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Nick Saban's Comments Suggest Limiting College Athletes' Ability to Fight for Their Rights

Written by Kassandra Ramsey, Esq.

· NCAA,Pay for Play,NIL,Name Image Likeness,College Football

Although we are in the midst of the college football off season, college football fans sure were entertained late last week. The University of Alabama (Alabama) head football coach, Nick Saban, did not mince words during a recent interview when he shared his views on the current state of the recruiting landscape in the new name, image, and likeness (NIL) era. 

Saban specifically took issue with the creation of NIL Collectives. Saban suggested that NIL collectives are being used by coaches to offer improper monetary incentives to athletes to attend a certain school. Saban went on to suggest that Texas A&M University football "bought every player on their team" by making a deal for a name, image, and likeness. He claimed that Alabama did not "buy" a single player.  Saban went on to accuse top football recruit, Travis Hunter of receiving one million dollars from Jackson State University (JSU) to commit to the school. 

The accusations made by Saban were not received well by Travis Hunter, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, nor JSU's head coach Deion Sanders. Hunter responded on Twitter pointing out his family still lived in the same house, even though he allegedly received one million dollars. 

Fisher called Saban's comments despicable and clarified that the program did not do anything wrong. Deion Sanders stated that Saban was using him and Fisher as pawns to get help from his boosters and donors. Saban's comments and Fisher's, Sander's, and Hunter's responses sent sports media into a frenzy. Many who support college athletes' rights were outraged by Saban's comments. Saban's comments were surely inappropriate as those accusations appear to have been made without any proof. However, Saban's comments regarding the NCAA and college athletes' ability to bring suit against the NCAA are even more concerning.  

During, the interview Saban went out of his way to defend the NCAA. Saban seemed to believe that the current state of college athletics was due to the litigation that the NCAA has faced over the years. Many of the changes that have taken place in college athletics has been a result of college athletes suing the NCAA and challenging their asinine amateurism rules. In recent years, college athletes have had success challening the NCCA's rules in court. In Obannon v. NCAA, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit made it clear that the NCAA's rules were subject to antitrust law. Last year, the United States Supreme Court affirmed that the NCAA was subject to antitrust law in NCAA v. Alston. Since this ruling, the NCAA has been cautious in how it enforces its rules. 

Accordingly, Saban suggested that the NCAA needs to be shielded from further litigation in order to effectively govern college athletics. From Saban's comments, it appears that he supports severely limiting one of the only avenues that college athletes have had to fight for their rights - their ability to file a lawsuit. He purports that the NCAA needs to be shielded from lawsuits so that the organization can more effectively regulate the "pay-for-play" model that Saban claims NIL has become. However, his comments appear to neglect the fact that the NCAA had plenty of time to create a more equitable system for college athletes and refused to do so. Accordingly, the NCAA was forced into this NIL era by an onset of state legislation. Thereby, finding itself in a precarious situation where it is arguably powerless to effectively regulate NIL.

It is no doubt that the NCAA dropped the ball in regards to college athletes rights and creating a more equitable system.  However, shielding the NCAA from litigation is not the answer. College athletes must have a away to continue to fight for their rights.  Their most effective avenue has been through the court system. In Alston, the United States Supreme Court made it clear that they would not be granting the NCAA an antitrust exemption. Accordingly, the NCAA's only avenue to an antitrust exemption would be through federal legislation. The NCAA is desperate for Congress to act.  It remains to be seen what action, if any, Congress will take.

For more information on how to prepare for NIL opportunities download my free e-book "The NIL Era - What College Athletes Need to Know." Also, for more on college athletes' name, image, and likeness rights follow me on Twitter @esquire_coach and on Instagram and TikTok @the_esquirecoach. To receive updates from The Esquire Coach Blog directly to your email please subscribe below.