Texas A&M uses resources in NIL landscape, puts a target on its back

DeMarvin Leal

Outsiders will say that Texas A&M has an exaggerated sense of its importance in the college football world. They will say that A&M is a 9-win program which expects to win 12 games every year. A Gator Bowl-level program has College Football Playoff aspirations and a budget to match.

By Matt Zemek

Critics of the Aggie program see a lot of wasted money and unwarranted hubris at a school which was a legitimate national championship contender in the 1990s under R.C. Slocum but has never come particularly close to the national title in more recent years, except for 2020.

That is the critics’ reading of Texas A&M football. That is the assessment of outsiders who don’t appreciate or cherish The 12th Man and AggieLand’s other revered traditions.

Inside the Aggies’ inner circle – within the A&M family – the view is very different.

Aggies have the passion for football which is a prerequisite for top-tier success. The SEC succeeds in football because it invests in football. Texas A&M – though not an SEC member for a very long time – has quickly embraced the SEC’s football culture. The school was always a good, snug fit for the conference in that regard.

Anyone who says A&M’s aspirations are unrealistic or not in touch with the facts on the ground is missing the point on a number of levels. One key point is that having failed to attain elite status for a prolonged period of time does not mean a program can’t or shouldn’t pursue that elevated place in the sport.

Look at Tennessee. The Vols haven’t been nationally relevant in a long time. Does that mean their aspirations for championship-level status and results are unrealistic and therefore somehow unwarranted? The problem at Texas A&M has not been the aspirations themselves, but a series of swing-and-miss coaching hires which set the program back.

Texas A&M probably is throwing too much money at Jimbo Fisher relative to the wins and losses he has delivered. Fisher needs to be winning 11 or 12 games a year in order to fully earn the avalanche of dollars which have been directed to his bank account. Yet, give A&M this much: The program is sparing no expense in the pursuit of top-tier results. The investment in Fisher is one manifestation of that.

Now comes the NIL piece of the puzzle.

College football fans and journalists have watched with great interest as Fisher and Alabama’s Nick Saban have become enmeshed in a prolonged public clash over NIL and the new realities of recruiting and player acquisition in college football. The industry is now introducing all of us to new terms in the lexicon, such as “donor collectives” and “pay for play.” Like it or not, this is the new world we are living in. A&M has been more prepared than most schools to embrace this environment and pounce on the opportunities that emerge within it.

Texas A&M FootballEveryone will have an opinion on what Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban think, and how they conducted their very public feud, but in the meantime, this context of cutthroat competition waits for no one. A&M could have hemmed and hawed and hedged its bet, but the Aggies have shown they are all in on aggressive NIL pitches and furnishing Fisher with the players he needs to vault past Saban in the SEC West. A&M beat Alabama head-to-head last year. It didn’t lead to a division title because the Aggies stubbed their toes elsewhere, but the message has been sent that A&M intends to keep climbing in the division. Passing Alabama is A&M’s next goal. Then the Aggies can worry about Georgia and Kirby Smart. It will take the No. 1 recruiting class in the country to climb over Saban and then Kirby. It will take Fisher’s coaching acumen, married with the best players in the land, to make this project happen.

Unrealistic aspirations? A waste of money? Texas A&M hasn’t yet gone where it wants to go. The Aggies haven’t yet arrived at their intended destination. To that extent, their expenditures have not been supremely efficient. Yet, it’s not as though the program is backsliding. The Aggies are getting closer to their goal instead of fading away from it. To that extent, these investments – and the aspirations behind them – are working and are having their intended effect.

The cautionary note in the midst of all this: Precisely because of the scale of A&M’s investments in its football program, a long-term trajectory for overtaking Alabama and Georgia is not acceptable. The results need to come sooner rather than later, given all the money the Aggies have devoted to their program.

This year, Texas A&M has to visit Tuscaloosa for a highly-publicized showdown against Saban. The Fisher-Saban offseason beef festival will get round-the-clock media coverage in the week leading up to the game, but if we’re being honest, the fact that Alabama hosts the Aggies with Bryce Young back in the saddle at quarterback makes that game hard for A&M to win. With this elite recruiting class being new to the cauldron of college football, A&M probably won’t reach the point in its evolutionary arc where beating Bama on the road is likely to happen. However, the donors and power brokers who have given so much to Aggie football will not accept a situation in which the Aggies fail to dethrone Alabama as division champion over the next three or four years.

Doing so in 2023 will be expected, not merely hoped for. Accordingly, while 2022 is not a make-or-break year for Aggie football, this season is certainly supposed to be a journey in which A&M builds a foundation for its big run at the whole enchilada next year.

We will see how far Jimbo Fisher can advance this program in 2022, setting the stage for the bigger battles and more momentous occasions Texas A&M hopes to confront in the near future.

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