Saban on feud with Fisher: ‘I have no problem with Jimbo’

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DESTIN, Fla. — Alabama coach Nick Saban tried to put an end to his feud with Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher on Tuesday as Southeastern Conference leaders gathered for spring meetings at a resort on the Florida Gulf Coast.

“I didn’t really say that anybody did anything wrong,” Saban said when asked if he had evidence that Texas A&M has been buying players with name, image and likeness compensation deals. “OK, and I’ve said everything I’m going to say about this. I should have never mentioned any individual institutions as I’ve said that before.”

Saban added: “I have no problem with Jimbo. I have no problem with Jimbo at all.”

Saban set off Fisher two weeks ago when he called out Texas A&M and other schools while talking about the need for NIL regulation in college sports.

Fisher responded angrily, saying Saban’s comments were despicable and calling his former boss at LSU a “narcissist” while denying any wrongdoing with his program that landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2022.

The SEC spring meetings – taking place in person for the first time since 2019 because of the pandemic — were the first opportunity for the two superstar coaches to meet face-to-face since the dustup. Fisher was not scheduled to meet with reporters Tuesday.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart downplayed the back and forth between Fisher and Saban. Smart worked under Saban for years, including a season at LSU when Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator.

“You guys should be on the headphones sometimes,” Smart said, referencing the interaction between coaches on game days. “It just happened in front of everybody.”

Before heading into what was scheduled to be a five-hour meeting with all 14 SEC coaches, Saban met with reporters for about 10 minutes.The first question Saban he was asked was about Texas A&M and he quickly pivoted into trying to make a broader point about NIL.

“Some kind of uniform name, image and likeness standard that supports some kind of equitable, national competition I think is really, really important in college athletics and college football,” Saban said.

Saban said transparency was needed to ensure athletes are signing legitimate deals that pay them for their services and that boosters needed to be kept out of recruiting.

The NCAA lifted most of its rules barring athletes from earning money from sponsorship and endorsement deals last July, but there are concerns among many in college sports that NIL deals are being used as recruiting inducements and de facto pay-for-play. The NCAA issued guidance to Division I members in early May to make clear booster-funded collectives being involved in recruiting is a rules violation.

“Believe me, I’m all for players making as much as they can make,” Saban said. “But I also think we’ve got to have some uniform, transparent way to do that.”

Florida coach Billy Napier, another former Saban assistant and newcomer to the SEC in his first year in Gainesville, ducked commenting about Saban and Fisher, but agreed the current situation with NIL compensation is difficult to manage.

“We’re living in a land of no laws,” Napier said, but added he has no qualms with football players taking home some of the millions in revenue they generate.

“It’s foolish to say the players don’t deserve a piece of the pie,” Napier said. “If there’s no players in the stadium there’s nobody sitting in the stands, and nobody sitting at home watching on TV.”

Saban reiterated Alabama players made plenty of money with NIL deals last year, hiring agents to guide them through the process.

He just wants those deals to be struck after a player enrolls at a school.

“This is not about Alabama,” Saban said. “This is not about what’s best for us. I just hope we can sort of put some guardrails on all of this.”

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”