DESTIN, Fla. — Alabama coach Nick Saban says college football is not a business that operates like the NFL and warned that without more uniform rules on player compensation only the biggest spenders will compete for championships.
Saban met with reporters Tuesday as the Southeastern Conference began its annual spring meetings on the Florida Gulf Coast.
Two years since the NCAA lifted its ban on college athletes earning money for name, image and likeness, there are still no detailed, national NIL regulations.
Instead, states laws are setting the playing field, especially in the SEC footprint.
“When it turns into pay-for-play, now you’re getting into a different area. When you start talking about players being employees, you’re talking about unions. You’re talking about now you’re getting paid for something, now you’ve got to pay taxes,” said Saban, who has won six national titles in 16 seasons at Alabama.
Before Saban held his news conference, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz told reporters some players are making life-changing money with NIL.
“People are making more money in NIL than my brother-in-law who’s a pediatrician who saves lives,” Drinkwitz quipped. “And we kind of do it cavalier and we think that there’s not going to be any side effects or there’s not going to be issues.”
Auburn coach Hugh Freeze told reporters: “We are the NFL right now. We just don’t have contracts (for players).”
Similar to the way he did about a decade ago, when asked about the trend toward fast-paced offenses in college football, Saban posed a question about the current shifting landscape: “Is this what we want college football to become?”
Saban said if college football continues on its current trajectory competitive balance will be harder to achieve.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a level playing field because some people are showing a willingness to spend more than others,” he said. “Where if you want to bring the NFL into it, they have a salary cap. They have all the things that level the playing field. And we could put guidelines on some of this stuff that would do the same thing.”
The NCAA and major college sports are facing multiple legal and political threats that could give athletes in some sports employee status. Plus, a California bill is working its way through the legislature that would force some Division I schools in the state to share revenue with athletes in select sports that do make money — such as football and basketball.
“I think the big mistake that people make is college athletics is not a business. People says it’s a business. It’s not a business. It’s revenue-producing,” said Saban, who spent two seasons at coach of the Miami Dolphins before taking the Alabama job in 2007.
Last season, Saban was college football’s highest-paid coach at just under $11 million in salary.
Saban said most of the tens of millions of dollars that SEC schools generate from football goes back into the athletic department, funding far more sports than just football.
“Nobody makes a profit,” he said. “All the money gets reinvested for other opportunities for other people. Whether it’s facilities, whether it’s scholarships, whether it’s opportunities for people to play. And if we continue down this road are we going to be able to continue to have those opportunities?”
Saban said he is not necessarily against making college football more professionalized. Doing so would create more consistency and parity.
“If it’s going to be the same for everyone, I think that’s better than what we have now,” Saban said. “Because what we have now is we have some states and some schools in some states that are investing a lot more money in terms of managing their roster than others.”
He added: “If you think there’s disparity in the college football right now, there’s going to be a lot more in the future.”