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Mike Bianchi: NIL king Jimbo Fisher should embrace what Nick Saban said

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Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Texas A&M Aggies reacts after a loss against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on Nov. 27, 2021, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Texas A&M Aggies reacts after a loss against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on Nov. 27, 2021, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images/TNS)

Jimbo Fisher should have thanked Nick Saban; not disparaged him.

He should have given Saban a paisano peck on the cheek instead of saying he should be slapped in the face.

He should have fully embraced Saban’s words instead of totally recoiling from them.

When Saban said last week that Jimbo’s Texas A&M program had “bought every player” in its No. 1-ranked recruiting class with millions of dollars in booster money camouflaged as Name, Image and Likeness compensation, Jimbo shouldn’t have flown off the handle and taken it as a personal affront; he should have seized the moment and used it as a professional advantage.

Instead of using it as a whining moment, he should have used a winning moment. Instead of childishly calling Saban names (“a narcissist … who thinks he’s God”), Jimbo should have affirmed Saban’s words and then rightfully assented to his throne as the King of NIL.

In the days since Saban made his remarks about the unintended consequences of the NCAA’s NIL legislation, Fisher has done everything he could to refute Saban’s comments when, really, he should have confirmed them.

He should have called the impromptu news conference on the day after Saban made his remarks and opened by saying, “I want to thank Coach Saban for his admiration of Texas A&M’s NIL initiative. I would, however, like to correct Coach Saban on one point of fact: We didn’t actually buy our recruits with NIL money. That would be against NCAA rules and Texas state law, but we did let every recruit know that if he signs with Texas A&M, our boosters have assured us there will be plenty of NIL money for everybody on our roster. As they say, we’re going to make it rain with NIL money, baby!”

Then Jimbo should have smiled at the cameras and joked: “Hey, we must be doing something right if Coach Saban — the G.O.A.T. — is worried about us. But, seriously, we’re not going to apologize because our fans and boosters are passionate about our program and are willing to help give our players financial opportunities via NIL that many other schools aren’t able or willing to provide. I’d like to tell every recruit and every potential transfer out who is watching right now, if you want come to Texas A&M then you’ll have the opportunity to earn more NIL money than you will earn at any other school in the country.”

Then, smiling again, Jimbo should have pointed at the camera.

“And that includes Alabama.”

If Jimbo had done it my way, he would be the toast of college football right now.

Instead, he came off as petty with his angry diatribe. As that great college football analyst William Shakespeare said after Fisher’s tirade, “Methinks thou doth protest too much, Jimbo.”

Besides, going after Saban — the Godfather of college football — just isn’t prudent even if you believe you’re defending the pride of your program. A word of warning for Jimbo: Be careful or you might find yourself on a fishing trip in Fredo Corleone’s jon boat.

If you ask me, Jimbo has nothing to be mad about and Saban has nothing to be sorry about. Saban never said A&M and others were cheating. He simply said that these booster collectives that raise millions of dollars to pay for recruits are not what NIL was supposed to be. NIL was supposed to be a college quarterback being able to market himself to a car dealership that would pay him to endorse Chevys, Fords or Toyotas; or a college softball pitcher being able run a camp in which parents would pay for their daughters to attend.

However, with the NCAA now a shell of what it once was and washing its hands of enforcing the murky rules, NIL is now just a catchphrase for opposing booster collectives bidding for recruits and transfers.

“The problem with name, image and likeness is coaches [who] went out and said, ‘OK, how can we use this to our advantage?’ " Saban explained. “They created what’s called a ‘collective’ … an outside marketing agency that’s not tied to the university that’s funded by alumni from the university. …

“That marketing agency then funnels [money] to the players. The coach actually knows how much money is in the collective, so he knows how much he can promise every player. That’s not what name, image and likeness was supposed to be. That’s what it’s become, and that’s the problem in college athletics right now.”

It’s no secret that this is exactly what’s going on and coaches like Jimbo are taking full advantage of it because, well, it’s technically not against the rules. You see, the boosters who run these collectives are clever, cagey multimillionaire businessmen who know the ins and outs of writing up NIL contracts to make sure everything appears kosher.

And make no mistake about it, coaches are embracing these collectives. New Florida Gators coach Billy Napier spoke openly about UF’s collectives when he addressed a meeting of Orlando boosters recently. He even introduced multimillionaire Hugh Hathcock, the organizer of the Gator Guard — a collection of big-money boosters who are willing to write million-dollar checks to keep the Gators competitive.

Before the meeting, Napier told the media that NIL is “a world where we have free agency with no salary cap.” During the meeting, he urged Orlando boosters to help the Gators fund their free agency, er, NIL fund.

At one point, Napier displayed a giant map of Florida on the big screen behind him and said he wants to dominate recruiting in the state. He then pointed to that map and said, “As you see right here, Orlando is 115 miles from Gainesville. We need to control recruiting in Orlando, Florida. Does everybody understand what I’m saying? Your energy, your contribution, your investment has an effect on everything.”

And the best part of all, Napier said, is that NIL makes it all legal and proper.

“Now, you can do it above board,” Napier told the Orlando boosters. “You can lay your head down at night and do it with integrity.”

Jimbo Fisher could learn a few lessons from Billy Napier.

Instead of being shady and secretive about your NIL collective, be truthful and transparent.

Instead of wanting to slap Saban in the face, just be honored you’ve gotten into his head.


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