Column: NIL was supposed to fix college sports, but it became a free-for-all paid game



Shortly after the Texas A&M football team, which hasn’t won a national championship since 1939 (when it was Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College) or a conference title since 1998, got the class 1 recruiting firm, reports have been circulating that The Aggies boosters are assembling a $25 million war chest to entice players now that they can monetize their name, image and likeness.

Coach Jimbo Fisher took offense.

“It had nothing to do with that class,” he told CBS Sports. “It was hard work from our staff. It’s insulting to the children who come here that you insinuate that.

So what are we supposed to believe? Whether they chose A&M for its chemistry department or the striking beauty of College Station?

But instead of messing with the Aggies, maybe we should congratulate them. They quickly and accurately assessed the new landscape of college sports, then navigated it effectively.

Here’s how recruiting worked: We believe that our university can have a positive impact on your future through our diverse academic programs and the life lessons learned through sports.

Here’s how it works now: How much do you want?

For that, we can thank Nancy Skinner and others like her. Skinner is the California state senator who had never balanced the budget of an athletic department forced to support dozens of women’s sports that are losing money, but who was determined to fix that system. operation of the easement under contract. The solution: allow college athletes to control their NIL.

It won’t cost universities a penny, they said, and eventually student-athletes will be compensated one way or another because it wasn’t enough that they were already getting around $200,000 or more a year. in scholarships, medical care, food, housing, tutoring, physical training, equipment, clothing, charter flights, five-star hotels, tuition, coaching and professional level preparation. And, oh yes, admission to a university beyond the academic reach of most athletes. (The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen in San Diego State in 2020 was 3.97 with a 1283 SAT.)

Virtually every president and athletic director pleaded for patience, explaining that college sports operate in a unique biosphere, some unregulated, others heavily regulated by federal legislation mandating gender equity. And messing with this delicate economic balance could – would – have disastrous unintended consequences.

Skinner et al. pushed forward undeterred, and by last summer enough of these state laws had been passed that the NCAA, already reeling from antitrust lawsuits, threw up its hands and opened the barn doors to NIL. He spoke of “guardrails” to prevent abuse, which was like putting up a few orange traffic cones on a winding mountain road.

Ten months later, as you might expect, college sports broke through and chased them off the cliff.

Athletic recently reviewed an NIL contract for a unidentified five-star recruit worth $8 million, including $350,000 up front followed by monthly payments amounting to $2 million per year. And one for a four star receiver worth a million dollarsand a three-star defensive lineman for $500,000.

They are freshmen who have not yet played college football. There are also transfers that have essentially become free agents, with the NCAA no longer requiring them to be out for a year. A coach tells the story of two SEC basketball programs that made a high profile transfer bid, and one tapped out when it hit $650,000.

Even at the lower levels of Division I, ho-hum basketball transfers command $75,000. Some require multi-year contracts.

“It creates a situation where you can basically buy players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this month. “You can do it in recruiting. I mean, if that’s what we want college football to be, I don’t know.

“It’s the NBA,” another coach told me, “without the NBA salary cap.”

The only regulation is that the universities themselves cannot enter into the agreements. No problem. Just as politicians have created Super PACs (political action committees) to circumvent campaign finance laws, with no limit on donation size, boosters have formed nonprofit “collectives” to funnel money. money to athletes without responding to Title IX.

What started as a modest paycheck for a local car dealership or pizza joint quickly became a shameless recruiting payola in the world of college football and men’s basketball. Tennessee was one of the first to form a collective, called Spyre Sports Group, and landed its first five-star quarterback prospect in two decades who said, cryptically, “they had everything I was looking for..” There is FUND (Friends of the University of Notre Dame), The Foundation in Ohio State, High Tide Traditions in Alabama, Division Street in Oregon. Florida and Florida State have two each.

Texas has four at last count, including one exclusively for tight ends and another for offensive linemen and another started with a $10 million commitment.

Most power conference schools have them. The same goes for Texas-San Antonio, Central Florida, Tulsa, SMU, Memphis, Florida International, Gonzaga and Grambling. (SDSU and its Mountain West brethren so far do not.)

“Whatever casual sports fans or coaches think student-athletes win collectives, they (underestimate) by 10X,” Opendorse founder Blake Lawrence, whose company associates them with, told The Athletic. to NIL offers. “While $2 million is crazy, $200,000 isn’t. But most people think they’re getting $20,000.

Contracts usually don’t stipulate that athletes must attend a specific university (but assume they will). Take Shaedon Sharpe, a five-star basketball recruit who graduated from high school in December and a month later enrolled in Kentucky, where NIL packages include a Porsche, with plans to play for the Wildcats in 2022-23. “Thank you for the wheels,” he said on social media. Now he’s entered the NBA Draft.

It works both ways, though. Reportedly, some NIL contracts control a player’s marketing rights throughout their college career, limiting transferability or containing clauses that siphon off a percentage of future revenue in professional leagues.

There are other dangers, including the loss of camaraderie in the locker room between players with unequal NIL agreements and growing resentment on campus between regular students on bikes and licensed student-athletes driving Porsches. And who responsibly manages all that money for them or advises them on tax filing?

And what about the pressures now on 18-year-olds? If they don’t live up to expectations, they’re no longer, hey, they’re just students trying to balance academics and athletes. It’s: we spent 8 million dollars to this guy?

Through the orange traffic cones, above the cliff.

“In hindsight,” an East Coast athletic director told me, “maybe we shouldn’t have let Twitter run college sports.”

The question now is whether someone or something is going to regulate it. The NCAA does not want to be part of it, paralyzed by fear of antitrust litigation. Congress could step in, but with soaring inflation, a divided nation and a war in Ukraine, it has more pressing issues to address than fixing college sports.

That leaves the market itself, which will ultimately decide the viability of an escalating arms race. Schools with billionaire boosters can afford to spend millions on unproven recruits in the name of an SEC title. The have-nots might get $75,000 here or $100,000 there in the short term, but what happens when you keep drawing the bucket down that well?

The biggest concern for sports directors is what happens to their own budgets when all the millions they traditionally receive from donors are diverted to NIL co-ops? Advocates for women’s sport, oddly, haven’t made the connection: their sports will suffer funding cuts and, perhaps, probably, elimination.

The college sports landscape is changing so rapidly that you may not recognize it anytime soon. Or even now, if you squint and watch carefully.

But you can be assured of one thing: the Jimbo Fisher staff at Texas A&M will continue to work hard.