Delusional Nick Saban tells Congress that college football is in trouble

Delusional Nick Saban tells Congress that college football is in trouble

Nick Saban — Nick Saban! — is decrying the 2024 player empowerment of a sport that a quarter century ago set sail for money to rule it.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Mar 19, 2024, 9:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Mar 19, 2024, 9:00am CDT

OKLAHOMA CITY — Back in December 1999, the editor of the Daily Oklahoman, Stan Tiner, called me into his office and said we ought to do a story on coaches salaries. 

Stan was quite a character and a classic Southern stereotype. Big personality, like Big Daddy out of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and full of ideas. I liked working for him.

Stan had lots of ties in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and a coaching hire had captured his fancy. LSU had just hired away Michigan State’s Nick Saban for the princely sum of $1.2 million a year.

Stan thought college football had passed a major threshold. And he was right. Coaches jumping jobs for a $1 million salary.

Saban had just coached the Spartans to a 9-2 season, which lifted his five-year record at Michigan State to 34-24-1. And LSU, with a great deal of foresight, was paying Saban on par with Florida’s Steve Spurrier, just below the $1.5 million that Florida State was paying Bobby Bowden.

I thought of Stan Tiner and LSU and those innocent days at the end of the century after Saban talked at a U.S. Senate roundtable on name/image/likeness last week. (Watch below)

Saban retired from Alabama two months ago, with the laurel wreath of being college football’s greatest coach ever, and to the honorable senators trying to fix college football even though they don’t know a Boilermaker from a Studebaker, Saban offered a glimpse into why he retired.

“The whole idea that we’ve created a pay-for-play model in college athletics has created some issues in being able to actually have a program and a system (that) creates some kind of a balance,” Saban said. “All venues have some guidelines and rules that create some kind of competitive balance, which right now, we don’t have in college athletics. It’s whoever wants to pay the most money, raise the most money, buy the most players, is going to have the best opportunity to win.” 

And in a Washington, D.C., conference room, we’ve finally gotten to the root of college football’s problems. Delusion. Delusion and a complete lack of self-awareness.

Nick Saban — Nick Saban! – is decrying the 2024 player empowerment of a sport that a quarter century ago set sail for money to rule college football. 

To paraphrase Saban, his move to LSU showed that whoever wanted to pay the most money, raise the most money and buy the best coaches was going to have the best opportunity to win.

Saban told the gullible senators that competitive balance is gone from college football. What’s next under the Capitol rotunda? General Motors crying about Japanese imports?

Any semblance of competitive balance in college football ended with — wait for it — Nick Saban at Alabama. In Saban’s final 15 seasons at Bama, the Crimson Tide won six national titles, made three more national championship games and two additional national semifinals.

Through most of Saban’s tenure, college football had all the parity of Imperial Rome.

Do these guys have no shame?

It’s one thing to not acknowledge the past. It’s another to disregard what’s right in front of your face.

The college football revolution, which includes money for players and freedom to transfer without penalty, in the last three years has brought the opposite of Saban’s fearmongering.

A Michigan-Washington national title game, matching excellent programs but neither of which had been on such a stage since the 1990s.

Texas Christian, which not that long ago was a decrepit program left behind by conference realignment, in the 2022 national title game.

A true Cinderella, Cincinnati, in the four-team College Football Playoff.

A streak of Big 12 parity the likes of which we’ve never seen — seven schools have qualified for the last four conference title games, and the only school to make it twice is little ol’ Oklahoma State.

Giant Clemson has been toppled in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Giant Alabama has found a worthy foe in Georgia.

Giant Ohio State has been caught by Michigan.

Giant Oklahoma has been caught by Texas.

Hey, senators, next time you’re reading about all your personal scandal in the Washington Post, flip over to the sports page and get caught up on what’s happening on the college gridiron.

I understand Saban’s frustration. His world has changed, and who among us likes our world changing? 

Saban laments the loss of player development in coaching — guys leave if they’re not playing or getting paid enough — and helping players be more successful in life, though he fails to note that NIL money actually entices players to stick around college football longer, potentially leading to more graduates.

Saban brought up his wife, the famous Miss Terry, who asked her husband why they’re still doing this, if all the players care about is what they’re getting paid.

Some irony there, for a coach who left Michigan State 25 years ago to turn upside down the coaching salary structure and who left LSU for a $5 million a year salary from the Miami Dolphins.

And under Saban at Alabama, the Crimson Tide had the biggest staffs and the most resources and the biggest budgets.

So I applaud Saban for finding an audience that would listen to his nonsense. The senators have other things on their mind and can be easily manipulated.

But those of us who follow college football know the truth. The fiefdoms of Nick Saban are endangered, and now coaches who had all the advantages are like a cat on a hot tin roof.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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