NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Alabama

Former Alabama coach Nick Saban came out in favor of revenue sharing with players during a college athletics panel focused on name, image and likeness held Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Speaking to a handful of key senators, Saban pointed to competitive balance and athlete development issues as existential issues for the sport. 

"If we had some sort of revenue sharing proposition that did not make student-athletes employees ... I think that may be the long-term solution," Saban said. "You could create a better quality of life for student-athletes, you could still emphasize development, you can still create brand and athletic development with a system like that and it would be equal in all institutions. You couldn't raise more money at one school to create a competitive advantage at another." 

Since NIL was introduced in July 2021, rules have continued to get rolled back, leaving programs in the Wild West. The creation of collectives -- independent groups built to sign athletes to contracts on behalf of a university -- has only created more complication and confusion. 

Initially, the NCAA tried to push back against collectives, which seemed to explicitly skirt guidelines around pay-for-play and recruiting inducement. Quickly, the organization has found itself mired in lengthy court cases. In February, a federal judge granted a temporary injunction in a case filed by Tennessee barring the NCAA from enforcing any rules on NIL compensation. 

"We have collectives that in some places are raising huge amounts of money and going to compete against places that do not have the same resources to raise those kinds of funds to pay players," Saban said. "You have a pay-for-play system and a free agency system that has no guidelines, so there's no competitive balance. I think there's going to be a lot of places that will say that and we'll create a case system where the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and eventually fans will look at it and say, 'I don't really want to watch this game.'" 

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne joined Saban, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and several other key figures on Tuesday. He pointed to the complicated economics of athletic departments and how they might be impacted if football players were ruled to be employees, including impact on women's and Olympic sports. 

Said Byrne: "We're looking for some safe havens from an employee status standpoint, from a Title IX standpoint, and just some safe havens from an antitrust standpoint so that we can have the enterprise of college athletics move forward and offer broad opportunities across the board." 

Legislation has been proposed to deal with college athletics on both sides of the aisle, including a bipartisan bill led by Republican Jerry Moran (D-KS) and Democrats Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). However, none have reached enough momentum to pass through a divided Congress. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Yahoo Sports that he believes Congress has a window of about two months to pass a bill before it loses priority in an election year. 

"This is the moment to strike," Moran said. "Please help us close that gap and get this done. We ought to be a senate of accomplishments, not of efforts ... this is important to the country and our constituents."  

Changing athletics

Saban, 72, stepped down as Alabama coach on Jan. 10, ending the most successful coaching run in the history of college football. He won a record seven national championships, and his 80.4% all-time winning percentage trails only Nebraska's Tom Osborne among major college coaches. 

In his comments on Capitol Hill, Saban acknowledged that the increasing pressures and changing dynamics around the sport played a significant role in his decision. 

"All the things I believed in for all these years, 50 years of coaching, no longer exist in college athletics," Saban said. "It's always been about developing players, about helping people become more successful in life." 

He drew a contrast between college and the NFL, historically, where Saban's primary role as a college coach was to prepare players for long-term success after football. The NFL, conversely, was a short-term job opportunity. The lines have quickly become blurred. 

Saban told the story of one recruiting breakfast hosted at his home. His wife, Terry, typically talks with the mothers of recruits to assure them that their sons will be well taken care of by Saban and his Alabama staff. After the event, Terry came to Nick and said that the conversation solely rested on how much their sons were going to get paid. Ultimately, that shift rubbed both Sabans the wrong way. 

In an interview with ESPN in February, Saban said that he wondered after the season whether the same process that allowed him to become the greatest coach of all time still worked in 2024. Ultimately, he decided it was time to step away. 

"That's the reason why I always liked college athletics more than the NFL was because you have the opportunity to develop young people," Saban said. "I want their quality of life to be good. I think NIL is a great opportunity for them to create a brand for themselves, I'm not against that at all, but I think creating something that helps the development of young people is paramount to the future of college athletics."