Former football coach Nick Saban laments the current landscape of college sports

Invited to speak at a roundtable discussion with a handful of US Senators on Capitol Hill Tuesday, former football coach Nick Saban spoke about how the current landscape of college athletics contributed to his decision to retire from the University of Alabama after the 2023 season.

“All the things that I believed in for all these years, 50 years of coaching, no longer exist in college athletics,” Saban said at the roundtable, a video of which was posted online by Sen. Ted Cruz (TX). “It was always about developing players. It was always about helping people be more successful in life.”

“That’s the reason that I always like college athletics more than the NFL is because you had the opportunity to develop young people,” Saban continued.

“I want their quality of life to be good. I think as I said before, Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) is a great opportunity for them to create a brand for themselves. I’m not against that at all. But to come up with some kind of a system that still can help the development of young people, I think is paramount to the future of college athletics.”

The 72-year-old Saban said the current system also has no framework in place to preserve competitive balance, leaving whichever universities are willing to “pay the most money, raise the most money, buy the most players” in a position to spend their way to an advantage on the field of play.

Saban, who won seven national championships as head coach at Alabama and LSU, went on to say he favors some form of revenue sharing with student athletes over the current system, which he called “pay for play” and likened to professional free agency.

“I’m for student athletes being able to share in some of this revenue. And I think the number one solution to all this is if we could have some kind of a revenue sharing proposition that did not make student athletes employees,” Saban said.

“I think that may be the long-term solution. I think you could create a better quality of life for student athletes. You could still emphasize development – personal, academic, brand and athletic development with the system like that.

“And it would be equal in, in all institutions. In other words, somebody couldn’t go out and raise more money at one school to create in a competitive advantage from another.”

Late last year, NCAA president Charlie Baker proposed a change to the way college athletes are compensated. His idea is to create a new subdivision within Division I – the highest level in collegiate athletics – for schools to directly compensate athletes.

Baker outlined the idea in a letter to NCAA Division I membership for the “highest resourced” colleges and universities to invest in their athletes directly, which would include the use of NIL.

The NCAA president said that any school that joins this newly created tier would be required to do two things.

First, within the framework of Title IX, invest at least $30,000 per year into an enhanced educational trust fund for at least half of the institution’s eligible student-athletes.

Second, committ to work with their peer institutions in this subdivision to create rules that may differ from the rules in place for the rest of Division I. Those rules could include a wide range of policies, such as scholarship commitment and roster size, recruitment, transfers or NIL.

At the conclusion of the roundtable, Saban again expressed his worry for the future of college sports.

“This is a major concern because the spirit of college athletics and the opportunities that it’s created for so many people for so many years is just, I mean, it’s a part of our fiber as a country,” Saban said.

“And people are definitely concerned about ‘what is the future going to bring’ because nobody really likes the direction that we’re heading in right now.”

CNN’s Jill Martin and David Close contributed to this report.

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