The University of Alabama just expanded its multimedia rights deal with Learfield for another 15 years. The press release announcing the deal is full of all sorts of phrases designed to make your eyes glaze over ("omnichannel platform with innovative content and commerce solutions"), but the headline is that the Crimson Tide will be using some of the money from this deal to build what they are calling the "first-of-its-kind NIL Hub."
Nicknamed The Advantage Center, this state-of-the-art facility (a fancy conference room) is meant to be a place where Alabama student-athletes can meet with companies and brands for the purpose of signing NIL deals. Realistically speaking, it'll mostly benefit the Crimson Tide's football athletes. The purpose of this big public announcement is for Alabama to announce itself as having both feet in the NIL business to all potential recruits. Not a total surprise, but it does seem to fly in the face of all of Nick Saban's blustering and complaining about NIL, which he did just last year, particularly regarding programs like Texas A&M.
"We were second in recruiting last year,” Saban said at the time. "A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. 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."
What a difference a year (and a No. 2 recruiting class) makes! Saban is suddenly ready to get in the NIL mud in order to keep Alabama on top of the football food chain, a not-so-surprising reversal given that winning is all that matters in the end. Aside from turning Saban into a bit of a hypocrite, what this move really highlights is how much sillier the spending habits of big-time college football programs are going to look in the NIL era. Dumping absurd amounts of money into infrastructure has always been the tried-and-true method for spending revenue without putting the players on the payroll. Pre-NIL, all that money would get spent on on fancy facilities, weight rooms, putting an Xbox and plasma TV in every locker, and maybe even a big slide. But now these schools are put in a position where they have to spend millions of dollars to build a ludicrous conference center in order to help the players get paid by anyone else but them. It's all pretty stupid, but it will at least be funny to watch every big-time college football program spend the next few years turning their facilities into the worst WeWork space you've ever seen.