Column: A wildly entertaining spat between 2 workout stars

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Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders reacts after the school’s Blue and White Spring football game, an NCAA college football contest, Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Jackson, Mississippi ( AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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Why have they waited so long to allow college athletes to earn a few extra bucks?

Think of all the wildly entertaining shenanigans we’ve missed over the years.

Let’s play feud!

Jimbo Fisher is downright livid at former boss Nick Saban for saying the Texas A&M coach bought himself the best recruiting class in the country after a free-for-all broke out in college athletics under the deceptively boring acronym of NIL – Name, Image and Likeness.

During a hastily organized press conference that took place in just under 10 minutes on Thursday, Fisher called the guy who won a record seven national titles “narcissistic.” He called the accusations made by the Alabama coach “despicable.”

“Some people think they’re God,” Fisher quipped. “When you walk on water, I guess it doesn’t matter.”

And think about it – these guys will be on the same pitch on October 8, when Saban’s Crimson Tide hosts Fisher’s Aggies.

Too bad we can’t move this one until the season opener.

It all started when Saban doubled down on his gripes about the NIL system, which ultimately allowed college athletes to enjoy the rights of all other American citizens by cashing in on their fame with all the endorsement deals they can garner.

While resisting the more logical step of paying those who generate billions in revenue for their former varsity teams, the NCAA went to NIL only because states across the country were beginning to pass real laws that would have allowed anyway.

It was in accordance with NCAA standard operating procedure: resist, resist, resist, until you have no choice but to do the right thing.

It’s also to be expected that the NCAA has caved in while providing little guidance on how this new system is supposed to work.

Which brings us to Saban, who was doing pretty well under the previous setup that allowed athletes to zippo for their efforts, at least more and more.

Alabama still seems to be doing well in this new era of athlete empowerment, which also includes the right to transfer to another school if you’re unhappy with your current school through the transfer portal (you know, a much like coaches can bolt for another job whenever they get a better offer, which Saban and Fisher did).

Saban found himself on the other end of a spat earlier this month when Louisville coach Scott Satterfield suggested Alabama tampered with receiver Tyler Harrell before entering the transfer portal. Harrell has since moved to Crimson Tide; Saban, of course, denies any wrongdoing.

So far, nothing has been able to derail Saban’s unparalleled dynasty.

Last season, the Crimson Tide won the Southeastern Conference title and reached the national championship game before losing to league foes Georgia (coached by another former Saban sidekick, Kirby Smart).

But perhaps Saban, who has managed to remain the game’s greatest manager at 70 by constantly adapting to all the changes that come his way, feels the slightest crack.

The Aggies — after an 8-4 average season that included a stunning upset from Alabama — landed what some have called the best recruiting class in college football history.

Never mind that Alabama was most people’s choice for second-best rookie assembly. No. 2 is not an option for Saban, who has essentially accused Texas A&M of turning NIL into Aggie Savings & Loan, promising big money to anyone who signs on the dotted line.

“A&M bought every player on their team – made a deal for name, image, likeness. We didn’t buy a single player, okay? Saban said during a promotional appearance for something something known as the World Games, which will be held in Alabama this summer.” But I don’t know if we can sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it. It’s difficult.”

For good measure, Saban also threw Jackson State coach Deion Sanders under the NIL bus, pointing the finger at a highly rated rookie who Prime Time surprisingly knocked down on signing day in December.

Travis Hunter, a five-star prospect who had committed to Florida State, instead signed with Sanders’ HBCU program which plays one step below college football’s top division.

“I mean, Jackson State paid a guy $1 million last year who was a really good Division I player to come to school,” Saban said. “It was in the paper, and they were bragging about it. Nobody did anything about it.

Sanders denied Hunter was promised $1 million in NIL money to play for the Tigers and ripped Saban for suggesting a black player’s decision to play for a historically black college might be motivated by more than money – especially in light of the racial protests that rocked the country just two summers ago.

In an interview with Andscape on Thursday, Sanders said Hunter “isn’t chasing a dollar. Travis is chasing greatness.”

Suffice to say, Saban and Sanders probably won’t be teaming up with this crazy duck for any further insurance announcements.

Of course, Saban vs. Fisher is the main event of this brawl.

Fisher once worked on Saban’s staff at LSU, both have national titles on their resumes (though Saban has many more), and now they’re both coaching big-money programs in the same division of the mighty DRY.

Saban probably makes valid points about the Wild West nature of NIL, but he’s not the good guy to complain about it.

He has already won more national championships than any coach in history. He nearly won another one just a few months ago. His program will be perfect. In all likelihood, his jabs at Texas A&M and Jackson State were just a backdoor way to pressure his own boosters into pumping even more money into the NIL landscape.

The SEC publicly reprimanded both coaches on Thursday. Saban somehow apologized on his radio show. But grudges won’t be erased so easily.

In the meantime, all those players who have long been deprived of their right to earn money on the side must love everything.

Two of the highest-paid coaches in the country — Saban earns around $10 million a year, while Fisher brings in $7.5 million a year — shoot each other like abandoned lovers.

It’s so much fun.

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Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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