College athletics is just over a year into the NIL era and for the most part, it’s been a great thing for student-athletes across the country.
There have also been front page stories when it comes to top recruits, transfers and collectives with bad intentions, which gives NIL a bad rap, but as a whole, it’s been much less than the good being done with the ability of student-athletes being able to put cash in their pockets.
Programs and staff aren’t able to facilitate NIL deals for recruits or players, but they are very aware of what collectives are doing around their program.
Example: John Ruiz
The Miami booster has been the most vocal about the NIL deals he’s put together, but you think he’s contacting Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack and offering a deal worth $800,000 without approval from the Hurricanes coaching staff?
Notre Dame, Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State and even Alabama have taken on a similar approach. It’s focused on taking care of the current players over throwing cash to recruits like Miami, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC.
The ACC and SEC had media days this week and the subject of NIL was a frequent question for some of the nation’s top head coaches and the responses varied and varied greatly.
LSU head coach Brian Kelly was asked about LSU’s collectives not having as much money as some of the Tigers competitors in the SEC and if his program had been out-bid for a player.
Kelly’s answer was bold and one that clearly shows head coaches know exactly what is happening behind closed doors with collectives that aren’t associated with the school.
“First of all, I don’t know that we don’t have as many funds,” stated Kelly. “Nobody has given me any kind of documentation that we’re behind. I feel very comfortable, quite honestly, as I stand here talking to you that what we’re doing relative to NIL is as competitive as anybody else.
“I don’t feel like we’re being out-bid by anybody. I don’t think that’s the place of NIL anyway. So if we were being out-bid, then we’re going to be out-bid if we have $50 million in our collective.
“I don’t feel hamstrung by that. I want to continue to educate with NIL. I want to be able to use the resources wisely to help promote name, image and likeness and have that available for our student-athletes when the time comes.”
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has brought up several interesting points about NIL over the last few months, including boosters ending up controlling who plays on Saturday. Kiffin gave a few thoughts on improving NIL, which starts with some actual guidelines in the space.
“I think ideally, if we’re going to be in an NIL world, somehow you’re going to do it right, it’s going to get capped so that there’s some way of controlling it and keeping playing fields close to the same,” Kiffin said. “Otherwise, you’re just going to have these glaring differences within Division I football based off of what I’ve said before, their salary cap. I know it’s not really the right word.
“Ideally I would think that the coach should be part of managing that. That’s how you’d want it done. But I don’t know if it will be that way or whatever. So that’s just how I would do it. That’s based off of look what happens in professional sports. There’s salary caps. The coach and the general manager/owner manage that.”
Kiffin also doubled down on a past statement as it relates to a concern of boosters or collectives eventually deciding who he plays on Saturdays in the fall.
“Why would you put it that way when coaches aren’t supposed to be involved in that,” explained Kiffin. “You have a whole other set of problems. If you have boosters out there deciding who they’re going to pay to come play and the coach isn’t involved in it, how does that work? They could go pick who they want, pay him however much. Are the boosters going to tell you who to play, too? When they don’t play, how is that going to work out?
“Again, this is not thought out at all, in my opinion, and has created a massive set of issues which I think when people really thought about it, from a coach’s standpoint, could have predicted this was going to happen.”
Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were back in the spotlight this week as well. The two had their petty feud earlier this summer, but they were a bit more under control this week.
In fact, Saban made sure to point out how well his current players did last year in the NIL world.
“I don’t dislike name, image and likeness,” Saban stated. “I’m all for the players. I want our players to do well. Our players made over $3 million in name, image and likeness. I’m all for the players being able to do as well as they can and use their name, image and likeness to create value for themselves.”
Saban also expressed his concerns once again with NIL, which are somewhat funny considering the success he’s had in Tuscaloosa.
“How does this impact competitive balance in college athletics,” said Saban. “And is there transparency to maintain fairness across the board in terms of college athletics? How do we protect the players? Because there’s more and more people that are trying to get between the player and the money.
“In the NFL they have guidelines for agents because the NFL Players Association sort of has rules and regulations about how they should professionally help the players. That’s something that we really want to make sure that our players are not being misguided in any way.”
And yes, Saban also is concerned about where recruiting is headed as programs are using it to sign the nation’s top players.
“On the recruiting trail right now, there’s a lot of people using this as inducements to go to their school by making promises as to whether they may or may not be able to keep in terms of what players are doing,” explained Saban. “I think that is what can create a competitive balance issue between the haves and have not’s. We’re one of the haves. Don’t think that what I’m saying is a concern that we have at Alabama because we’re one of the haves.
“Everybody in college football cannot do these things relative to how they raise money in a collective or whatever, how they distribute money to players. Those are the concerns that I have in terms of how do we place guidelines around this so that we can maintain a competitive balance.
“There is no competitive sport anywhere that doesn’t have guidelines on how they maintain some kind of competitive balance. I think that’s important to college football. I think it’s important to fans. That’s why they have rules in the NFL where you have a salary cap, you have difficult schedules if you have a successful season, you draft later if you have a successful season, you draft early if you have an unsuccessful season.”
Fisher had a similar message as his peers despite A&M collectives buying the No. 1 recruiting class in 2022, but it’s clear he’s embraced the NIL era.
“Change is inevitable,” Fisher stated. “Conferences are going to change a little bit, they’re going to move, the rules. The NIL, the uncertainty of NIL and the difference in the rules per state, what you can do and how you can do it, affects recruiting.
“Listen, at the end of the day we can coach all we want, you got to have good players. You got to be able to get that uniformity together and create some kind of balance that everybody has the same rules about what you can and cannot do. I think that’s what he’s talking about.”
And yes, Fisher also addressed the video of one of his A&M staffers telling recruits folks in the suites in College Station pay very well for playing college football.
“No, that’s not what he said,” said Fisher. “Those guys pay down there very well, and what he meant was, he was a young guy, been there about a month, the guys behind those seats is what paid for your program. That was the donations and boosters and how he said it and how he spoke.
“Do we all have NIL? Yes, we do. But that’s what he was meaning. It’s a transfer thing that we say with all recruits. The guys behind those things are the guys who pay for our program, what we do, the donations. That’s what it was. He had been here one month.”
Over in the ACC, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney wasn’t concerned with his locker room. In fact, Swinney felt it was similar to some players playing more than others.
“I’ve always had to manage a team where some guys played more than others,” Swinney said. “Some guys played 50 snaps, some guys played 5. I’ve always had to kind of manage chemistry.
“I think they’ve managed it well. My focus has been on trying to protect them and educate them and train them to be responsible young people and not to get themselves in tough situations to make sure we help them navigate that part of the college experience just like we try to help them navigate everything in the experience, whether it be strength and conditioning or academics, nutrition, sleep, recovery, overall wellness. That’s just one other aspect.”
Miami head coach Mario Cristobal is another coach who has embraced the NIL era. The Hurricanes have seen a rise in recruiting, but Cristobal also played it cool.
“Well, I think that it seems pretty obvious that as a university, as an athletics program that our student-athletes have done really well with NIL,” Cristobal said. “As a coach you’re not really allowed to delve in it. You know what I mean? Since it is part of the changes in college football, and it is a constitutional right, we have a positive mindset towards that.
“We’re also very fortunate to be in arguably the best city in the world and one of the more prominent and growing cities in the entire world as well. That’s just constantly ascending.”
“I know our guys have learned a lot and have benefited a lot from it, and I think as we get to know more about it, and I think that’s what everybody really desires, is just a little bit more clarity so that from a direction standpoint we can all understand it better to maximize it, but at the same time make sure that the educational aspect is real, that we’re providing a better path for a better future,” explained the first-year Miami coach. “That’s what it’s about, right? All the other stuff and the noise around it, I don’t really get into that. It’s still about these guys and their future.
“When I was a student-athlete, I would have loved to have had it. We didn’t. I know that the experience as a Miami Hurricane was a game-changer for me, and it’s a big reason why I’m blessed to have this opportunity to come back and why I jumped right at it.
“Now I have to make sure that I do everything for them to have the same type of game-changing experience. NIL is part of that now. It is. And it’s a big part of it right now. It’s still about keeping the main thing the main thing. You just have got to make sure that that marriage of these different things is one that makes sense and one that is productive.”
Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield has quietly landed some of the nation’s top talent in 2023. Texas five-star running back Rueben Owens and California four-star receiver DeAndre Moore Jr. surprised many by committing to Louisville and Satterfield credited it to the ever-changing world of college football while making sure he sold some of the unique aspects of the city.
“Some of the things that have happened here recently in recruiting has been really a two-year process and it’s just now coming to fruition,” said Sattefield. “So I think a lot of things have changed over the last two years when you think about transfer portal and NIL opportunities, it’s really changed the landscape of college football.
“Our people have done a great job of being kind of early with some ideas as far as that goes, and I think that’s really benefited us. We’ve also broadened our scope in recruiting and not just recruiting maybe in the Southeast. We’re nationwide, and we’re going to the West Coast, Texas. Obviously, going to Florida and right there in the Midwest. We’ve kind of just opened all the doors throughout the whole country to say we’re an easy school to get to.
“Our airport is three minutes away from our stadium. It’s an easy flight to come in, and the city of Louisville has a lot to offer. Great restaurants, the Bourbon Trail, Churchill Downs is right across the street. There’s a lot of great activities going on in our city. We’re bringing in the families and recruits, and they all have a great time there, and they see our football program as a program on the rise also, a program that can be one of the best in the country. That’s what we’re selling.
“It’s resonating with a lot of prospects.”