Though they are separate causes with different demands, the unionization push by Northwestern football players and an increase in compensation for athletes fall into a Venn diagram of sorts.
Almost always, there's an overlapping question: Are student-athletes, specifically football players, treated fairly considering what's asked of them on a daily basis?
If you ask Alabama coach Nick Saban, he'll give you an answer. Sort of.
Following Tuesday's practice, here's what Saban had to say when he was asked about players' rights and compensation. (H/T Michael Casagrande, AL.com.)
I've always been an advocate of players' rights. I've always been an advocate of players being compensated the best that we can to help them. 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. ... And I'm really not opposed to that at all. I do think that it's not what it seems.
Saban has a particular set of skills allowing him to say a lot without really saying anything. Basically, though, he's in favor of athletes having more than what they have right now.
It's just vague enough to play it safe, but just specific enough to be considered the coach who has the players' backs in this whole situation.
Unionization and player compensation are two hot-button topics in college football. Does anyone think recruits aren't taking notice?
What's more is that Saban's comments are contrary to the likes of Clemson's Dabo Swinney.
"We've got enough entitlement in this country as it is," Swinney said about unionization via Aaron Brenner of the Post and Courier last month. "To say these guys get nothing totally devalues an education. It just blows my mind people don't even want to quantify an education."
Stanford's David Shaw was skeptical of the unionization push as well. From Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News:
Stanford's David Shaw on NW union: "I'm curious what's really driving it. I've seen everything & my understanding is it's been provided."— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) April 1, 2014
More Shaw: "It's weird to try to unionize but still compliment NW on being taken care of. Those things don't seem to go hand in hand."— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) April 1, 2014
Of course, it's unlikely (at best) that any one recruit is going to play for Saban over Shaw or Swinney solely because he favors athletes having a louder voice or more money in their pocket.
However, certain changes in the collegiate system "appear" inevitable, regardless of what drives them. CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd obtained a document this week outlining several new concepts should the NCAA go to new governance structure. That structure aims to grant autonomy to the five most powerful conferences.
Among the proposals are: redefining the value of a scholarship to cover the full cost of attendance, a lifetime opportunity for an undergraduate education, and more health and nutritional benefits. Many of these ideas cross over into the unionization push. (B/R's Michael Felder has more on that HERE.)
Point being, Saban is getting behind something that, in some form or another in the not-too-distant future, is likely to happen anyway. Even in promoting the value of an education, Saban takes a pro-player stance.
Everybody knows what a scholarship is worth. That's pretty easy to figure out. But to do on a per-player basis, what we invest in the player to try to help them be successful. We spent like $600,000 last year on personal development programs. All things that directly affect the player having a chance to be successful.
Keep in mind that Saban is an influential voice in college athletics. Though he put plenty of distance between himself and the failed "10-second rule," Saban has been outspoken about the pace of play for some time. In February, a plan to slow the game down was drafted.
You can be the judge if that was a coincidence or not.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, another pace-of-play advocate, has made his platform all about player safety. That's something recruits and their families will appreciate. Saban is essentially doing the same thing on a different topic by taking a pro-player stance without really getting into the nitty-gritty details.
Maybe the NCAA will notice, but recruits definitely will notice. Not that Saban needs help, of course.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.