Scooter Hobbs column: Saban talks, the world listens

Published 6:20 am Thursday, July 21, 2022

It’s SEC Media Days and the guy up there at the podium is the E.F. Hutton of college football.

He’s the best coach there ever was and probably the smartest man in the game.

So when Nick Saban speaks, the world stops, eyes snap to the front and everybody listens.

And the sport needs the Alabama coach now more than ever. Needs his insight as to where this all ends up with the game speeding recklessly through the thick fog of name, image and likeness, coupled with that convenient transfer portal, not to mention fear and loathing over conference expansions here, takeovers everywhere.

And, gosh, it’s all worse than we ever imagined.

“I have no idea,” Saban said.

Alabama will be fine, of course.

As Saban bluntly pointed out — not exactly breaking news — his Tide is one of the “Haves” in the growing chasm from the Have-nots that grows with each new acquisition.

But the man who’s won seven national championships is worried about the competitive balance of the college game.

“Is there transparency to maintain fairness across the board in terms of college athletics?” Saban asked rhetorically.

Again, it shouldn’t bother him. His Tide won’t be losing anybody it really needs to the transfer portal and he said they did just fine with the NIL deals last year — about $3 million worth.

“I’m all for the players,” he said. “Our players did extremely well.”

But everybody isn’t Alabama.

“Everybody in college football cannot do these things relative to how they raise money in a collective or whatever, how they distribute money to players.

“There is no competitive sport anywhere that doesn’t have guidelines on how they maintain some kind of competitive balance. I think that’s important to college football.”

Answers? Even with over a year to mull it over, he doesn’t have any yet, at least that he’s willing to share.

So let us turn from the calm, calculated observations of Saint Nick to the droll wit and off-beat wisdom of Mississippi State coach Mike Leach.

Leach has a curious take on most everything — on the one hand he’d like to see the ancient drop-kick make a comeback, on the other he runs the wildest offense on the planet and has lobbied to expand the College Football Playoff to 64 teams.

And he’s never been afraid to speak his mind, even if it bruises a few feelings, even those of  — God forbid — a few recruits.

Or the government — which isn’t the answer, he says, despite many NCAA leaders’ pleas for the U.S. Congress to butt in.

“Tell me three things that Congress has accomplished in the last five years?” Leach asked. “College football needs to be solved by college football.”

He at least had some suggestions.

“It’s relatively easy,” he said, but of course his solutions veer way outside the box.

First of all, he said, high school prospects would declare individually if they want to be paid professionals or amateur student-athletes.

“Currently college athletes have more privileges than anybody at any professional level,” Leach said. “Whether that’s a good thing or not  … there’s responsibilities that go along with being a professional.”

Currently, basically there are none.

“There’s a notion that we’re not even going to define professionalism and all of a sudden a 17- or 18-year old has more professional privileges than any professional athlete in the world.”

So he dared the media to walk into any NFL camp and tell them: “Hey, I heard in the NFL they’re going to have unmitigated free agency, 365, 24/7. And, by the way, there’s not going to be any salary cap or draft, you’re just going to have bidding wars.

“Just watch the expressions on their face … it  will be well worth it.”

His solution? For the ones who turn pro, they’ll really be pros.

“Professionals get drafted, get traded,” he noted. “And they get cut.”

For those who choose the old books and tuition route?

“They can’t cut me for playing ability,” Leach explained. “Two, I can’t get traded.

“Three, if you get your degree, give them $150,000 — if you go into transfer portal, you don’t get your $150,000.”

Probably too far out there.

But he and Saban agree on one thing about the way things are.

“It’s not sustainable,” Leach said.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com