Saban: Players deserve seat at table

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban believes that players deserve a seat at the table when determining the future of college football.

Fresh off the heels of last week's ruling that Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and have the ability to unionize, Alabama's coach chimed in with his thoughts on the matter, saying how he's long been an advocate of players' rights.

"I've always been an advocate of players being compensated the best that we can to help them," Saban told reporters following practice on Monday night. "Whatever the NCAA rule is and whatever they decide to do, I've always been an advocate of the player and the quality of life that a player has. I think that having a voice in what happens, I think, is something that the players probably ought to have."

Saban, however, said that all is not what it seems.

The coach of four national championships and 33 NFL draft picks took care to point out how schools aid in each player's development, noting how Alabama invests in "quality support staff to help players that may have a chance to go on and play at the next level."

Saban asked the question that's troubled so many in the course of the Northwestern case: "Not just the value of the scholarship, what's the value of him getting an education?"

"On a per-player basis, what we invest in the player to try to help them be successful," he said. "We spent like $600,000 last year on personal development programs -- all things that directly affect the player having a chance to be successful. I can't even tell you what our academic support budget is, trying to invest in a player and what is the value of him getting an education and graduating from school here?"

Saban comes to the issue with mixed emotions. On the one hand, he agrees that players should be compensated, though, like many, he doesn't know how to accomplish that in an equitable manner. But on the other hand, he doesn't want to devalue the worth of a scholarship, the opportunity to play football on a high level and the chance at moving on to the riches of the NFL.

"We can't pay them but we can reinvest in trying to help them be successful in their future," Saban said, "which I think we do a marvelous job here at the University of Alabama. I think a lot of people do. I think that's what makes great programs. I think that's why players want to come and be a part of the program, because we do reinvest in the future and their chances of being successful, and we do care. And it's not just about football.

"So there's a lot of value that players get from the experience that they have as college student-athletes, that really benefit their chances of being successful. I know that the fact that I played football and got a scholarship, but all the things that I benefited from have helped me be very, very successful. And I can't really tell you what the value of that is, but I think it's pretty significant."