Nick Saban Is Still Thriving On Old, Exploitative NCAA Culture

Other than his legendary track record of success which can be directly attributed to the trailer load of phenomenal African-American players that have chosen to come to Alabama and share in the winning tradition, exposure and pre-NFL culture, there’s little to pat Nick Saban on the back about these days. 

Saban says he isn’t second-guessing his decision to play his Heisman winning quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — who was destined to be a Top 3 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft —  in the waning moments of the first half in a game that Alabama could have easily won without him.

Tagovailoa was a game-time decision entering the game at Davis Wade Stadium after he dealt with soreness in his right ankle following last week’s LSU game. The Ewa Beach, Hawaii, native, played all 60 minutes against the Tigers only 20 days removed from a tightrope surgery to repair a high ankle sprain he suffered in the Tennessee game back on Oct. 19.

On top of that, Tagovailoa was limited in practice leading up to the 38-7 win over Mississippi that changed the trajectory of his career.

The fact that Tua was already banged up and had missed time wasn’t a big enough factor in Saban’s decision making. Saban let you know. He’s just trying to win games…being greedy plain and simple.

One might say he even panicked. Alabama has fallen out of the Top 4 teams in the country for the first time in forever and Saban is feeling the heat. Clemson and Georgia and LSU have closed the gap on them in recent seasons and Saban felt that he personally couldn’t afford to not have Tua in the game. 

It’s easy to put the blame on Tua and his family and say that they urged Saban to let him play, but Saban is the guy with the vast amount of accolades and experience. He’s supposed to bring clarity to the moment. Leadership. Logical, long-term leadership.

I mean when is enough glory, enough.

The visual of Tua being carted off the field and eventually airlifted back to Birmingham for CAT scans and MRIs, wasn’t enough for Saban to just admit that he regrets the decision he made. 

I agree that it’s not anything Saban could have predicted. But the callousness of his latest reflection rubs me the wrong way.  

“What if we wouldn’t have played him and not won the game?” Saban asked reporters, according to ESPN 

Saban probably thought that question was appropriate to ask at the time. Considering Saban’s tunnel vision and almost unhealthy thirst for victory, it shouldn’t be surprising. 

Problem is, Tua’s solid draft positioning and NFL future are now up in the air. There are reports that he might not be able to do much at the combine as he won’t be healthy enough to start throwing until the Spring. The rash of injuries he’s had in the past two seasons now makes him a question mark to NFL scouts and teams.

“He’s fragile,” said ESPN personality Tony Kornheiser. ” If I ran an NFL team I would be afraid to draft him with a Top 3 pick. I don’t know what I’m getting there…When people get hurt time and time again it will cause GM’s to give pause.”

Instead of grabbing a phat bag in the 2020 NFL Draft, the junior quarterback may have to return to Alabama for another season to prove that he can be durable and still play. Or he can risk entering the draft and dropping considerably.

Initially, Saban was remorseful and felt bad, but he was back to business on Tuesday, a day after Tua’s hip surgery. Tua’s career trajectory is altered. Just like that.

Then we find out the boy has no draft insurance coverage…it gets worse and worse.

Hopefully, his Draft stock won’t be too heavily impacted but that’s no longer Saban’s problem. Did he ever really care in the first place?

The fact that we don’t know is a huge problem. Maybe Saban doesn’t understand what’s going on around him in the country. How student-athletes are becoming more empowered and the NCAA’s money heist is up. Student-athletes are no longer numbers and pieces to a billion-dollar puzzle. They have an increasing voice. They will be getting paid for their likeness. The exploitation they have traditionally dealt with is no longer seen as par for the course.

Even an old school, omnipotent power broker like Saban has to change with the landscape a bit. Protecting your most vital investment should be the first priority. Not chasing another trophy that you were unlikely to win this season anyway.  

Saban should have just held Tua out until he was fully healed.

Saban owed him that.

Let’s not forget how Tua has played a role in Saban’s sustained run as a legendary coach. As a 19-year-old true freshman Tagovailoa, gave Saban his fifth national title in nine years at Alabama, coming off the bench to bring them back against Georgia in thrilling fashion in 2018. 

Tua’s performance generated millions for the university and propelled Nick Saba to No. 12 on Fortune’s List of  World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, just behind Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, and ahead of Emmanuel Macron, the president of France and Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.

The Last Era of Exploitation

Black athletes in college sports have long been exploited commodities. Disproportionately, African-American college football players have made white administrators and coaches rich while, for all intents and purposes, working for free.

Times are changing and it’s time for czar coaches like Saban who don’t want to relinquish a system that has made them rich beyond their wildest dreams, to stop ignoring the NCAA’s hypocrisy and the racial implications of its labor model.

The NCAA generates billions in broadcast television rights, while no student-athlete is entitled to a share, except for the cost of his scholarship, which pales in comparison to what players like Saquon BarkleyLamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield earned for their respective programs.

College coaching salaries have escalated to the point where many of them are the highest-paid employees in the state, where they earn more than the actual university president.

Let’s not forget the extensive renovations that these major universities enjoy.

“The Crimson Standard” Is A Slap In The Face To Exploited Athletes

Not questioning the man’s heart but was Saban more upset that Tua was lost for the year along with Bama’s National title hopes? Or because he put his fragile quarterback at risk and Tua ended up dislocating his hip, ending his season and possibly his college career. Sources confirmed that Tua also suffered a posterior wall fracture, a broken nose and was concussed. 

Tua was projected to be the No.1 pick in the entire Draft by most NFL analysts and now his destiny is up in the air. Some wonder why his parents didn’t shut it down for the season earlier, with all that was at stake.  

Doctors say the surgery was successful and he’ll begin rehabbing in a few days, but again, Tua’s situation is another example of how the NCAA is constructed to favor the coaches and administration and exploit the players that generate tremendous revenue for the university and governing body. 

This incident gives further credence to the notion that players need to get paid and be able to take advantage of their likeness and marketability while they are healthy because your next play can be your last play in the brutal sport of football. 

Saban Needs To $tep Into The Future

Young Black men in the teens and early 20’s are the ones that earn the actual billions that the universities, athletic conferences, TV networks, and their sponsors gleefully reap. This does not simply constitute a financial rip-off, there’s an inherent racial injustice built-in simultaneously. 

The juxtaposition of an athletic scholarship against the economic engine that is driven by the Black athlete, one that helped Clemson HC Dabo Swinney secure a 10-year $93 million contract, that pays Saban over $7 million, that produces over $1 billion annually for the NCAA’s coffers, is absolutely ludicrous. 

The College Football Playoff will bring in more than $7 billion over the 12-year life of its television contract with ESPN and ABC. 

The money may be never-ending and closing deals is part of the game, but let’s hope Saban isn’t too far gone to still make deep connections with his players, maintain his integrity and the true spirit of the program 

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