TUSCALOOSA, Alabama - Alabama coach Nick Saban called out Texas A&M on Wednesday night for "buying" players in its top-ranked recruiting class with name, image and likeness deals, saying Crimson Tide football players earned more than $3 million last year "the right way."
"I know the consequence is going to be difficult for the people who are spending tons of money to get players," Saban said while speaking at an event in Birmingham, Alabama, to promote the World Games being held there in July.
"You read about it, you know who they are. We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future, because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough."
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher — a former Saban assistant — gave a scathing response to Saban's comments during a press conference on Thursday morning.
"First of all, I’ll say it’s a shame we have to do this," Fisher said. "It’s despicable. It’s really despicable. It’s despicable that someone can say things about somebody, and more importantly 17-year-old kids. You’re taking shots at 17-year-old kids and their families. That they broke state laws, that we bought every player in this group. We never bought anybody. No rules were broken. Nothing was done wrong. It was all — the way we do things and the ethics in which we do things and these families — it’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way or things don’t go his way.
"A narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen, and it’s ridiculous when he’s on top."
The NCAA lifted most of its rules barring athletes from earning money from sponsorship and endorsement deals last July, but there are concerns among many in college sports that NIL deals are being used to as recruiting inducements and de facto pay-for-play.
Last week, the NCAA issued guidance to Division I members to clarify its rules against boosters being involved in recruiting.
On Wednesday night, the 70-year-old Saban, who has won six national championships, was more targeted in his critique of the current state of college football.
"We have a rule right now that said you cannot use name, image and likeness to entice a player to come to your school. Hell, read about it in the paper," Saban said. "Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division I player to come to school. It was in the paper and they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it."
Jackson State and coach Deion Sanders landed one of the most highly rated recruits in the country in cornerback Travis Hunter, who had been committed to Florida State until a signing day flip in December.
Sanders has denied Jackson State made any impermissible offers to Hunter to get him to sign with the historically black college that competes in the second tier of Division I football.
"You best believe I will address that LIE Coach SABAN told tomorrow," Sanders tweeted. "We as a PEOPLE don’t have to pay our PEOPLE to play with our PEOPLE."
Saban also referenced Miami donor John Ruiz, a billionaire who has funded NIL deals for numerous Hurricanes athletes.
"Those guys from Miami that are going to play basketball there for $400,000, that’s in the newspaper," Saban said. "The guy tells you how he’s doing it."
But the Texas A&M comments were closest to home. The Aggies are a Southeastern Conference rival in the West Division and coached by former Saban assistant Fisher.
The Aggies beat Alabama last season, but finished 8-4 while the Tide went on to win the SEC and play Georgia for the national championship.
In February, Fisher went off on competitors who were pushing rumors that Texas A&M had spent $30 million on NIL deals to land its star-studded recruiting class.
"Clown acts," Fisher said. "Multiple coaches in our league."
Saban said he supports players being able to cash in on their fame and cited Alabama’s success.
"I told our players when this whole thing started to get agents, get representation, so you create opportunities for yourself," he said. "Our players last year created $3 million worth of opportunities for themselves in doing it the right way. I have no problem with that and nobody had a problem on our team with that because the guys that got the money earned it. There were only 25 guys on our team that had opportunity to earn money."
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Reporting by the Associated Press.