HOOVER, Ala. — While Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was addressing the media during Day 3 of the 2021 SEC Media Days, a report from the Houston Chronicle filtered through at SEC Media Days that a pair of Big 12 teams had reached out to the SEC about potentially joining the league.

When informed about the report, Fisher joked, “I bet they would.”

If Oklahoma and Texas were to join, the league would expand to 16 teams. But Fisher didn’t spend any time dwelling on the breaking news.

“Listen, we’ve got the greatest league in ball,” he said. “That’s the choices they make or what they do, I don’t know, but I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m just worried about A&M.”

Oklahoma State, another Big 12 team, was one of the first schools to respond to the news. The school said in a release, “We are gathering information and will monitor closely. If true, we would be gravely disappointed. While we place a premium on history, loyalty and trust, be assured, we will aggressively defend and advance what is best for Oklahoma State and our strong athletic program, which continues to excel in the Big 12 and nationally.”

In separate statements, Oklahoma and Texas declined to acknowledge the reports.

All about name, image and likeness

Barely a news conference has gone by at SEC Media Days without a mention of name, image and likeness. This is in large part due to the report that Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is set to earn nearly seven figures from his deals.

And Wednesday brought his coach Nick Saban to the stage — surely the time that any questions surrounding the deal would be answered.

Not so much.

Like nearly every coach and player who stepped in front of the national media, Saban took a cautious approach when discussing NIL’s past, present and future, completely omitting any mention of Young.

“So all we’ve done is create an opportunity for players to work,” Saban said. “The only thing is, the question is because it’s not going to be equal, and everything that we’ve done in college athletics in the past has always been equal.

“... . But any other comments that I would make about this, with no precedent, no experience, would probably a year from now not be looked on or viewed on as very smart.”

Fisher walked a similar line.

“Again, there’s not enough information for us to know how it’s going to affect us,” he said. “I know this: None of it’s going to be equal.”

Multiple players were asked if they had concerns if deals would affect the atmosphere in locker rooms, knowing that some players may benefit more readily than others. There was a consensus answer.

“No, sir, (no concerns) at all,” Aggies offensive lineman Kenyon Green said. “I’m proud of them and excited they’re taking everything they can from the NIL, making sure they have a great time, getting their deals and everything.”

“Everybody’s happy for everybody,” said Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis, Young’s teammate. “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.”

Alabama leads vaccine standings, Saban talks competitive advantages

Almost every coach and a handful of players were asked about vaccines in some form Wednesday, and as the day progressed, the same talking points began to emerge.

We’re feeling good about where our team is. The trainers have made sure everyone’s gotten enough information to make an informed decision. It’s a personal choice.

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach declined to estimate a percentage of the team that has been vaccinated, saying he’s letting doctors handle everything. As for the man himself?

“If I was or I wasn’t,” Leach said, “I wouldn’t share it with you.”

Assuming coaches’ estimates are accurate, or at least in line with one another, Alabama has the most vaccinated players. Saban estimated 90% of the Crimson Tide are vaccinated. He hit on many of same points — personal choices, pros and cons. He also noted that teams with more vaccinated players could wind up with a significant competitive advantage over those with fewer, considering how much less likely a vaccinated player is to have to miss time with COVID-19 than one who is unvaccinated. Unlike last season, teams won’t be allowed to reschedule games when they don’t have enough players. If a program can’t field a team, it will have to forfeit.

“Players have to understand that you are putting your teammates in a circumstance and situation,” Saban said. “We can control what you do in our building. We cannot control what you do on campus and when you go around town, who you’re around, who you’re associated with and what you bring into our building. So every player has a personal decision to make to evaluate the risk of COVID relative to vaccine, and then they have a competitive decision to make on how it impacts their ability to play in games, because with the vaccine you probably have a better chance.”

Aggies head coach covers range of topics

Fresh off of a 2020 season where his Aggies finished one spot out of the College Football Playoff, Fisher made his case for expansion early in his presser.

“Name me a sport in any collegiate level that, except for the top five conferences, which are about 60 teams, where the other 60 teams have no chance to win the national championship,” he said. “There’s not a sport in our world that that is not — that can’t happen. It happens in college football. Those guys have never been in the playoffs from the other conferences if you’re not a Power Five conference.”

It was an extended riff from Fisher in a session that was full of them. He discussed how much he wanted to beat Alabama — while clarifying that Saban is a friend for whom he has a lot of respect — and seemingly barely paused to take a breath.

He also paid tribute to his terminally ill friend, former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, calling him one of the best coaches of all time and “one of the greatest human beings that ever lived.”

Bowden, 91, announced his condition without providing specifics in a statement to the Tallahassee Democrat.

“It’s sad. It really is,” Fisher said. “But if there’s anybody ready to be with the good Lord and if things come in time, it’s him, because there’s no one who preaches about the Lord and did more for people in that regard. He’s one of the great human beings that’s ever coached and one of the great coaches that’s ever coached.”

Leach’s best moments

It wouldn’t be a Leach news conference without a highlight reel. And Wednesday’s was the full Air Raid experience from the veteran coach, who went on the offensive from the start.

“All right,” Leach began. “I’m not a big opening-statement guy, and plus you guys are going to ask whatever you want to know anyway, so let’s just go ahead and get started. Is there any questions?”

And the soundbites kept on coming, as he took a question about NIL to criticize the current state of the transfer portal and offered an amendment.

“There may be holes in this idea,” Leach said. “But what if, when you sign a guy, on graduation they receive, say, $100,000 or $150,000 on graduation. You only get it if you graduate. You have to graduate. If you graduate, after you graduate from that school, you get $150,000.

“Now, if you transfer, you don’t get the $150,000, but if you stay at that school, you graduate from that school, you get $150,000. One, I think — and the amount of money, I don’t care what the amount is. The amount could be whatever. I just don’t want a bidding war, and I think that, if we end up with bidding wars, that will definitely hurt football.”

And then he touched on proposed expansion of the College Football Playoff.

“I think 12 teams is a huge step in the right direction,” Leach said. “I personally would like to see 64, and you could format it out pretty easily, but I think it’s a huge step the right direction, and I look forward to it.”

  • Assistant sports editor for Spring 2021. Reach me at mcandrewcalum@gmail.com, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • Sports reporter, fall 2020. Studying print and digital sports journalism. Reach me at wdm79h@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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