Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban, Kirby Smart grumble without admitting it
To hear college football coaches tell it, the sport is in dire straits.
Nick Saban says the direction of the game is unsustainable. Dabo Swinney lamented the lack of rules and guidance around player endorsements, telling ESPN that the situation surrounding name, image and likeness dollars is “out of control.” Kirby Smart fears fans will be discouraged by athletes making decisions based on NIL offers.
I’ll buy that some of this twist is rooted in genuine concern for the future of the sport, but here’s the part that coaches leave out amid their grievances: Coaches are the people most negatively impacted by the developments that have taken place within college football in the past year. But the coaches don’t admit it.
Fans seem to be adjusting. Some have purchased T-shirts that incorporate the athletes’ NIL, knowing that the athletes reap financial benefits from these apparel sales. You will find fans attending autograph sessions at stores and restaurants where they can receive a signature and photo with athletes earning NIL money. Some fans have even paid for athletes to record personalized happy birthday or cheering videos through apps like Cameo.
While the transfer rate makes it harder to track who is playing for which team, it also provides a new opportunity to speed up a program. Certainly, South Carolina fans appreciated the arrival of transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler, who lifted the Gamecocks’ prospects for 2022.
Additionally, fans and boosters can now directly influence the composition of their favorite team by donating to NIL collectives or offering endorsements that will help attract and retain talented players.
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So, despite the coaches’ warnings, it sure seems like there’s never been a better time to be a college athlete or college sports fan.
There has never been a tougher time to be a college coach.
Allowing athletes to transfer freely makes building a solid depth chart a chore. A player can be here today, gone tomorrow. Athletes can search for a destination that they believe will yield the most lucrative endorsement deals. Meanwhile, although the NIL changes were designed to allow varsity athletes to profit from their fame and not influence recruiting decisions, the endorsements undeniably affect recruiting, although to what extent that remains unclear.
These changes are eroding coaches’ ability to control everything and everyone around them, and if you’ve ever spent a lot of time with college football coaches, you know that many of them are control freaks.
Coaching college football in 2022 presents more obstacles and frustrations than the job done a decade ago.
If the coaches admitted that evolution was at the heart of their recriminations, I would have a stronger stomach for their reproaches.
Instead, they present their complaints as looking out for the best interests of athletes and fans – both of whom are doing well – and protecting the integrity of the game. Never mind that many coaches cheat on their own mothers if it offered an avenue interior to success.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said earlier this offseason that the unregulated and uneven flow of endorsement dollars is creating a lopsided playing field. News flash: College football has long presented the most lopsided playing field in all of college sports. When conference commissioners had the opportunity this year to vote to expand the playoffs — a move that could open the door to a little more parity — they didn’t. Additionally, Kiffin, the self-proclaimed “Portal King”, jumped at the chance to add plug-and-play transfers in an attempt to even the balance.
Swinney says he’s a champion of education and protecting the “college experience.” Well, nothing about Division I football’s nearly annual training, training, conditioning and competition schedule lends itself to the educational model. Plus, ZERO earnings don’t turn college athletes into fictional college students any more than your 20-year-old barista’s part-time salary turns her into fictional student. If colleges want to maintain education, then eliminate wacky degrees and courses and crack down on academic fraud.
Smart, during a recent interview on “The Paul Finebaum Show,” questioned whether athletes “make decisions based on the wrong things.” He was referring to NIL offers.
If athletes make decisions based on money, they may be following the example set by coaches.
Let’s not forget that Brian Kelly dropped out of Notre Dame for a 10-year, $100 million deal with LSU as the Irish were in contention for the college football playoffs at the time of his release. So can you really blame a college athlete for testing the transfer market for a better sponsorship deal?
Smart said there is little a coach can do to prevent a player from transferring.
“Kids make decisions based on what they think is best for them. There’s not much you can control,” the Georgia coach told Atlanta’s 680 The Fan.
It’s the No. 1 problem facing college football coaches after last year’s rule revisions.
Athletes have more control than ever, and college coaches have less control — and I suspect it’s the evolution of college football that irritates coaches the most.