Latest Issue

NIL Changing the Game

The four-day football feast served up by the Thanksgiving weekend provided some savory treats to snack upon. There were upsets; Michigan over Ohio State, South Carolina surprising Clemson, and Texas A&M sending Brian Kelley’s LSU troops back to the Bayou with a 38-23 loss that ended the team’s chances of an NCAA Final Four appearance.

Locally, Sean Clifford capped his six-year run at Penn State with a Senior Day performance featuring a 19-24, 202-yard, four-touchdown effort that included a TD toss on his final pass at Beaver Stadium in the victory over Michigan State. On the high school level, Canton’s Warriors continued their quest for a state title by crushing Northern Cambria 42-13 at Mansion Park in Altoona.

But, for me, the most surprising thing I encountered during the holiday weekend came via the announcer’s comments while watching the Texas/Baylor game. While describing game action, the talking heads revealed how Texas star running back Bijan Robinson was making nearly $2 million this season, thanks to the new NIL (name-image-likeness) compensation being doled out to college athletes.

For the casual fan or the uninformed, on July 1, 2021, state laws and a new NCAA ruling took effect that, for the first time in the history of college athletics, student-athletes (if there is such a term anymore) can profit off their Name, Image, and Likeness. At the core, the NCAA has always been amateurism. But NIL has changed all of that, allowing student-athletes to receive financial compensation, which has brought seismic changes to college sports.

The new rule still prevents schools from paying players directly. College coaches cannot offer high school prospects money as a recruiting enticement, but the dam has been broken. Players can now profit off endorsements, signing autographs, selling apparel, corporate partnerships, charitable appearances, teaching camps, and starting their own businesses, among other things. They can also hire professional service providers — agents if you will — for NIL activities.

For all too long, big-time universities were cashing in off the exploits of their ‘amateur athletes,’ and football coaches were compensated with multi-million-dollar contracts. In today’s world, it makes sense that those athletes receive more than their ‘scholarship’ provides. But the NIL, coupled with the Transfer Portal, now provides college athletes a yearly free agency that even the various professional leagues don’t have. If a college athlete doesn’t feel they are being treated fairly via playing time or compensation, they are free to bolt to another school offering more.

The NIL has created major ramifications in recruiting. One report has indicated a five-star high school football recruit has signed a contract that collectively could pay him more than $8 million by his junior year of college. It is widely believed that Tennessee and QB commit Nico Iamaleava are the parties in question. The NIL deal has also led to multi-million market rates for blue-chip quarterback recruits.

The NIL cash register has been humming for Penn State’s gridiron standouts this season, thanks in part to Clifford’s founded marketing agency, Limitless NIL. It has been reported Clifford’s NIL activities have netted him $116,000.

According to the website On3, other Nittany Lion NIL recipients include:
– Sophomore wide receiver Parker Washington, $187,000.
– Sophomore wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, $87,000.
– Freshman running back Nick Singleton, $46,000.
– Senior safety Ji’Ayir Brown, $32,000.
– Junior safety Keaton Ellis, $31,000.

That’s some nice spending money, but it may be considered chump change when stacked against the reported ten biggest NIL recipients in the college game. Reportedly, those players include Bryce Young, Alabama, $3.2 million; CJ Stroud, Ohio State, $2.5 million; Caleb Williams, USC, $2.4 million, Jaxon Smith-Njiba, Ohio State, $1.7 million; Robinson, Texas, $1.7 million; Williams Anderson Jr., Alabama, $1.6 million; Kayshon Boutte, LSU, $1.4 million; Jordan Addison, USC, $1.4 million; Brick Bowers, Georgia, $1.1 million; and Trevoyn Henderson, Ohio State, $922K.

Should you happen to be out there recruiting for old Alma Mater U., good luck attracting top talent if you’re competing against the top 10 NIL-receiving schools in the land. Those bastions of higher learning and football parlance that are receiving the highest average per player NIL valuation include Texas A&M, $85K; Michigan, $65K; Oklahoma, $64K; Georgia, $56K; Alabama, $52K; Clemson, $46K; Ohio State, $44K; Notre Dame, $34K, Utah, $29K; and Baylor, $16.5K.

While the exact future of the NIL is unknown, you can bet they won’t be able to ‘put Genie back in the bottle.’ The NCAA Board of Governors has announced that President Mark Emmert will be stepping down by June 2023 or sooner if his replacement is found.

In June 2020, the United States Supreme Court delivered a major blow to amateurism ruling the NCAA was violating antitrust laws by placing limits on the education-related benefits schools can provide to athletes. The decision made it known NCAA restrictions — including NIL activity — could face serious legal challenges in the future.

Without a doubt, college sports are extremely popular and likely will continue to be. But the NIL, transfer portal, recruiting competition, and over-zealous boosters are all combining to eliminate the once-held practice of cheering for the amateur athlete. They are likely to become an endangered species.

(Take time to reflect on the December 7 Pearl Harbor events)