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As National Signing Day approaches, top recruits' parents say irregularity reigns supreme in NIL

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos11/14/23


Andy Staples on the Congressional Hearing Regarding NCAA and NIL

The moment she knew the conversation needed to stop was when the personnel director started talking about calling the baseball donor to fund the NIL package.

As the mother of a top football prospect in the 2024 recruiting cycle, she has sat in plenty of rooms with coaches. Flown in for visits. Wined and dined by some of the top programs in the country. But when the discussion topic shifted to NIL and a school mentioned it was going to need to call its top booster from baseball to raise funds, she knew securing a lucrative package just wasn’t going to happen. 

“I was like, ‘Maybe this isn’t the spot,’” the mother of an elite recruit told On3. “That’s when I feel like it’s probably not going to happen.”

As college football hurls itself towards a professionalized model, NIL serves as the stopgap between amateurism and revenue sharing. The market has matured, too, with smarter spending. Yet, make no mistake, irregularity exists. False numbers and contracts are prevalent.

Until the sport reaches the next phase of its evolution, financial packages remain a key component of attracting and retaining some of the top athletes. 

There’s organization, to a degree. Booster-backed NIL collectives have littered the landscape. In the top half of the Power 5, most of these organizations are operating on multi-million dollar budgets and have brought in a swath of former agents and marketing representatives to run operations. Others are late to the NIL game, unable to produce dollars overnight.

“Some out here are real, some out here are fake,” the father of a top-100 2024 recruit told On3. “You know how that goes, some people say it’s this and some people say it’s that. It’s the other people’s experiences and what they’ve been going through, so I can’t speak for them. The numbers they’ve been saying are real. They’re saying when he signs they’re going to honor whatever number they throw out there.”

Parents dealing with nonuniform NIL packages

Paying for top talent in college football is not a new trend. With the formation of collectives shortly after the NCAA moved to allow athletes to profit off their publicity rights, an influx of dollars poured into the high school football recruiting market. 

For starters, trying to figure out a player’s market value can be a struggle.

“The first set of numbers that I got, it was used as a, ‘We won’t go any lower than this,’” said the mom of the top-100 prospect. “Little bit over $300,000. I got another school that tried to offer $200,000 per year. There’s a lot of irregularity. 

“I’m not sure if parents even know how to negotiate it or even ask for more. I’m surprised a lot of times, I’m like, ‘Wow, I think they just gave you a number and you just took it.’”

In the NIL world, the market rate varies from school to school. Multiple factors also have to be accounted for with NIL packages. Sometimes a program is offering more so an athlete flips their commitment. Others feel pressured to bring in a top prospect because they’re expecting to lose talent at the position.

For the father of another top-100 recruit in the 2024 class, his son has already made his commitment. While he declined to go into specifics on the package, the dad said it was double the athlete’s current On3 NIL Valuation, putting it well over $500,000 per year. 

Even though the recruit and his family are content with his commitment, that has not slowed the recruiting process. More than seven programs are still in touch, while one has made an offer of more than $3 million over three years in the last several days. 

“It’s a crazy world,” the father said. 

Another top-100 recruit playing the same position is dealing with similar issues. Yet his highest offer is slightly smaller. It’s not because of the talent level. Different programs are able to make different cash offers.

“The highest number is $1.5 million over three years,” the father continued. “I don’t know if this particular school has that, but that’s what I heard. … You never know what could happen. Anything can happen. So the money’s there, you gotta do what’s best for your family and pray it works for your family.”

Contract uncertainty remains fear for prospects?

Due to NIL not being legal at the high school level in talent-rich states like Florida and Texas and the fear of the NCAA finding signed documents before athletes enroll, many lucrative NIL packages are handshake deals.

That brings plenty of uncertainty for parents and athletes. 

“I mean, you can talk about a contract but you can’t sign one,” the father of a highly-sought after recruit said. “Of course, it makes you nervous – it makes everyone nervous. When he gets there, we’ll sit down and sign a contract. It’s why you have to surround yourself with the best team.”

The father emphasized that the collective money can only do so much, though. From there it’s up to the athlete’s marketing team to make sure he earns the most endorsement dollars possible.

“He could be one of the highest-paid players,” the dad said. 

Other recruits have directly talked with current athletes at programs, asking if they’ve received the amount of money promised. A simple yes or no answer can go a long way in impacting a recruitment.

“Because we know a few players on the team, we asked them how everything is working out,” the mother of a top-100 prospect said. “They said they’re very pleased, so I don’t have any doubt there.”

At the end of the day, however, it comes down to the prospect and what their family wants to do. Former Florida commit Jaden Rashada requested for his National Letter of Intent release after the Gator Collective voided his contract roughly a week before signing day. 

Stories like that have forced parents to make some tough decisions. 

“You’re the one – you decide to sign with them or not,” an elite recruit’s parent told On3. “You’re telling me something and you commit, and those numbers aren’t the same you told me and on paper, then we are gone. Most of those kids who do that, probably flip. So, we haven’t done that.”

Dollars moving to transfer portal, retainment

The market has developed in high school football recruiting. It’s a rarity to hear of contracts that payout at more than $1 million per year. But those deals are still out there – contingent on enrollment of course. 

There just isn’t any solid ground, especially when trying to put a dollar value on a recruit’s value. Collectives have shifted funds from spending in recruiting to the portal, where the odds of landing a proven commodity are significantly higher. 

“A top-10 caliber quarterback in the transfer portal is worth seven figures. But a high school quarterback isn’t worth anything because they’re not going to start,” a collective leader told On3. “Same thing with any player. You can have a stud defensive end or wide receiver – it doesn’t make sense to spend money on someone who is going to be a non-impact player. It’s just bad management. That’s why in professional sports, rookies make so much less than free agents. You want a guaranteed veteran more than taking a flier on a rookie. 

“The problem is everyone’s like, ‘Oh great, I can go recruit this high school kid and he can make a big difference.’ What’s the bust rate in the NFL draft in the first round? Probably a one-third chance the guy is going to work out. So why do you think you’re going to be able to recognize somebody as a high school recruit and then go dump all this money.”

Roster management has also emerged as a key component of a school’s NIL infrastructure. While lucrative packages can attract talent, it’s also used to retain top players. In a market where the motto is buyers beware, the safest option is to preserve talent rather than risk a recruiting bust. 

Programs often tell recruits not to hold their decisions until December because the portal quickly takes precedence. 

“What I feel like, it’s kind of been a shift from – at first it was the recruiting front because the incoming guys caught the first wave,” an SEC player personnel staffer involved in NIL told On3. “They were the ones to be able to capitalize on the era when everyone was trying to figure out what was going on. It seems to me there’s been a shift from the early stage to the retain portion. More people are seeing it’s about maintaining your roster and keeping your guys another year, rather than the young fellas who aren’t a proven commodity.”