Special Offer

Breaking news. In-depth analysis. Limited Ads.

Subscribe Now7-Day Free Trial

‘It’s out of hand right now’: Proposal pleases those who want NIL barriers

Jeremy Crabtree05/04/22
On3 image
(Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A report from Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger says college leaders are “gearing up to issue a warning to hundreds of wealthy boosters who are using Name, Image and Likeness ventures to involve themselves in recruiting.”

“We let things get out of hand,” one official with knowledge of the guidelines told SI. “We have to get [the boosters] out of contacting recruits and bartering with them.”

The report was widely applauded by college recruiters in every corner of the country.

Many – including Penn State coach James Franklin and Ole Miss’s Lane Kiffin – have said over the past few weeks that NIL has been used to disguise “pay for play” deals choreographed by donors to persuade prospects, target players on other college teams and convince their own players to stay out of the transfer portal.

“It’s such a factor now you could do everything right and do everything perfect and out-recruit everybody, but you can lose a guy because of the NIL opportunities,” Franklin said.

Coaches say NIL stands for ‘Now It’s Legal’

It’s gotten so out of whack that insiders say the NIL has created a multimillion-dollar market for blue-chip quarterbacks. Furthermore, many coaches say Franklin’s take that the perfect recruiting pitch can be beaten by NIL is 100% spot on.

“It’s no longer about culture,” a Pac-12 defensive coordinator told On3. “We have kids come to our school on a visit and say, ‘We love you. Love you, coach. Love your scheme. It’s a great fit. But what can you offer?’ And then you still have to recruit kids in your program. Shoot, we have a kid in our program that an SEC school’s boosters came after. If it wasn’t his last year and we didn’t have a good quarterback coming back, he’d be gone because of the offer he got from them. It was a big offer that most kids wouldn’t turn down.

“You know what we call NIL around our office? We call it ‘Now It’s Legal’ because it’s legalized everything that used to get people in trouble for.”

A Pac-12 recruiting coordinator loved hearing that NIL reform might be on the way.

“You can be a great recruiter and not have a chance with NIL,” he said. “Some schools are being very aggressive with it, and others have taken a wait-and-see approach.

“I do believe the legislation needs to be introduced as soon as possible to level the playing field. It’s out of hand right now. College football can’t sustain with this model unless all the Power 5’s are going to do it. Then college football just becomes another version of professional football.”

NIL guidelines could limit boosters’ contact with recruits

When the NCAA announced its new interim NIL policy on June 30, 2021, it stipulated athletes must adhere to appropriate state laws if they are in effect. It also instructed schools in states with no state NIL laws to craft their own NIL guidelines.

This policy left a huge gray area on the recruiting trail that’s been clearly exposed by collectives – groups that pool funds from boosters and businesses to facilitate NIL deals – to entice prospects to pick their school.

In early March, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel reported a five-star 2023 recruit signed an $8 million NIL deal with a school’s collective. It’s widely believed that quarterback Nico Iamaleava is the five-star recruit, though it has not been confirmed. Within 10 days of news of the deal being signed, Iamaleava committed to Tennessee.

The deal reshaped recruiting as we know it.

Dellenger reported the new instructions from college leaders will highlight existing NCAA rules that outlaw boosters from participating in recruiting. Under a long-held NCAA rule, boosters are a representative arm of an athletic department and are not supposed to have any contact with recruits.

Ultimately, the goal is to find a way where NIL deals cannot be associated with high school prospects and players in the transfer portal. Instead, deals must be struck with players already on the roster, the way college leaders say NIL was intended to be used.

If something doesn’t change, a number of coaches On3 talked with say they’re ready to walk away from the game.

“You’re going to find a lot of good men getting out of the profession,” a Big Ten assistant said. “This is not what college football is about. It’s not why I got into it. I got into it for the relationships and to build men.”

Experts expect plenty of legal challenges

In many ways, the genie might already be out of the bottle with NIL. Furthermore, legal experts say the proposed guidelines from the NCAA – which are in draft form – could face stiff legal challenges from collectives and even athletes themselves.

“The NCAA and college sports leaders hoped that NIL would be innocent – social media postings, a few hundred or thousand dollars here and there,” said Andrew Brandt, a former NFL executive and now a professor of practice and executive director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova Law School. “That was naïve. Boosters/Collectives/Directives. Primarily to recruit and retain the best players. Hard to see it being contained.

“The moment the NCAA threw up their hands about NIL – in fear of antitrust lawsuits – was the moment the toothpaste was out of the tube. Good luck getting it back in.”

Dan Greene, a NIL expert and associate attorney at Newman & Lickstein in Syracuse, N.Y., agreed.

“Assuming the NCAA goes after wealthy boosters and collectives with massive war chests, they are exposing themselves to potential litigation, and after the Alston decision, it is doubtful that the NCAA would have much of a chance to prevail in any such lawsuits,” Greene said.

“It might be a little too late for the NCAA to reel this all back in after sitting on the sidelines for months, and it will be interesting to see how they determine what is and isn’t pay-for-play or an impermissible inducement in the various fact patterns presented to them. The manner in which the NCAA makes this determination is what will open themselves up to legal challenges from boosters and collectives, and potentially schools that wish to align with them.”

Coaches not sure NCAA can fix this

All of this is why you see little trust from the coaching community that the NCAA will be able to fix this.

“No way do they get this right,” the Pac-12 defensive coordinator said.  “The sad thing is – where does this go? Does it go to pay for play? And then if that happens, watch the number of guys that get their degrees plummet. It won’t be about academics in any form. Graduation rates and the influence you have over a young man’s life will be gone.

“What it’s going to turn into is the NFL, and you’re just managing the roster from year to year. It’s a sad deal.”