Conversations around the Transfer Portal and NIL dominate college football discussions this offseason. The competitive environment of big-time college football is the wild west for all. The NCAA was not ready. An antiquated NCAA system collided with an abrupt Supreme Court Ruling to produce chaos. With all the uncertainty, how are Nick Saban and Alabama Football negotiating these challenges?

Free Agency in College Football

Student-athletes are entering the transfer portal in droves thinking of the promise of greener pastures elsewhere. They are searching for more desirable situations instead of staying put in their current program. Long gone are the days of seeking to “bloom where you are planted.”

Now the complexity has grown exponentially. NIL opportunities add a major variable for both high school recruits and underclassmen.

The resulting mess is an almost lawless free agency in a completely unprepared college football system. As expected, one of the people who is not unprepared is Nick Saban. 

Saban Saw It Coming

Coach Saban saw this coming. In a January 8, 2022 press conference before the CFB Championship game, Saban said about NIL being used to lure athletes to a particular school, 

I don’t think that was the intention…I don’t think that would be the NCAA’s intention. I think we probably need some kind of national legislation to sort of control that to some degree, because I think there will be an imbalance relative to who can dominate college football if that’s not regulated in some form or fashion.

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/33027223/nick-saban-kirby-smart-call-increased-nil-regulation-college-football-going-haves-nots

The immediate reaction interpreted Saban’s warning as his fear of a change that would harm Alabama Football. On the other side of National Signing Day, we now see these comments in a much different light.

Saban Sent a Warning

Coach Saban wasn’t complaining about the likely loss of an advantage by Alabama Football. He was warning about what was coming without direct, decisive action by the NCAA. While many saw weakness, Nick Saban already had a plan for success. 

Don’t believe it? Explain how Alabama was able to sign the top RB, WR, and CB in the transfer portal. Alabama filled key needs in what already promised to be a stacked roster entering into the 2022 regular season. While coaches like Mike Norvell try to change their fortunes by mass recruiting in the portal, Saban was more surgical in his approach. 

How Alabama Set Up to Continue Dominance

Immediate eligibility means that Alabama Football can enjoy the best of both worlds. Recruit and develop the best talent from the High School ranks. Then fill critical gaps in the portal. All the while, Alabama is among the most likely paths to the NFL. What’s more they have a QB with almost $1M in NIL deals (with much more likely to come after the Heisman). Saban isn’t losing his grip on the best and brightest, he’s tightening it because he is in a no-lose position.

Alabama’s football program has developed a strong national brand. NIL opportunities are wider at a school like Alabama because of visibility. What is the downside to a recruit testing his fortunes at Alabama? Alabama Football is an opportunity to play for a perennial National Championship contender. Players prepare for the NFL with top-notch coaching and state-of-the-art performance programs. If you don’t play, transfer to another program thrilled to get an athletic player who prepped under Saban. It’s a no-lose proposition for the player as well.

The Future

Sure, Jimbo Fisher pulled off a miraculous recruiting class for 2022 by signing 7 5-star recruits. Whether that is an anomaly or not remains to be seen. The lax regulatory environment certainly impacted every school’s program and made some others big winners. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Nick Saban is as usual a step ahead of most of college football, and his dominance doesn’t look to be waning.

What do you think about the current state of transfer rules and NIL policies in college football? We’d love to hear you sound off. Drop a comment in the chat or come see us over on Twitter at @SapientNCAA

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