Nice try, Aggies. But there was no way the SEC was suspending Nick Saban
I get why Texas A&M took its shot. To put it simply, it’s because Nick Saban took his shot first.
The Alabama coach’s viral comments about how A&M “bought” every player in its historic 2022 recruiting class was not received well by the folks in College Station. We knew that from the moment Jimbo Fisher stepped to the podium the following morning looking like he had already spent 90 minutes on the Peloton. Fisher called Saban a “narcissist” and said that his claims were “despicable” while also adding that “maybe someone should’ve slapped (Saban).”
But wait, there’s more!
As we found out via an open records request from On3.com, apparently A&M took it a step further in its response to Saban’s comments. According to an email sent to Greg Sankey from A&M athletic director Ross Bjork, the Aggies requested that the league office fine and suspend Saban.
Here was the full description of the email from Bjork, which was co-signed by A&M president Katherine Banks:
“We write to express Texas A&M University’s disappointment and outrage at the recent statements made by Alabama University [sic] Head Football Coach Nick Saban that ‘A&M bought every player on their team-made a deal for Name, Image, Likeness,’” Bjork and Banks’ email to Sankey stated.
“Coach Saban’s statement was a blatant violation of SEC bylaws regarding sportsmanship. More significantly, without citing any facts to support his statement, Coach Saban is accusing every, single player in Texas A&M’s recruiting class and current football team of violating NCAA NIL guidelines and Texas state law.
But wait, there’s more!
“Coach Saban’s statement is false, beneath the dignity of the SEC, and corrosive to the fabric of sportsmanship in college football as a whole and especially within the SEC. We expect the league to take strong, public action against Coach Saban and the University of Alabama to demonstrate that such unprofessionalism and disrespect for Texas A&M’s student-athletes, coaches, and the university as a whole, will not be tolerated. A public apology from Coach Saban to Coach Fisher, Aggie Football, and Texas A&M University is a good starting point, but the league should also consider monetary and participation penalties against Coach Saban.
“Thank you for your concern and prompt attention to this serious matter.”
Remember that was all before Fisher took to the podium.
As we found out, Sankey responded to Bjork’s request that afternoon by saying that Fisher’s response was actually in violation of SEC bylaws — which Bjork had warned Fisher about — and that in relation to Saban, Sankey did not “view suspension or financial penalty as appropriate at this time.”
Does that mean that if Fisher had just kept quiet that Sankey would’ve dropped the hammer on Saban? No way. But without knowing it, Fisher gave Sankey an out to issue a public reprimand of both coaches. It was the equivalent of a double technical in basketball.
A public apology was one thing. If A&M thought Saban was actually going to be suspended for those comments, well, keep dreaming. Even first-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin didn’t get a suspension when he inaccurately accused Urban Meyer’s staff of a recruiting violation at a National Signing Event in 2009. Sure, times are different now. That’s also why Saban’s comments, while they were an admitted slip-up, wouldn’t have warranted extreme action.
Saban claiming A&M “bought” every player in its recruiting class had a different meaning in the NIL era. Technically, Saban didn’t accuse A&M of cheating. Did he still unnecessarily single A&M out by claiming they were the epitome of what was wrong with the lack of NIL regulation? Absolutely. It was a misstep. Saban admitted that within hours of Fisher’s response.
But let’s think about the precedent for a college football coach missing a regular season game. Like, in a system wherein 1 loss can keep you out of the Playoff.
Here are some of the recent examples at the Power 5 level, all of which I think we can agree are inexcusable defenses for state employees (Tressel’s violation isn’t as severe in nature but it still probably isn’t great to blatantly lie to the NCAA):
- Urban Meyer, Ohio State — Suspended 3 games for his handling of domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith
- DJ Durkin, Maryland — Put on administrative leave, fired because of investigation into mistreatment of players following Jordan McNair’s death
- Kyle Flood, Rutgers — Suspended 3 games for rules violations related to off-field transgressions involving players
- Gary Pinkel, Mizzou — Suspended 1 game after DWI arrest
- Jim Tressel, Ohio State — Suspended 5 games after lying to NCAA about “TattooGate”
That doesn’t include someone like Bobby Petrino, who was put on administrative leave and ultimately fired for his “inappropriate relationship” with an Arkansas athletic department employee.
It also doesn’t include recent SEC cases like Kiffin or Dan Mullen, both of whom were fined $25,000 by the SEC in 2020. Kiffin’s fine came on the heels of criticizing SEC officiating after a non-fumble call against Auburn in 2020 while Mullen’s fine was the result of a brawl he instigated at halftime of a 2020 game against Mizzou. Neither coach was suspended.
Sure, Saban’s comments about A&M took on a much more accusatory nature than Kiffin claiming that officials botched a ruling on a kick return. But by nature of A&M’s request for a suspension, shouldn’t that mean Fisher is also worthy of a suspension? After all, Fisher accused Saban, too.
“Some people think they’re God. Go dig into how ‘God’ did his deal. You may find out about a lot of things you don’t want to know,” Fisher said about Saban in May. “We build him up to be this czar of football, go dig into his past.”
Sankey didn’t view this as “the one who started this is the only one who should be punished.” Fair or not, that’s the risk with coming back as hot as Fisher did. He might’ve come out looking better than Saban, but he still gave Sankey the ammo to diffuse the situation with an equal reprimand of both coaches.
Had Fisher abided by Sankey’s wishes in his response, it would’ve been interesting to see how the commissioner would’ve treated Saban with his reprimand. My guess is that he still wouldn’t have suspended the greatest coach in the history of the sport. How much Saban’s status would’ve mattered, we’ll never really know.
(This is the part where I’m supposed to say that the SEC league offices are in Birmingham, and that’s the only factor that matters when it comes to all things Alabama.)
For now, all we know is that A&M was in no place to let Saban’s comments go unaddressed. Clearly, a line in the sand was drawn. Both coaches can continue to say they’re moving on, but whether they like it or not, this story isn’t going away anytime soon.
Much to A&M’s chagrin, neither is Saban.