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Why Alabama’s Nick Saban is headed to Capitol Hill

Representatives from the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference are visiting Washington this week to urge Congress to regulate the NIL rules for player compensation.


A contingent from the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference is visiting Washington this week to urge Congress to institute federal guardrails around the name, image and likeness rules — known as NIL — that govern how college athletes can earn compensation.

The coaches and administrators, headlined by Alabama football coach Nick Saban, will meet with lawmakers from states represented by the SEC. As The Associated Press reported:

College sports leaders have been pleading for help from Congress to get a handle on name, image and likeness compensation since the NCAA in 2021 lifted its ban on athletes being paid endorsers.

Lobbying trips to Washington have been common for conference commissioners and other administrators. In this case, the SEC is bringing some star power, with Saban expected to be one of numerous coaches from across several sports.

The NCAA has had a tortured relationship with the NIL rules — which allow students who play sports to profit from entities that use their name, image or likeness — ever since greenlighting the changes two years ago. The move came after numerous lawsuits from players and a Supreme Court ruling that struck a blow to the NCAA’s prior compensation model. 

What exists now is a basic framework of NIL rules established by the NCAA, along with a patchwork of state laws that govern schools within individual states. There has been a flood of money into college sports with minimal oversight, which has provided students with overdue compensation but also has left some of them vulnerable to exploitation.

That said, there are other reasons some people want the NIL rules changed. Many coaches lament what they see as a pay-for-play system with an uneven playing field for recruiting.

“If it’s going to be the same for everyone, I think that’s better than what we have now,” Saban said last week. “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.”

Saban, who has won six national championships at Alabama and makes a salary of more than $10 million a year, famously remarked that a rival program had used the policy to “buy” all its players. (I sense a little hateration here.)

Saban’s saltiness aside, college athletics is proving to be very similar to cryptocurrency in that it may seem at its best when it’s largely unregulated — but sensible people tend to understand that this isn’t feasible (or ethical) in the long term.