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Apr 01, 2014 12:02 PM EDT

College Sports Unionization: Nick Saban and David Shaw Offer Differing Opinions on Student-Athlete Compensation


Nick Saban and David Shaw will lead two of the most historically great college football teams this upcoming season, but they have differing views on unionization in the sport.

Speaking separately with the Associated Press Monday, very early on in spring practices, Saban said is an "advocate" for student-athletes while Shaw was skeptical of the Northwestern group's purpose.

"I've always been an advocate of players' rights," Saban, the head football coach at Alabama, said of a union in college sports. "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. Having a voice in what happens, I think, is something that the players probably ought to have."

Shaw said he though the athletic scholarships were enough, especially since health care is included.

"I'm as confused as anybody as to the importance of this," said Shaw, the head football coach at Stanford. "I'm curious what's really driving it. I've seen everything, and everything that's been asked for, my understanding is it's been provided. I think Northwestern does a phenomenal job providing for their kids, and it's weird to try to unionize but still compliment Northwestern and compliment their coaching staff on being taken care of. Those things don't seem to go hand in hand."

The National Labor Rights Board (NLRB) in Chicago ruled last week that scholarship football players at Northwestern could be considered employees and therefore have the right to form a union. The school is appealing and former QB Kain Colter is joining College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) president Ramogi Huma to Washington for two private hearings.

Saban did not outright say he supported the idea of a union in college sports, but he said he would rather see schools study "what we invest in the player to try to help them be successful."

"I don't think that the players just receive a scholarship," said Saban. "I think a lot of players really realize that, understand that and appreciate that. We can't pay them but we can reinvest in trying to help them be successful in their future, 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."

Experts have said Northwestern's appeal is likely to fail, so it would not be unrealistic to expect more groups of college athletes attempt to form a union. Shaw said he has no such knowledge of something like that happening at Stanford, but said he will talk with his team at length about the NLRB's ruling at a later date.

"If this is a cost of attendance thing, we'll do whatever the NCAA allows us to do," Shaw said. "But I'll tell you this: I know we're preparing these young men for more than just football. We're not using them for anything. We're giving them an unbelievable education, unbelievable contacts. Hopefully they have a phenomenal experience here, athletically and academically and socially. And hopefully they go on to influence this great nation. To insinuate that there's anything we're doing to harm these young men, I think it's not correct."

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