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College Football

Jimbo Fisher And Nick Saban Are Sniping Over Who Is Better At Getting Away With Breaking The Rules

of their game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Jimbo Fisher, the walking, talking windbreaker who coaches Texas A&M, upended years of dominance by college football's traditional powerhouses by bringing in 2022's top-ranked recruiting class. Because Fisher's recruiting coup is coterminous with the sport allowing players to get paid by leveraging their names, images, and likenesses, said traditional powerhouses are unhappy with circumstances of the shakeup, and Alabama coach Nick Saban teed off on Fisher earlier this week, prompting Fisher to escalate things dramatically on Thursday.

First, let's start with Saban. Speaking at a press conference ahead of this summer's world games alongside English language power user Nate Oats, Saban brought the heat for everyone after apparently reading a newspaper. On Deion Sanders's Jackson State bringing the nation's best recruit Travis Hunter: "Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division I player to come to school. It was in the paper. They bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it." On Miami booster John Ruiz paying out big NIL deals to transferring players: "These guys that are going to Miami to play basketball for $400,000—it’s in the newspaper. The guy tells you how he’s doing it. But the NCAA can’t enforce their rules because it’s not against the law. And that’s an issue. That’s a problem. Unless we get something that protects them against litigation, I don’t know what we’re going to do about it."

Saban reserved his harshest critiques for Fisher. "We were second in recruiting last year,” Saban said. "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."

It's pretty impossible to believe that Alabama remained such a formidable recruiting power for over a decade without engaging in anything shady, which makes Saban's pointed ire for a guy who is maybe just momentarily better at bending the rules than he is somewhat confusing. Has he never heard that old chestnut about the interplay between stones and glass houses? If you want to believe that Saban is playing a game and attempting to draw attention to the NIL market and hasten some sort of regulatory action, it's still a dangerous one.

Indeed, Fisher rose to Saban's challenge and unloaded on the Alabama coach. Fisher called a press conference Thursday morning specifically to respond to Saban and hint at some illicit dealings, to a maddeningly unspecific degree, with the charisma and gusto of a stern uncle criticizing your parking job. Here is the video of the presser, which starts with nine full minutes of silence before Fisher gets on the mic. Fisher, who used to be an assistant under Saban, said of his former boss, "Some people think they're God. Go dig into how God did his deal, you may find out about a lot of things that you don't want to know. We build him up to be the czar of college football. Go dig into his past."

This is not the first time Fisher has raised this particular flag. Saban and Lane Kiffin groused about A&M's class on National Signing Day, which they both said Fisher was able to sign thanks to a huge NIL war chest. Their comments got Fisher to defend his recruiting, mostly by saying it was insulting to imply that his players came to play for them because they were offered money for their labor, and also warn his peers not to blow up the whole scam for everyone. He focused mostly on a rumor about NIL-related shenanigans started by a forum user under the nom de plume SlicedBread, which is a pretty embarrassing for a coach to address publicly, especially since Fisher's message for Kiffin and Saban was almost explicitly Stop talking about the rules we're all bending.

The theatrics are good here—good enough for morons to compare it to the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial—though I think it's worth stepping back from the bluster to figure out what exactly these guys are arguing over. Saban's position is that players should not earn money in exchange for playing football for him, a guy who makes $9.5 million per year, and that in fact paying players would lead to the elimination of college sports. Fisher's is that NIL deals have no relationship to recruiting, that the ability to (sort of) exchange one's labor for capital is incidental to where one chooses to play football. Both are straightforwardly ridiculous, and while the barbs thrown during Saban vs. Fisher are sharp, the whole thing is really just petty tyrants who are some of the only people getting paid in this whole racket arguing about who is doing a worse job ensuring that the racket can keep doing. It would be really funny, however, if things keep escalating and someone showed their work and gets the other fired. The possibility of that sort of escalation taking place is probably why the SEC came out on Thursday to tell both of these angry fellas to can it:

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