Nick Saban, Miami Billionaire John Ruiz Have Similar Beliefs About NIL, NCAA

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey could not have asked for better off-season publicity than what he received over the last two days from Alabama and Texas A&M football coaches Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher.

Sankey, like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, wants SEC football to be in the nation’s psyche throughout the calender, not just during the season. This is why the SEC likes to schedule its football Media Days during a week in July when no other league is having theirs.

Well, no other league this week, or perhaps any week ever, has had a WWE-like coaching feud explode quite the way the two West Virginians in the SEC West came out with guns and mouths blazing as seen in the Nick & Jimbo Show. The SEC may now set a record for attendance – or crashers – at its Spring Meetings set for May 31-June 3 in Destin, Florida.

On the other hand, it’s too bad Saban launched into a Texas A&M tirade on Wednesday night at a speaking engagement in Birmingham, because an excellent commentary by him there on the state of the NCAA has been largely overlooked.

Almost everyone in the free world knows Saban said, “A&M bought every player” on Wednesday for their No. 1 class last February through Name, Image & Likeness deals, illegally – in his and many others’ opinion – because they did that during the recruiting process instead of after. NCAA rules clearly said last summer when NIL started that NIL deals could not be promised or worked out before recruits signed.

But before he said that, Saban explained why he didn’t see payments to large numbers of players, which are called collectives, year after year being sustainable – whether legally after the recruits sign or illegally before they sign. He said this to a group of more than 100 business leaders in Alabama who have been doing and will be formulating these NIL deals, largely through collectives.

“And I don’t know if this is a sustainable model,” he said. “Because one of you folks is going to give some player a bunch of money to come to our school. And then you’re going to come to the game in full strut, thinking, ‘I’m going to tell everybody that I got that guy to come to Alabama.’ And then he’s not going to play, and then he’s going to transfer.”

This would mean that the business people who fronted the money through a business or sponsorship, which sounds a bit like money laundering by the way, will have wasted their money. The player didn’t play in this scenario, and now he’s gone.

“And you’re going to say, ‘I’m never going to do this again,'” Saban said. “All right? So, I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how you sustain a model like that.”

Will business people behind the collectives begin pressuring coaches to play the players they are paying more or highlight them more? This happens in the NFL when owners pay huge salaries to draft picks, who do not pan out and the coach benches them.

Will the business people behind NIL deals begin arguing for the player they’re sponsoring to play more than a player another business is sponsoring?

Saban echoed what billionaire Miami entrepreneur and class action attorney John Ruiz said last week on the Paul Finebaum Show. Ruiz, a 1987 Miami graduate whose two sons played baseball for the Hurricanes, has become an NIL expert via his legal, NIL signings of recruits to Miami to Florida International University in Miami through his LifeWallet medical information business and other companies. He also spoke of the shortcomings of collectives, which are marketing agencies funded by a school’s alumni to pay players through NIL deals.

“Everybody paying (for NILs) is going to get tired, and here’s what’s going to happen,” Ruiz said. “What happens if you have a 100 people in a collective? And now all of a sudden you start paying players. There are going to be disagreements within that collective, and before you know it, there are going to be lawsuits about the collective. Who got paid? Why did they got paid? And it’s going to get really ugly.”

Ruiz has signed more than 50 players to NIL deals at Miami in football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, swimming and golf, but they are not the just-created, mass-paying collectives most schools are using, including Alabama, Florida, LSU and many other Power Five programs across the nation.

“Our companies were in existence from way before,” Ruiz said. “This is a real business transaction for us. This is not us creating a collective or a 501-C3 (public charities, non-profit organizations and private foundations that are federally tax exempt) simply to get money to players. We’re actually getting a bang for our buck. So are the players because they are now more recogized. They’re learning a lot. We’re filming commercials. We have a whole production studio.”

Saban doesn’t like the collectives either.

“That’s not what the Name, Image and Likeness was supposed to be,” he said. “That’s what it’s become, and that’s the problem in college athletics right now. Because now every player is saying, ‘Well, what am I going to get?’ Now in recruiting, we have players in our state who always wanted to come to Alabama, but they won’t commit to us unless we say we’re going to give them what somebody else is going to give them in an NIL.”

Saban’s fear is that NIL will lead to simply paying players outright, which is what it was supposed to stop from an under-the-table standpoint.

“If we start paying players, we’re going to have to eliminate some sports – non-revenue sports,” he said. “And this is bad. We probably have 450 on scholarship at Alabama in all sports who have been able to create a better life for themselves because they’ve been able to get scholarships and participate in college athletics. That’s what college athletics is supposed to be.”

Ruiz is worried about the widespread growth of collectives throughout college athletics.

“In business, there has to be a value to the entity or entities that are providing the compensation,” he said. “Because if not, what are you really doing? What is the value that a collective gets?”

Word is that in the state of Alabama, many businesses behind NIL deals are already growing weary of what they are spending. And they do not have the money at their disposal as, for example, the oil and gas millionaires in Texas associated with Texas A&M and Texas, which will join the SEC by 2025 along with Oklahoma.

“Here’s the real crux of the issue,” Ruiz said. “How can somebody justify all of a sudden donating to a collective? It’s quite obvious that the reason why is to find a way to put money in the players’ hands. That is not what we’re supposed to be doing because we’re not doing them service. This is not supposed to be to pay athletes to win games. We’re being very short sighted if we think the whole purpose of an NIL is to win games.”

But NIL is likely not going away.

“It’s something that’s here,” Saban said to the business leaders. “And I think the more supporters that we have for the University of Alabama in all sports that are willing to sponsor players – whatever you want to call it – or use them in your business to help your business, that’s going to help our programs.”

But for how long? And will Texas A&M keep beating Alabama in recruiting as it did this past recruiting cycle?

“You shouldn’t make a decision about where you go to school based on how much money you’re going to make,” Saban said. “You should go where you have the best chance to develop as a person, student and as a player, which is what we’ve always tried to do in recruiting. And we’re going to continue to do that.”

And Saban hopes there are enough rich people in Alabama to fund the NILs, or maybe he can find someone like John Ruiz somewhere in Alabama.

“Hopefully, there are enough people out there that will want to do it,” Saban said. “But I know the consequence is going to be difficult for the people who are spending tons of money to get players.”

A possible solution offered by Ruiz that Saban may agree with is a better business-like approach to NIL by the NCAA that could make such deals more – in Saban’s words – “sustainable” over time.

“You need smart business people in the NCAA,” Ruiz said. “I think what happens is people are able to place things on paper, but they don’t know the practicalities of how it works. I see that, quite frankly, with a lot of lawyers that are operating in this (NIL) space right now, too. What I’ve brought to the table is real business acumen because I’ve run so many companies before. I think NIL could be utilized in a very positive way, but you’ve got to get people that really know what they’re doing that understand business. I would love to be able to sit down with the NCAA, because if I was handling this whole thing, I would make the NCAA provide guidance.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

3 Comments

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  1. I’m for anything that pisses nick Saban off. Shut up n coachn quit making excuses ahead of time. Didn’t hear ya complain when lane kiffin said pregame at bama your #2s n #3s would be the other teams starters.

  2. “You shouldn’t make a decision about where you go to school based on how much money you’re going to make,”

    Rich statement coming from Saban. Why do you think top players go to Alabama? If they stand out there, more money can be made at the next level, than if they stand out at UAB.

    People in glass houses…….

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