Evanson: NIL has made college football all about the money
If we weren't there before, we are now: College football is all about the money.
"Name, image and likeness" is the latest rage in collegiate athletics. For those unfamiliar, NIL allows college athletes the opportunity to reap the financial rewards of their popularity as such.
They can do a commercial, rep a company by way of social media, sell jerseys with their names and numbers on them, or any number of other ways to use one's notoriety as a means of making money for either themselves or others. It was designed as a way for the athletes in the games, to share in the wealth generated by the games.
But what was created with fairness for the athlete in mind is instead creating an ever-increasingly unfair environment for the schools the athletes attend.
It was reported June 2 that Ohio State University head football coach Ryan Day told boosters that it would take upwards of $13 million to maintain the current level of his roster.
The event on Thursday was an opportunity to unveil the school's NIL Corporate Ambassador Program, which was designed to encourage the Columbus, Ohio, community to hire players through the school athletic department. The goal of the initiative is as follows: players receive internship and educational opportunities, and they also get paid while doing it — mostly the latter, I suspect.
But while $13 million is likely in the cards for one of the country's riches athletic departments, where does that leave the bulk of the nation's schools who have to scramble for money just to provide a competitive experience for their athletes opposed to lining their pockets?
Can Oregon State do that?
The answer is likely no, but while the "haves" have always had a competitive advantage over the "have-nots" on and off the college gridiron, the gap appears to be widening since the money got on the table instead of under it.
As of a few months ago, college football's most notable NIL deals included Bryce Young's $800,000-plus deal with trading card companies Leaf, Wild Card and Onyx, before he'd ever started a game for Alabama; former Ohio State freshman and present Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers' deal with GT Sports Marketing to provide autographs for a sum of $1.4 million; USC transfer quarterback Caleb Williams, who allegedly inked deals in excess of $1 million as part of a "long term agreement" with the multi-billion dollar real estate private equity firm Hawkins Way Capital in exchange for heading west with his former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley; and recent rumors have hinted that a certain high school Class of 2023 quarterback has a handshake agreement with a school's "collective" in excess of $8 million to be paid out by the end of his junior year.
Good gig if you can get it.
But while a limited number of kids are in a position to receive such riches, even fewer schools are capable of giving at that type of level. Which while not new to the recruiting game, is only enhancing the inequities of an already flawed system.
Between 2010 and 2020, six of the top 10 schools in recruiting were in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Five of last year's top eight were SEC schools. Looking toward next year, nothing seems likely to change.
To make things worse, the SEC is rumored to be on the verge of inking a new media rights deal with Disney/ESPN, which will up their individual school's annual television take from roughly $55 million to $70 million beginning in 2024. In comparison, the Pac-12 schools annually make about $21 million, ACC about $17 million, and Big Ten about $31 million.
That's a tall mountain for any conference to climb, especially when Ohio State's projections going forward price a quarterback at about $2 million, and offensive tackles and edge rushers at nearly $1 million apiece.
To make things worse — or better, I suppose, if you're the player or school reaping the rewards — the relatively new transfer portal, which allows student athletes to move freely amongst schools without penalty, is being used as a form of free agency, allowing those same student athletes the ability to test the proverbial market by figuratively auctioning off their services to the highest bidder.
Who does that benefit? The athlete, quite obviously, but also the established and cash-flushed programs looking to add a known commodity at a position of need — after they "show them the money" of course.
College football has always been about the "big boys." Be it the USCs or Notre Dames of yesteryear or the Ohio States or Alabamas of today, success has in many ways been dictated not necessarily by the players on the field, but rather what one has at their disposal to get them to that same field to begin with. Maybe that's fair market value and/or what's best for the players looking to cash in, but it certainly doesn't seem like what it was originally meant to be — it's now all about the money.
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