NCAA Football

Joseph Goodman: Auburn may catch Alabama, Georgia sooner than expected

Joseph Goodman: Auburn may catch Alabama, Georgia sooner than expected

Auburn has made no secret of its ambitions for college football glory. You could say the school’s controversial new coach even wears it on his chest when he visits recruits.

How much does college football change every day? Consider Auburn’s Hugh Freeze, the Tigers’ one-week-old coach. Back in 2017, he resigned from Ole Miss following a lengthy investigation by the NCAA. Among other things, Freeze was kicked out of Ole Miss because the NCAA linked him to boosters paying recruits. Now at Auburn, Freeze promotes Auburn’s booster-funded war chest, On To Victory, and wears shirts with the group’s logo while making offers to recruit high school players.

It’s not just like that either. As a backdrop for the new era, Auburn promoted On to Victory on a video board framing Freeze’s induction celebration with fans. One of Freese’s first tasks as Auburn’s coach was to produce a video explaining to fans the role — and “role” — of On To Victory for the university.

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“I’m looking forward to a lot of opportunities to turn Toomer’s corner,” Freese said in place. “I strongly believe that having a strong NIL team will help make this possible. I’m going with On To Victory and we need you, the entire Auburn family, to do the same. Please join today. Military eagle”.

In an effort for justice, the NIL collective from Alabama Tide traditions. By referring to both in this column, maybe fans won’t accuse me of promoting one team over the other. However, it is doubtful. These are serious things.

The fans have to pay the players so my advice is simple.

Schools can’t pay players to play sports under NCAA rules, but NIL teams representing those schools can. First, what is the NIL team? It is important to fully understand what is happening in college football right now. NIL stands for Name, Image, and Likeness. Under NCAA rules, players can now be paid for their celebrity status by companies or sponsors. NIL teams share DNA with slash funds. To pay college athletes for their zero, fans of the teams have formed collectives to pool resources.

Don’t like it? You are not alone, but this is the future of college football, and the future is already here.

When will it be time to change the coach in the future? Well, the financial result of the teams will probably be a good indicator.

Fans may or may not agree with Auburn’s hiring of Freese, but there’s no denying that Freese is already doing a good job of trying to level the recruiting playing field with Auburn’s rivals in terms of promoting the NIL squad. In all fairness, it was Auburn assistant head coach Cadillac Williams who rebuilt Auburn’s fan base in one month as interim coach. I don’t expect the coffers to dry up with Freeze now in charge and Williams back in a supporting role.

The transfer season began Monday for college football. National Early Signing Day is Dec. 21. “Is It Time to Tithe College Football in the Deep South?” You place a bet. It’s a new season of gifts for team fans.

Let me be clear. According to the NCAA, pay-to-play is still against the rules and a major no-no. To hear guys like SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey tell it, pay-to-play goes against everything college athletics is about. Of course, this is all complete meaningless legal gibberish for a sport filled with layers of hypocrisy. The SEC distanced itself from Freese in 2017 and 2018, but now Freese, to his credit, is back in the league and pushing boundaries in his first week on the job.

As for cops in college football, the NCAA attack dog that bit Freeze and Ole Miss is now just a toothless old hound who lives on the porch and eats a free meal or two.

Freeze celebrated his induction with fans last week. Journalists were invited to ask questions. I asked Freeze why he deserves a second chance, and Freeze wisely said, “I don’t know if it deserves a word.” He is right. No one deserves a second chance to be a football coach in the SEC. In any case, Cadillac deserved the chance to be the permanent coach after his inspiring month as the interim.

Freeze is there because Auburn thinks it can beat Alabama and Georgia, and times have changed.

Alabama coach Nick Saban accused Texas A&M of buying recruits last summer. They bring back such innocent, old memories. With the speed at which college football is transforming, coaches will soon find themselves under fire if high school teams don’t pay recruits enough to remain competitive on the open market.

Is Freeze a reformed coach in the eyes of the NCAA and SEC? This is the wrong question. His redemptive arc from Ole Miss to Auburn is a straight line. In reality, this is a sport that is reforming the NCAA, for better or for worse.

These are confusing times for longtime college football fans, but new ones are upon us.

Can Freese or any other college football coach talk about money with players during recruiting visits? No, they can’t, per NCAA rules. Can the coaches wear the branded shirts of the NIL teams that can and will pay the players? Apparently so.

That’s not a bad way to go, but it’s a new path to consistently chasing conference and national championships year after year. There is also a transfer portal, and it is quickly becoming a full-fledged, unregulated free agency for college football players. Let’s be real. Either pay to play or stay poor.

With that in mind, I fully expect Auburn to contend for the SEC Championship next season. Teams can now rebuild every year and new coaches can build competitive rosters in one offseason. Just look at TCU. First-year coach Sonny Dykes secured 11 transfers, and the Horned Frogs are now ranked third nationally and preparing to play Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

NIL and the portal are already leveling the playing field. Next up is the expanded 12-team College Football Playoff. It starts in 2024. Either way, opportunity is the greatest equalizer.

Parity is coming for college football, and it may be a dirty ride, but the sport is inherently dirty not because of the coaches or boosters, but because the NCAA refuses to allow universities to pay players above the table. The NIL world is a workaround so the NCAA can avoid antitrust litigation. Fun times.

Calling new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn 2.0 is a misnomer. There are certainly similarities in coaching styles, but the version of college football during the Malzahn era at Auburn is completely different than the one Freeze is entering. Is the frieze right for the job? I have no idea, but I wish you luck. Two years from now, making the playoffs won’t carry the same weight as it does now, and eight win seasons will likely be the norm even for the best of the best.

Are the dynastic days over for college football teams like Alabama, Clemson and Georgia? I don’t think so. Not yet anyway, but they are coming.

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for Alabama Media Group and author “We Want Bama: A Season of Hope and the Making of Nick Saban’s ‘Best Team'”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.





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