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Nick Saban Can’t Stop Complaining About NIL In The Most Annoying Way Possible

Nick Saban is seen prior to WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale (Stadium Course) on February 7, 2024 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty

There's a big feature up today on ESPN about the two-day journey that began with Nick Saban's "surprise" retirement from the Alabama Crimson Tide and ended with the hiring of Kalen DeBoer from Washington. It's not the most interesting story if you're not into college football palace intrigue, but there are a few quotes from Saban that stick out.

Saban uses his time with a reporter to, yet again, complain about NIL and the direction that college football is headed towards, all in that sort of passive-aggressive, I'm not saying it's bad, but I'm really heavily implying that it's bad register he's been stuck in since his retirement. Here he is talking about meeting with the team following their tough 27-20 loss to Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinal:

“I thought we could have a hell of a team next year, and then maybe 70 or 80 percent of the players you talk to, all they want to know is two things: What assurances do I have that I’m going to play because they’re thinking about transferring, and how much are you going to pay me? Our program here was always built on how much value can we create for your future and your personal development, academic success in graduating and developing an NFL career on the field.

So I’m saying to myself, ‘Maybe this doesn’t work anymore, that the goals and aspirations are just different and that it’s all about how much money can I make as a college player?’ I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying that’s never been what we were all about, and it’s not why we had success through the years.”


And here he is taking some shots at his players for the way they acted immediately after that loss to Michigan:

"I want to be clear that wasn't the reason, but some of those events certainly contributed," Saban said of his decision to retire. "I was really disappointed in the way that the players acted after the game. You gotta win with class. You gotta lose with class. We had our opportunities to win the game and we didn't do it, and then showing your ass and being frustrated and throwing helmets and doing that stuff ... that's not who we are and what we've promoted in our program."


This is what it sounds like when someone who understands that they have no right to complain about their station in life decides to do some complaining anyway. Saban knows how much of his wealth and success is owed to the years he spent presiding over an unpaid and exploited labor force, which is how all of his evil-boss complaints get stuffed between equivocations and hedges. You see, he's not saying players asking for some of the money they've always been owed is bad, he's just saying that such developments don't jibe with his vision of success. It would be far less annoying if he just came out and said what he really means: Life was a lot easier for him when his players were completely under his thumb, without any agency or expectations.

At any rate, it's starting to look like this is something we'll all be hearing about from Saban throughout the upcoming college football season, where he'll have plenty of chances to whine like Abe Simpson from behind the College GameDay desk. It would be in his best interest to give it a rest sooner rather than later, though. The more time he spends highlighting how players gaining just a little bit of earning power and control drove him out of the sport, the more he makes it seem like exploitation was the key ingredient to his success.

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