Capitalism for me, but not for thee

Nick Saban bemoaning the financial self-interest of today's college football players would be a lot more compelling if he was still coaching at Toledo.

Nick Saban was in Washington D.C. this week, speaking among a group of Senators in a discussion about the current state of college athletics.

We discussed one of his more compelling quotes on this week’s episode of Say Who, Say Pod.

“All the things that I believed in for all these years, 50 years of coaching, no longer exist in college athletics,” Saban said. “It was always about developing players, it was always about helping people be more successful in life.”

What Saban’s saying resonates a little bit with me. After all, I’m not entirely over the fact the Pac-10 champ stopped playing the Big Ten champ in the Rose Bowl, and while I’ve accepted the fact that Washington is now in the Big Ten and the Pac-12 lost its heavyweight status, I believe the very fact that this occurred is part of a much larger problem in the sport.

Where I disagree with Saban is when he says “it was always about developing, it was always about helping people be more successful in life.” Yes, that was part of it, but if that was all of it, please tell me why Saban left Toledo after a single 9-2 season to become the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns?

I’m serious. If his entire mission was premised on developing people, why did he bolt to the NFL? And when he came back to college, why was it to coach Michigan State, then LSU and — most recently — Alabama? Were the young men there more deserving of Saban’s people-shaping skills than the players he was working with at Toledo in 1990?

Or did the salary he could be paid from those other schools factor into his decision as well as the talent he could recruit to those schools, and perhaps most importantly, his belief about what level of success he could achieve there.

Shaping people has always been part of college football, it has never been all of it. Not for the players, and not for the coaches. There has always been a fair amount of self-interest mixed in there, too, and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that as long as we’re honest about it.

The trouble is that I don’t think we’re usually honest about it. We’ve generally accepted the fact that coaches are going to do what’s best for themselves when it comes to leaving for more money or a more high-profile position. We certainly accept the idea that they’re going to try to recruit the best players they can as opposed to drawing largely from the school’s geographic footprint. Increasingly, we’ve been forced to accept the dilution — and in the case of the Pac-12 the destruction — of traditional conference alignments.

But now that players are beginning to receive some of the money that has been pumped into and is being pumped out of the big business that is college football, coaches like Saban are waving their arms as if the financial interests of the players are a poison that has been injected into the body of the sport.

“We’d have all the recruits over on Sunday with their parents for breakfast,” Saban said, “and (my wife) would always meet with the mothers and talk about how she was going to help and impact their sons and how they would be well taken care of, and she came to me like right before I retired and said, ‘Why are we doing this?’

“And I said, ‘What do you mean?’

“She said, ‘All they care about is how much you’re going to pay ‘em. They don’t care about how you’re going to develop them, which is what we’ve always done. So why are we doing this?’ “

If he was still coaching at Toledo, I could understand and perhaps even agree. He’s not coaching at Toledo, though and he hasn’t for a long time.

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