Skip to main content

UNC Football: Mack Brown calls for change, shames NIL cheaters

SimonGibbs_UserImageby:Simon Gibbs02/22/22


UNC head coach Mack Brown strongly believes that the NIL space needs change.

Brown, 70, is currently in his second stint as UNC’s head football coach, a position he re-accepted in 2019, and he believes that student-athletes’ newfound ability to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) is beginning to change the recruiting landscape — despite UNC having an NIL collective to its own benefit.

An NIL “collective,” as On3’s Eric Prisbell writes, is “independent of a university” but “can serve a variety of purposes. Most often, they pool funds from boosters and businesses, help facilitate NIL deals for athletes and also create their own ways for athletes to monetize their brands.” UNC is one of many schools that has its own NIL collective called “Heels4Life,” started by former Tar Heels linebacker Shakeel Rashad. In theory, this should help Brown’s recruiting efforts at UNC; at least on paper, that seems to be the case. The Tar Heels, who boast the 10th-best recruiting class in the nation, highlighted by five-star offensive tackle Zach Rice, showing that Brown has had no trouble recruiting to UNC in the first year of legal NIL activities.

Still, Brown couldn’t help but call out those that appear to be using NIL to cheat their way to a top recruiting class.

“Somebody — a national committee — said it the other day. There’s so much cheating with NIL. It’s really sad. And it’s got to be cleaned up. Tampering is bad, but the cheating is bad,” Brown said in his pre-spring practice press conference. “The way I’ve been told is that coaches cannot get involved with the opportunities for the kids. That has to be an outside source. And we’ve got Heels4Life that does that for us. But what I’ve been told is that the only thing we can tell a player or a parent is that we can explain to them what opportunities the players on our team are currently getting, and how that works. That’s it. We can’t promise anybody any money for play. Just about every transfer I’ve talked to was being offered money (from other schools), so it was a little ridiculous. But I think that’s where we’ve got to find an answer here to put some guidelines on this, or we’ll never see college sports again the way we’ve seen it.”

Evidently, it’s concerning the NCAA, too, which Brown referenced in the beginning of his answer. Though the governing body had previously kept itself removed from any NIL activity, the NCAA announced on Friday that the DI Council would conduct a review on the impact of NIL on student-athletes. The NCAA, like Brown, said in its press release that it is “concerned that some activity in the name, image and likeness space may not only be violating NCAA recruiting rules, particularly those prohibiting booster involvement, but also may be impacting the student-athlete experience negatively in some ways.”

Following his lengthy answer, Brown was asked if he had any more on the topic, and a UNC athletics representative was heard on the Zoom call saying, “no, we’re good.” But Brown just couldn’t help himself, and he continued on with his rant about NIL.

“I think that’s fact. We threw it (NIL) out there, there were no guidelines and now it’s out of control,” Brown said. “I said before, when people are recruiting people off your team (through the transfer portal), and trying to pay them money, we’re out of control.”

This year, Brown’s UNC team lost 13 players to the transfer portal, though many of them were hardly contributors: AJ Beatty, Khafre Brown, Clyde Pinder Jr., Josh Henderson, Emery Simmons, Kristian Varner, Beau Corrales, Eugene Asante, Tyrone Hopper, Trey Morrison, Stephen Gosnell, Trevion Stevenson and Alex Nobles. Conversely, Brown nabbed a couple of players out of the portal, like Noah Taylor and Corey Gaynor.

“It’s not best for the sport,” Brown continued. “It’s not best for the kids. It’s not what we all grew up in this business for. I just think everybody realizes that now. Everybody is looking at it, and the problem is how do you fix it and how do you fix it quickly? Because it’s a problem right now for our sport, and it needs to be fixed.

“That it tied into the transfer portal is even worse because you can leave tomorrow for a deal, and that’s just not the way this thing was supposed to be.”