, anything seems possible. That includes Young, a five-star quarterback from Southern California, having enough money to open a 401(K) before throwing his first pass as a starter.
“That number just blew me away,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday when he heard the news. “You didn’t prepare me for that. That’s amazing. He made $1 million and hasn’t started a game yet? Wow.”
Young has thrown only 22 career passes, but that’s American, isn’t it? You’re worth what somebody will pay you. Saban was asked about a possible locker room issue when his quarterback is making seven figures. But that question in the new NIL world has yet to be answered completely.
“All we’ve done is create an opportunity for our players to work,” Saban said. “The only thing is it’s not equal.”
It sure as hell isn’t. In fact, college football has arguably never been more imbalanced. With NIL, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and their ilk have another tool at their disposal. If Young is truly in the seven-figure range, it’s an indicator there truly is no immediate cap on NIL earnings. There may not ever be if Congress doesn’t step in.
Judging from early results, that might be OK. Again, it’s America where a nut job can make a living out of stuffing hot dogs down his throat. Why not a Georgia lineman or a Texas running back or … Alabama’s quarterback?
We do know from reports that Young has signed with mega-talent representation firm CAA for his NIL deals. We also know that Saban is represented by mega-talent agent Jimmy Sexton of CAA.
That’s not surprising nor necessarily a recruiting advantage. It’s the way of the world now. Several top college quarterbacks have signed with entities that will likely represent them in the NFL. Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler is with Chris Cabott of Steinberg Sports. Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei is with VaynerSports. North Carolina QB Sam Howell is with ESM.
It’s not only what Saban said, it’s who he said it to — those 5,000 Texas coaches. Texas has become (more of) an SEC recruiting hotbed since Texas A&M joined the league in 2012. The Aggies just finished with their highest ranking (No. 4) in 82 years.
With a couple of sentences, Saban wooed the overseers of Texas high school talent more than every Texas Longhorns coach since Mack Brown left in 2013. And if you have the Texas high school coaches in your hip pocket, you’ve got a chance to do some good things.
Alabama, of course, is already there. Saban currently has 10 native Texans on the roster, including brothers James and Tommy Brockermeyer — five-star studs on the offensive line. Not only did he haul in those prospects, Texas A&M and Texas did not. The Brockermeyers’ dad, Blake, was an All-American offensive tackle at Texas.
This is turning into one of Saban’s biggest recruiting coups, and he didn’t need to walk into a single living room to do it.
“There’s no precedent for it,” said Saban. who added that context on the subject is best left for next year when we know more about NIL.
For the moment, if that’s the case, what hope is there for Kiffin, who returns the SEC’s leading returning passer in Corral?
“I’m still blown away on this Bryce Young,” Kiffin said. “The guy’s made million dollars already? He doesn’t need to play against us next year then.”