HOOVER, Ala. — Very little has stood in the way of Alabama football since the start of the 2008 season, with a 163-17 record and six national championships reflecting that.
Could jealousy in the locker room over name, image and likeness deals introduce an obstacle that most Southeastern Conference rivals haven't been able to provide?
"Not really, because at the end of the day, that's why I love my team," Crimson Tide fifth-year senior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis said Wednesday as SEC Media Days continued at the Wynfrey Hotel. "Everybody is happy for everybody. This is something we all think we deserve as players, so I don't think it's jealousy.
"I think it's more of everybody happy for everybody. We want to see everybody win."
Alabama won with ease last season, claiming its sixth national crown of the Nick Saban era by becoming the first team in league history to defeat 10 conference opponents during the regular season. The coronavirus outbreak resulted in the unique scheduling adjustment, and the Crimson Tide responded by winning all 10 by at least 15 points.
A 52-46 outlasting of Florida in the SEC championship contest in Atlanta was the only game in question during the waning moments, as Alabama roared through the College Football Playoff by waxing Notre Dame and Ohio State by a combined 45 points.
Losing a record six first-round NFL draft selections led Saban to describe his 2021 team Wednesday as a "work in progress," but he was a little less sure in discussing the NIL landscape that began at the start of the month. Saban caused a Media Days stir even before his arrival by revealing Tuesday that projected starting quarterback Bryce Young already has NIL deals approaching $1 million.
Young has yet to start a game for the Crimson Tide.
"Anything that I say now — because there's no precedent for it — you don't really know how it's going to affect things," Saban said. "All we've done is create an opportunity for players to work, but the thing is that it's not going to be equal, and everything that we've done in college athletics in the past has always been equal. Everybody has had equal scholarships and equal opportunity, but now that's probably not going to be the case.
"Some positions and some players will have more opportunities than others, and how that's going to impact our team and the players on the team — I really can't answer because we don't have any precedent for it."
A year after navigating a pandemic better than anybody else in his sport, Saban is now having to do the same on the student-athlete empowerment front, which includes getting plenty of advice to his players. Mathis has a company that is helping him with social media marketing.
"I think it's a very great thing for me," Mathis said. "I don't have to worry about trying to go out here and do all this when I can let those guys handle it and I can focus more on football and my schoolwork."
Crimson Tide junior receiver John Metchie III may be getting as much help as anybody, given that he is from Canada.
If Alabama can navigate the NIL challenges, the Crimson Tide will continue to thrive at the top of the sport. Just don't expect Saban to be too outspoken on the topic any time soon.
"I know we're doing the best we can to try to get our players to understand the circumstance they're in, the opportunity they have and how those opportunities are not going to be equal for everybody," Saban said. "It will be opportunity for our team's success that people are not looking over their shoulder at what somebody else does or doesn't do.
"Any other comments that I would make about this, with no precedent and no experience, would probably a year from now not be looked on or viewed on as very smart."
Alabama, which opens its latest title defense against Miami in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 4, has vaccinated 90% of its roster from COVID-19, according to Saban.
Adding To'o To'o
Saban was asked Wednesday about the acquisition through the NCAA transfer portal of former Tennessee linebacker Henry To'o To'o, who picked the Volunteers over the Crimson Tide during the 2019 recruiting cycle. To'o To'o led the Vols last season with 76 tackles and racked up 148 in his two years in Knoxville.
"We thought Henry was one of the best defensive players in our conference in watching him play at Tennessee, and we had recruited him in high school," Saban said. "We thought he was an outstanding player in high school. We're talking about a fine young man who's very intelligent, a very instinctive player and is very conscientious. He wants to know everything about not only what he does but everybody on the defense. He's got really good leadership qualities.
"There are a lot of positives he can bring. You always want to have a great signal-caller or a quarterback-type guy on defense regardless of what kind of player they are. Those things really enhance the chances of all the other players on defense playing with confidence, because they're confident in the call they're getting and the adjustment they're making. I think that's something that Henry can really add to us as well as being a very productive player."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.