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AP photo by Sam Craft / SEC football coaches Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M, left, and Nick Saban of Alabama speak before an October 2019 game in College Station, Texas.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban started the latest name, image and likeness forest fire on Wednesday night when he charged Texas A&M with "buying every player" in its 2022 recruiting class.

Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher threw gasoline all over that blaze on Thursday morning when he said, in an apparent reference to his former boss, "Some people think they're God. Go dig into how God did his deal."

Then came Saturday, and the least politically correct coach in Southeastern Conference history, the one and only Steve Spurrier, had his say on this monumental mess.

Appearing on DawgNation.com, Spurrier — the former Florida and South Carolina coach, 1966 Heisman Trophy winner for the Gators and College Football Hall of Famer — said: "I don't know why (Fisher) is mad at Saban. Did Saban say something that wasn't true?"

OUCH! Get the burn ointment out. In buckets.

Because here's college football's problem, if not all of big-time college athletics' problem moving forward: There's more than a kernel of truth in any and all of these remarks. Probably closer to a grain silo's worth. Texas A&M did buy its recruiting class with name, image and likeness deals. However, most believe the Aggies did so within the rules, or lack of rules, as it may be.

We are fast approaching, if we're not already there, a time of total anarchy at the top of NCAA Division I athletics, most notably the Power Five conferences of the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern, along with the Big East in basketball and Notre Dame.

There are no uniform rules because Congress and the Supreme Court have apparently had more important things on their minds than this matter the past few years (imagine that!), and because it would be impossible for all 50 state legislatures to agree on anything, much less NIL laws for state universities as diverse in focus and finances as Alabama and Montana.

More than one coach and administrator has labeled the current NIL landscape the "Wild, Wild West," and when you throw the transfer portal and immediate eligibility into the mix, you get double the trouble for anyone who would like to see college athletics played in the spirit of sportsmanship rather than the cynicism of gamesmanship.

This isn't to say Saban is so much mad at NIL as he is scared that Bama's boosters, however passionate and deep-pocketed, can't match George Washingtons, much less Benjamin Franklins, when it comes to bidding wars for top talent against an A&M bank vault that holds an $18 billion endowment, second nationally among public universities. Bama's endowment is less than $900 million.

(Side note: The No. 1 public university endowment rests with future SEC member Texas, with more than $31 billion. Harvard is the national leader with $42 billion.)

Point is, if this all eventually comes down to who has the biggest checkbook, everybody else in the SEC is going to play fourth to Texas, Texas A&M and future member Oklahoma, which has an endowment of $2.7 billion.

So is this the way it will be? Will the size of your wallet become the measure of your success on the gridiron, diamond or hardwood?

It shouldn't. Common sense should come into play here. And fairness. And the realization that if nothing is done to curtail this rich-get-richer mindset, college athletics will eventually become a 20-school endeavor, if that, left to a select few jock factories willing to basically clothe pro teams in college colors for a slightly scaled-down version of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

Even then, it's hard to see more than eight or 10 schools having the money to play that game, if you want to call it that, at such a high financial level.

And maybe that would be for the best. We could all get back, over a depressing period of time, to a day when a college scholarship was payment enough for being cheered by thousands every weekend to play a kid's game. Maybe athletes would become real students with real academic dreams and expectations beyond staying eligible. Maybe we'd all go to sleep at night feeling good about the college sports teams we love rather than worrying if the truth will come out about the biology test Jimmy Jumpshot had taken for him, or the $1,200 we slipped Freddie Fullback to cover up that assault charge.

Or maybe we're all just so jaded and cynical that we no longer care. Just give us our entertainment on autumn Saturdays.

And if nothing else, Saban and Fisher have guaranteed us a showdown to end all showdowns when the Aggies visit Tuscaloosa on Oct. 8. If you didn't know better, you'd almost suspect Dr Pepper, McDonald's and DraftKings of slipping Saban and Fisher a few bucks on the side to get this all rolling.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey rightly put a gag order on the two and will supposedly severely reprimand both, but this is one of those toothpaste moments. You can't put it back in the tube. And why would you want to?

If, to some extent, all publicity is good publicity, A&M going to Alabama — with the Crimson Tide quite possibly ranked No. 1 — could become the highest-ranked regular-season game for college football in years, if not decades. The Vegas prop bets alone on whether Saban and Fisher shake hands could run into the billions. They should get pro wrestlin' promoter Michael Buffer to announce the coin toss.

But when all that's over, and we're left with an unfixable mess throughout most of college athletics in the years to come, perhaps Buffer could return to the mic, and utter in less bombastic tones regarding the future of major college sports in general: "Let's get ready to crumble."

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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