Lane Kiffin: College football is now ‘a professional sport’ in the NIL era

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Thanks to a pair of major changes enacted by the NCAA last year, college athletes now have a transfer portal that looks a lot like free agency, and an opportunity to profit from their names, images and likenesses that marks a clean break. with lingering notions of amateurism.

Let Lane Kiffin explain what this means for college football in a candid way.

“We are a professional sport,” the Mississippi coach said in recent comments posted by Sports Illustrated“and they are professional players.”

During a number of revealing remarks during a lengthy Q&A with the website, Kiffin struck the pragmatic tone of someone well aware that the landscape of college football has been radically transformed and the coaches and players would be well advised to make the most of it. of this one.

“It totally changed recruiting,” he said. “I joke about it all the time. Facilities and all that. Go ahead and build facilities and those awesome weight and training rooms, but you won’t have good players if you don’t have ZERO money. I don’t care who the coach is or how hard you recruit, it’s not going to make money.

In addition to delivering direct insights into the impact of NIL and donor collectives on recruiting and training decisions, Kiffin, 47, offered insights from the SEC rival in Alabama that should both comforting and alarming Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

According to SI, the interview with Kiffin took place two days before Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher had a very public argument over the former’s accusation that the Aggies “bought every player” in their class. top rated recruitment agency with NIL offers. Fisher, a former Saban staffer, responded by denying that his program “bought anyone” and calling the Alabama coach a “narcissist” who had become too used to dominating the ranks of the recruitment.

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Saban later backtracked and claimed his problem was not with Fisher or the original NIL concept, but rather with how donors used the new rules to organize in groups. The goal of these collectives, which are not officially affiliated with the programs they support, is to create pools of NIL money to entice prized prospects to choose their preferred school.

Among the programs related to the collectives are Texas A&M, whose donors have come together with ” The bottom “, and Alabama, through High tide traditions. The Tuscaloosa-based company explains on its website that its mission is “to harness the power of student-athlete name, image and likeness to build and propel positive business relationships across the city, state, region and nation”.

Kiffin chose a different description: “You basically created what was cheating before you were legal.”

His official assessment is consistent with a recent report that some members of the coaching community joke that NIL stands for, “Now it’s legal!”

“People are going to criticize me for saying ‘people are paying them to come’ saying that’s not what’s happening,” he told SI. “That is exactly what is happening.”

Big-budget boosters have always had a say in the direction of big programs, but outside of clandestine deals with rookies, their influence has often translated publicly into a willingness to muster the stacks of cash needed to hire. – and then buy out – renowned coaches. Now, Kiffin noted, donors have goals they want coaches to achieve that don’t have to be wins, losses and bowl matches.

“Let’s say the reports are true and a high school quarterback is making $6 million to $8 million,” Kiffin said. “…Are the coaches going to need to play him, or are the donors going to be angry when he doesn’t play – the first-round pick the donor is drafting. I have been in this situation. People paying this will want this guy to play. If he doesn’t play, how is the backup quarterback who only wins a scholarship check going to play against him? »

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In this context, Kiffin compared a hypothetical deep-pocketed college program booster to an “owner” of an NFL team. He spoke from experience, having been fired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders at the start of the 2008 NFL season, his second with the team. Then-Raiders owner Al Davis showed his often combative temper at a press conference where he affirmed that among the reasons for the split was Kiffin’s antipathy toward quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.

“I’ve been there, where the owner calls and says, ‘We have to play this guy! And I say, ‘No, we have to play this other guy.’ I’ll tell you what happens – you’re fired,” Kiffin told SI. “…What’s going to happen when the main donor calls and says play this guy, and you don’t – don’t get fired?”

Saban, a seven-time national champion, including six at Alabama, probably doesn’t have to worry about getting fired anytime soon. In fact, Kiffin suggested that the Crimson Tide’s longstanding advantages in callback support would stand him in good stead in the brave new world of college football.

“If you’re from Alabama, why doesn’t your gap keep widening? If you have NIL, you can get the players,” said Kiffin, who spent three seasons under Saban as an assistant at Alabama. “You were already signing No. 1 classes. Now there is a financial factor in play, and you have the best resources for that, and you have the [transfer] gate. … You get the best players, you have free will to select the best players. He will be there forever. He could double his championships.

Always happy to engage in troll work, however, Kiffin couldn’t help but come up with a storyline involving Tide quarterback Bryce Young that might make Saban flinch.

“If you’re advising Bryce Young,” Kiffin told SI, “why don’t you walk into the portal and walk into Nick Saban’s office and say, ‘Hey, I want to be here. , but I have to protect myself so I will enter the portal. And I want to come back as long as it matches what I get there. The kid would win 10 times what he would have won. How is this not going to happen all the time? It should. It will be.”

Kiffin is probably right about that, and more than a few football and basketball coaches could benefit from embracing his clear-headed view of their sport rather than wishing things back to simpler, less player-friendly times. .

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