If Name, Image and Likeness wasn’t already the No. 1 topic in college football before Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher’s epic clash on the subject in recent weeks, it certainly is now.
Saban, head coach of college football’s juggernaut Alabama, took on Texas A&M’s Fisher, a former assistant of his at LSU from 2000-04, suggesting that the Aggies “bought every member” of its consensus No. 1 recruiting class last year. Fisher offered an intense rebuttal, calling Saban a “narcissist” and pleading with reporters to look into his “despicable” past as a head coach.
Naturally, every coach in the country has been asked about the spat between two of the SEC’s most reputable head coaches.
“I think that’s worthy of a subscription or a viewership,” Florida’s Billy Napier, a former Saban assistant at Alabama, said on Thursday before offering his respect.
“No, both are very accomplished. Both are passionate. Both are competitive. I think that it is what it is. We’ll leave that between them. I certainly don’t want to get in the middle of that conversation.”
Some coaches aren’t as politically correct, though.
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin recently told Sports Illustrated that NIL is the driving force in high school recruiting, even claiming that 100 percent of college decisions are being made based on the highest guarantee money.
Napier doesn’t see it that way entirely but shared similar, honest sentiments on the subject.
“I think that NIL is a portion of the decision, right?” Napier pondered. “I think a lot of times when you really dig into why is the player leaving where he’s at, you know, there are other factors, right? I think it’s, all these situations are case by case. You’ve got to evaluate each situation independent of all the others.”
The issue with NIL’s influence on recruiting? As a result of the NCAA seemingly struggling to monitor “pay for play” compliance with the idea that program boosters are involved in collective-driven NIL approaches in mind, the rules are being broken.
Recruits aren’t supposed to have compensation offers before they sign with a school; players at another program shouldn’t have similar offers tempting them to enter the transfer portal.
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Is that happening as universally as Kiffin suggests? Napier wouldn’t go that far — he made it clear that the Gators aren’t taking part in tampering — but he sees some truth in what Kiffin had to say.
“I think there is some of that,” Napier suggested. “Obviously, we don’t operate that way if that makes sense.”
But how can programs operate without using NIL to entice recruits and avoid falling behind in the pursuit of championships, given the number of programs that, allegedly, do tamper? There isn’t an easy answer, simply because at this time there are, essentially, no limits on what the big spenders can do.
“There’s no manual for this in college football,” Napier explained. “I’ve been studying the National Football League, because I think there are some things to learn. Now, every player on our team that hasn’t transferred before is a free agent every year, truth be known.
“That’s the one thing that we lack that the National Football League has, right? There is free agency, but there is no salary cap and there is no contractual obligation. So there are things that we can learn from the NFL, but there are a lot of things that don’t apply as well.”
Similar to the NFL, Napier believes there is wisdom in players utilizing representation to navigate the murky NIL waters as pro players do in free agency.
However, there are rules against schools influencing and/or restricting player representation, which can make roster balance and attrition much harder to balance if players have third parties in their ears with opportunities for greener pastures.
“I think that going forward, the third party, there’s a lot of gray area here relative to representation, what I can say, what I can’t say, what the third party can do, what they can’t do,” Napier said. “Right now we’re living in a land with no laws, if that makes sense.”
Ultimately, coaches and programs are left to educate themselves on the NIL market and devise strategies to recruit players without dollar signs — unless, that is, they decide to tamper amid the lawlessness.
But at Florida, compensation will take care of itself for a prospect that elects to join the Gators, Napier believes.
“I continue to believe that as every day goes by and the more that we are boots on the ground as we get out and we get to know people,” Napier remarked, “NIL is gonna be a slam dunk for the Florida Gators, the University of Florida.”
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