A few things I care about …
▪ Usually, when one of the many problems plaguing the American college sports model erupts in the public consciousness, it’s over a dispute between the haves and have-nots. Understandable given the inherent inequities in a system supposedly based on amateur talent yet flooded with professional profits.
And then there was Thursday’s back and forth between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher, a shocking case of the haves beating up on the haves.
The venomous, very public spat between two heavyweights would be shocking under any circumstance. But this public airing of college football’s dirty laundry is a level of rich-on-rich crime that plays out like a real-life rendering of the war deterrent theory known as MAD — mutually assured destruction. The volley of insults and accusations indicts them both under the words of the great philosopher Annie Savoy of “Bull Durham” fame: “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”
How else could coaches of two of the nation’s richest and most successful football programs — Alabama and Texas A&M, respectively — snipe at each other so unironically about buying players? The lack of self-awareness would be funny if it weren’t so maddening, rooted as it is in hypocrisy and greed.
Saban got it all started when speaking at an event Wednesday night in Alabama, saying, “A&M bought every player on their team,” blaming deals through NIL (name, image, and likeness) legislation to explain Fisher’s recruiting class, which just happened to be ranked No. 1 nationally, to Saban’s No. 2. “We didn’t buy one player,” Saban insisted.
Fisher, Saban’s onetime offensive coordinator back at LSU, wasn’t having it. In a hastily called Thursday morning news conference held expressly to rebut Saban, Fisher said at various points that Saban is a “narcissist” who “thinks he’s God,” whose words were “despicable,” and suggested Saban should be “slapped” for “taking shots at 17-year-old kids and their families. That they broke state laws, that we bought every player on this group,” and who ultimately defended himself saying, “We never bought anybody. No rules were broken. Nothing was done wrong.”
The teams play each other Oct. 8 in Alabama. Circle the date. One of the teams will earn victory on the scoreboard, but there’s no winner here. Just two losers sounding like spoiled kids who didn’t get enough at a dessert table where most of their colleagues can’t even get a seat.
▪ Meanwhile, over in Fort Foxborough, Saban bestie Bill Belichick continues with his own bizarre game of semantics, now refusing to name an official offensive coordinator or offensive play-caller to go along with his decision to not have named an official defensive coordinator the past few seasons. Chalk this up to Belichick’s usual disdain for those covering or watching his team, right in line with his decision to comply with NFL mandates to make assistant coaches available to the media at least twice during the offseason by doing it on back-to-back days without any real news to report.
Here’s hoping Belichick’s internal plans for second-year QB Mac Jones are more definitive than his public ones, which appear to have failed Giants coach and special teams specialist Joe Judge as the quarterbacks coach. The same Judge who made one of the worst play calls of all time in Week 18 last season, running a quarterback sneak on third and 9 from his 4-yard line.
▪ The current crop of US women’s national soccer team players should be remembered forever for their fight for equal pay. They did it. With Wednesday’s announcement that the men’s and women’s teams achieved equal pay after agreeing to separate collective bargaining agreements with the US Soccer Federation that use the same economic terms for payment, these women, from Megan Rapinoe to Alex Morgan to US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, have earned their place in history.
▪ Kudos to Nick Pivetta. Complete games are such a rarity now, nearly celebrated the way no-hitters used to be. Pivetta’s two-hit win against the Astros Wednesday was a gem, one thankfully not ruined by an analytic-fueled decision to lift him before the ninth. Nice to know Alex Cora can still follow his gut once in a while.
▪ One of the best parts of baseball remains its reverence for statistics and records. Loved this one for Trevor Story, now the first second baseman in major league history to hit three home runs and steal a base in a game after his Thursday night explosion. Two shortstops had done it, Jose Valentin in 1998 and Barry Larkin in 1991.
▪ Nobody knows better than the Bruins how tough it is to beat the Lightning, but wow. A winning goal with 3.8 seconds left in regulation? Ouch. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions are showing no sign of fatigue, taking both road games to open their series against top-seeded Florida. Budding dynasty, perhaps. But think: With their ninth straight playoff series win against Toronto, that’s not even halfway to what the Islanders did from 1979-83, when a 19-series streak was broken by the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final. The Islanders had won the Cup four straight times.
▪ Godspeed Roger Angell, the most elegant baseball writer of them all, the most elegant press box presence, as well.