Nick Saban pushes for players to ‘unionize,’ has ‘no problem’ with athletes being paid as employees

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Whenever Nick Saban steps to a podium, he commands the attention of the college football world, and his recent comments at the SEC spring meetings were no exception. 

On Tuesday, Saban suggested college football adopt a pay structure similar to the model that exists in the NFL.

Saban specifically pushed for the creation of some type of union at the collegiate level. 

“I have no problem,” Saban said, via CBS Sports. “I mean, unionize it. Make it like the NFL. It’s going to be the same for everyone. I think that’s better than what we have now.”

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Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide during pregame warmups prior to facing the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium Nov. 26, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Other coaches argued the current state of NIL has created an uneven playing field across the college football landscape.

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“Why are we playing around?” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz told Saturday Down South. “Why are we acting like that’s not what this is?”

Some iteration of an employee-employer relationship between the players and the NCAA could become a reality one day.

USC Trojans athletes could soon be designated as employees, pending a decision from the National Labor Relations Board.

In 2021, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said, “Traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student-athletes who are not fairly compensated,” during the landmark Alston v. NCAA case.

Nick Saban leads Alabama on to the field

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide leads the team onto the field prior to facing the Texas A&M Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium Oct. 8, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Saban argued that the disparity in compensation in the college ranks was at risk of becoming worse in the future due to the current model that exists in the sport.

“Everything they do in the NFL is to create what? Parity,” Saban said. “If they can have everybody going into the 17th week of the season 8-8, that would be like a dream for the NFL. You think there is disparity right now in college football? There’s going to be more in the future.”

Since the implementation of NIL, the major college football programs such as Georgia and Alabama have seemingly not been impacted negatively. At the same time, the programs with smaller budgets have not immediately been able to compete with the traditional programs. Although, Cincinnati and TCU’s recent runs to the College Football Playoff can be viewed as exceptions to that rule. 

Nick Saban coaches against Ole Miss

Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and offensive line coach Eric Wolford during a game against the Mississippi Rebels Nov. 12, 2022, at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.  (Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the college basketball side, San Diego State advanced to the NCAA men’s basketball championship against the powerhouse UConn Huskies during the NIL era.

If you ask Saban, parity simply does not exist at the collegiate level.

“You think [parity is] here?” Saban asked. “I think the way Southern Cal, Texas and Texas A&M are spending money … it hasn’t hit yet. What are you willing to spend?”

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The 71-year-old coach believes putting guidelines in place, similar to the NFL’s salary cap, would create a level playing field.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a level playing field because some people were showing a willingness to spend more than others,” Saban said. “Whereas, if you want to bring the NFL into it, they have a salary cap. They have all the things that level the playing field. We can put guidelines on this stuff that would do the same thing.”



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