Sharks feasting on collegiate athletics

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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I hate to be the one that told you so, but in the wake of last week’s dust-up between mega successful college football coaches Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban, I told you way back in 2019 that something like this would raise its ugly head.

For the non-sports fans who regularly read this space each week, let me explain what led up to the Fisher vs. Saban war of words.

Fisher’s most recent class of football recruits that are getting close to suiting up for his Texas A&M Aggies are ranked as the most athletic group of incoming freshman.

Meanwhile, poor old coach Saban down there in Bear Bryant land (aka the University of Alabama, the winners of six national titles since 2009) must contend with the fact that he only has the second-best recruiting class among the 129 college/universities that field teams at the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that it is now permissible (unregulated by the NCAA) for collegiate athletes to make money off their Name/Image/Likeness (or NIL for short). What this has evolved into is basically a bidding war….and the schools who have athletic boosters with deep, deep pockets are seeing the majority of top-flight athletes sign with them.

NOTE: Keep in mind that these athletes are still receiving a free education based on their scholarships.

The old days where illegal back-room deals included enticements such as cash, cars, jewelry, free apartments, etc. for the best athletes (funded, of course, by billionaire boosters) are long gone. Now the bidding war is all done up front, big-time boosters offering now legal endorsement deals to star athletes. Some of those deals have reportedly reached seven figures.

Last week, Saban – while addressing a group of business leaders – said that Fisher “bought every player” in A&M’s new crop of recruits.

ESPN reports that that incoming class at Texas A&M includes “five, five-star prospects in the 2022 ESPN300, with 20 of them ranked in the top 150. The class is widely considered the top-rated group in the modern era of recruiting rankings.”

Fisher responded by denying that players were ‘bought.”

“No rules are broken. Nothing was done wrong,” he said during a press conference last week that was called in the wake of Saban’s comments.

“It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way,” Fisher remarked during the press conference. “The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top.”

We have to assume that the “his” and “him” comments made by Fisher reference Saban as he never actually mentioned the Alabama head coach by name.

During his meeting with the business leaders, Saban said this his players have made $3 million from NIL deals.

“We didn’t buy one player, all right? But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough,” Saban was quoted as saying at that meeting.

Later in the week, Saban, in an interview with ESPN, apologized for signaling out Texas A&M.

“I didn’t intend it to mean they were buying players, but more that you’re able to buy players now and it’s totally legal,” he stated. “You’re just using name, image and likeness to do it. What I’m saying is that it’s not good for the game and is only going to get worse unless there’s some federal legislation.”

At this point, let me reference a column I authored in this exact space on Sept. 24, 2019. It was then where I referenced, long before what is now acceptable under the NIL, a measure introduced by Kevin Parker, a State Senator from Brooklyn who proposed legislation that would make New York the first state in the nation to provide direct payments to collegiate student-athletes.

I thought it was a bad idea then….and I haven’t changed my mind nearly three years later.

And why do I feel that way….listen to these words from my column….“The larger, more successful colleges/universities – those that generate millions in athletic revenue each and every year – will have an unfair advantage in attracting student-athletes, especially in the minor sports.

“As they say, money talks and “you-know-what” walks. Student-athletes will flock to where the cash is, thus the rich schools get richer in both athletic cash and talent; leaving the little guys to choose from what’s left,” I wrote at that time.

“And don’t forget the fact that collegiate athletics – even at high-profile schools – are the last bastion of amateur sports left in the world. Tarnishing it with “pay-to-play” robs those young people the opportunity to perform for the simple love of their chosen sport.”

Okay….I understand the argument that using my logic, the athletes, who put in all the work, do not benefit from the mountains of cash generated by big-time college sports. But I thought that was “covered” by the free education they receive for being a coveted athlete. Those scholarships, after all, cover the cost of tuition, books, meals, and much more. Even at a state-supported college/university, those costs can easily reach the five-figure range.

But now, without any regulations on NIL, the “rich get richer” as I referenced in my 2019 column.

“Plus, introducing these student-athletes to cash for services rendered opens up a big can of worms….agents, bookies, and others who will resemble sharks in a blood-filled pool,” I wrote back then.

I now sadly report that the sharks are growing in number, but the pool known as amateur athletics isn’t blood red. Rather, it’s filled with green cash….and lots of it!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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