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Nick Saban: Federal legislation needed on NIL rules to prevent competitive 'imbalance'

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Alabama coach Nick Saban is supportive of college athletes' ability to make money off their name and image rights. But he's also a proponent of federal rules to govern how athletes can make that money.

Saban said Sunday morning that he believed college football will have a competitive imbalance without some sort of national guidelines for college athlete endorsements and sponsorships. After years of procrastination, the NCAA stopped enforcing its archaic rules preventing athletes from making endorsement money ahead of the 2021-22 seasons. 

"I think what is a little concerning is how is that used to get players to decide where they go to school, because I don't think that was the intention," Saban said. "I don't think that would be the NCAA's intention. I think we probably need some kind of national legislation to sort of control that to some degree, because I think there will be an imbalance relative to who can dominate college football if that's not regulated in some form or fashion.

"And the more we get to players making money and players actually having the opportunity to make money, which I'm not opposed to, maybe there's some circumstance where there has to be some kind of an agreement between both the school and the player as to what their commitment is to what they choose to do because that is something, making commitments and fulfilling them, that is probably important to having a chance to be successful."

Since the change in the NCAA's rules is so new, the 2022 football recruiting class is the first group of high school players to choose their schools while factoring potential endorsement income into their decisions. While that endorsement income isn't supposed to be specifically tied to a recruit's commitment to a school, it's impossible for a recruit to not account for his potential earnings opportunities before signing. The new name, image and likeness rules are seen as a significant factor for No. 1 recruit Travis Hunter's decision to sign with Deion Sanders and FCS school Jackson State.

Hunter's decision to go to an FCS school certainly alters the landscape of the No. 2 tier of college football. Jackson State — which also secured the commitment of Rivals' top 100 prospect Kevin Coleman on Saturday — is set to have one of the most talented teams in modern FCS history in 2022. 

But it's also worth noting how imbalanced the college football landscape has been without athletes able to capitalize on their endorsement income. Saban's Alabama team is playing in its sixth national title game in eight seasons of the playoff against Georgia on Monday night. And the playoff's four spots have been dominated by Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State over those eight seasons. This season's playoff featuring the Tide, Georgia, Michigan and Cincinnati is the first of those eight to not feature at least two of the Tide, Tigers and Buckeyes. 

Schools want federal guidelines

The NCAA and its member schools and conferences have been advocating for a federal NIL framework for quite some time. The NCAA's decision to stop enforcing its endorsement prohibition came after numerous states passed laws that legalized endorsement income for college athletes. Rather than fighting those state laws, the NCAA started pushing for a federal set of rules to supersede the varying state laws. 

There's been little movement, however, on the federal front as Congress has other priorities. It doesn't seem likely that anything will happen in the near future regarding the topic. 

That means that little is likely to change for college athletes. What's new is probably going to be the normal for at least another school year. And Alabama's Bryce Young has been a big beneficiary of the NCAA's new normal.

Saban said earlier this year that Young had name, image and likeness deals lined up totaling near $1 million before Young even made a start for the Tide this season because of his status as Alabama's presumed starting quarterback. Those deals paid off for the businesses who made speculative investments as Young won the Heisman Trophy and Alabama will play for a second consecutive national title on Monday night.

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