NIL year In Review – College Football’s New Wild-West

NIL-  The Dawn of a New Day

On July 1st 2021, just a little over a year ago, the college sports world was changed irrevocably. The NCAA announced the adoption of a ‘name, image, likeness’ (NIL) policy, an unprecedented move that has since allowed college athletes of any sport to make money off their name, image and likeness.

The landscape of college football has seen a remarkable amount of change in the past 12-18 months. The SEC welcomed Texas and Oklahoma. The BIG 12 reacted by bringing in Central Florida (UCF), Houston, Brigham Young (BYU) and 2021 College Football Playoff (CFP) debutantes Cincinnati. Then, just this past week, Southern California (USC) and UCLA announced their intention to join the BIG 10 from 2024. We can definitely expect more movement from programmes like Oregon and Washington, whilst Notre Dame figuratively holds the ACC’s man plums in a vice grip. If Jim Phillips isn’t offering to build a statue of Jack Swarbrick outside the ACC offices or tattoo Touchdown Jesus on his ass, I’d be shocked.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Amidst all of this change we have seen the birth of NIL collectives at all of the top programmes that has brought a wild-west type feel to college football. Instead of the biggest gang with the most guns, it’s the biggest gang with the most dollars (although in Texas it’s probably both).

In a somewhat ‘Black Friday’ type of way, players and boosters barely let the clock strike midnight before announcing deals. Then Florida State (FSU) QB McKenzie Milton and Miami QB D’Eriq King, immediately announced their joint venture, Dreamfield, a platform linking college athletes with companies looking to market their business through student athletes. Then you have Tennessee WR Grant Ferking – who doubles as a CEO of ground company Metro Straw – paying his own teammates for advertisements. This is the type of outcome that everyone envisioned for NIL legislation; student athletes taking control over their futures outside of football by using their influence and recognition that they’ve earned through their talent and hard work.

Beautiful Chaos

Then there’s the chaos we also envisioned, and oh boy, it’s been fun to watch.

That wild-west type feeling that is emanating from college football right now is no better exemplified than Quinn Ewers’ college career to date. The sixth player to ever receive a 1.000 rating as a recruit reclassified so that he could become an early enrollee at Ohio State for the 2021 season after decommitting from Texas in October 2020.

The former Southlake Carol 6A state champ spent four months in Columbus, taking the field for two plays (both handoffs) whilst picking up a $1.4 million cheque from GT Sports Marketing. Not bad, right? Ewers likely only saw a fraction of that money, though, as he used the Transfer Portal to return to his home state and sign for Texas. He has been seen recently around Austin driving a Bentley, which is pretty cool for him. Although, Arch Manning just committed to the Longhorns for 2023. You win some, you lose some. Texas forever!

Its All About His Pants Some Say

We can’t talk about the madness of NIL without talking about the first $8 million man, Nico Iamaleava. The Tennessee Vols’ NIL machine whirred to life quicker than most. Four months ago The Athletic reported that a 5-star prospect in the class of 2023 had already signed a deal to be compensated $8 million for his name, image and likeness. It quickly became apparent that this prospect was Nico Iamaleava and the school in question was Tennessee.

Now, you would be forgiven for thinking, ‘wtf?’ Yes, the same Tennessee that threw trash on to the field after losing to their former head coach Lane Kiffin and his Ole Miss Rebels last year. Indeed, the same Tennessee program that fired former head coach Jeremey Pruitt and nine coaches for reportedly handing cash to recruits in McDonalds bags. Somehow, the Vols pulled this off. Then again, they have just given an 18 year old kid who has never played a college game $350,000 that they’ll never get back. What could be more Tennessee?

We have to talk Riley right?

I think it’s only right we mention Lincoln Riley, USC and Jordan Addison. Riley shocked the college football world (and his own players if you believe defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas) announcing he was leaving to coach USC and make it the Mecca of the college football world. Of course, a bunch of OU’s top players followed their former head coach. I mean, Southern Cali, or Norman Oklahoma?

Oh, and throw in some huge NIL deals and the incoming transfer of the Biletnikoff award winner, Jordan Addison. Addison is reportedly getting an NIL deal worth $3.4 million, himself. I know this seems like run-of-the-mill stuff now, but a few years ago, just this story alone, would’ve blown up the news for weeks. Riley made a lot of enemies when he left Oklahoma so abruptly. However, he now has to coach away fixtures in New Jersey, so who’s the real loser?

As always, a Floridian Battle is never far off

In a battle of Floridian programmes, the Miami Hurricanes beat out University of Florida for 4-star QB prospect Jaden Rashada. The Elite 11 finalist is one of the hottest talents in the 2023 class and reportedly, it was Miami’s NIL offer that got the deal done at a whopping $9.5 million. This is despite Florida’s Gator Collective putting an $11 million offer on the table.

However, Rashada’s legal representative Michael Caspino made clear why when he said,”Florida is the most dysfunctional collective in all of college football,” he said. “I plan on steering my clients away from them. From my standpoint, I never ever want to deal with them again. If it weren’t for the collective that’s completely dysfunctional at Florida, he probably would have been there.”

Just a player having agents speak on his behalf is wild compared to where we were a few years ago, let alone his lawyer talking openly about money being offered. I’m old enough to remember when the U was investigated by the NCAA for four years because a few players hung out on a yacht with some hookers and a guy who ran a $900 million ponzi scheme. Oh the good old days. I guess in Miami, that’s just a Tuesday.

All the Glitz of Vegas!

To top it all off, we were all treated to a heavy weight media knockout fight between the master and his former apprentice. Nick Saban, in a random speaking appearance, suckerpunched the shit out of Jimbo Fisher. Among other things he said, “A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness”. Fisher responded with an angry retort of his own, calling the seven-time national championship winning coach a narcissist, and despicable. He also followed up with “Go dig into his past or anybody that’s ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to find out. What he does and how he does it.”

Look, we all know NIL is involved. It always has been, it just now has a name. I’m sure it was involved in Alabama’s class too. But Jimbo saying they “didn’t buy one player” after going 4-4 in the SEC is almost as funny as when he left Florida State’s program in such a state it became a bottom feeder ACC program. Oh wait. It also hasn’t helped that just the other day, on an apparent recruiting tour, an Aggies recruiter points to the suites in Kyle Field and says, “You’ll be getting a lot of money from these people.” Gig-Em!

A Golden Era

Honestly though, all of this is truly insane. Media storms like these, however fleeting, would’ve been the death knell of their careers. They talked about Fight Club! Nobody would trust them. But, not in post-July 2021 college football.

It’s incredible; this is the stuff we all imagined that each coach was thinking this stuff about each other. Now they are actually saying it. To us. The carnage that has befallen us since NIL is nothing short of beautiful to watch. What was unspeakable; quotes investigative journalists would have made their careers over, are now soundbites in a psychological recruiting war between college football’s top programmes.

All of this is to say that I didn’t think I could love college football more, simply not possible. But, this new lawless, gunslinging, unpredictable era of college football… I feel like I’m falling in love all over again. We are witnessing a golden era that’ll likely never be as crazy as it is right now.

Market Volatility

As always, the market will level out and stability to a certain extent will be established. Right now, FOMO is winning minds and driving decisions. The percentage of top high school prospects that are part of a championship winning team hasn’t suddenly risen, so naturally a bunch of these kids are going to be bad business decisions.

However, at this current moment, there’s barely any to point to. What are programmes more likely to do? Err on the side of caution and risk the wrath of their fanbase because of missing out on a top prospect? Or are they going to open up their wallets and pay some kid who has a 30% success rate $10 million and celebrate the shit out of it?

You know the answer, and it’s why college football is the greatest sport in the world.

–  Jake Self @dynastybrit



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