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NIL adds new layer of intrigue to recruiting

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos11/11/22

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Jaden Rashada shocked the college football world Thursday night, flipping his commitment from Miami to Florida

Except, the word “shock” is a poor word choice. In the new world of recruiting, every highly-touted prospect has the capability of stunning coaching staffs left and right. 

Name, Image and Likeness. That’s the word. It’s dominating recruitments at the highest level of the sport. Yes, when the NCAA put its interim NIL policy into place back in July 2021, it was meant for active student-athletes. 

But NIL trickled down into recruiting and the Transfer Portal. It’s the reason why most college football fans even know the acronym. Yes, cash has been exchanged between college football’s top recruits for years. That looks different now. Financial packages are now above the table, not under. As some stakeholders like to joke, NIL means “Now It’s Legal.” 

And it’s part of the reason we’ll see shakes ups in future. NIL has added a new layer of intrigue to recruiting. It played a role in Cormani McClain‘s decision to pick Miami over Florida. The move stunned the recruiting world as most had the No. 2 overall player in the 2023 class heavily leaning towards the Gators for months. It’s likely 11th-hour moves like this start to become more common in this new NIL-era.

Five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava reset the NIL quarterback market in March when he committed to Tennessee. As The Athletic has since reported, the California native signed deal that could see him make $8 million over three years.

When Rashada initially committed to Miami back in June, the quarterback supposedly made his decision because of the fit. “[He missed out on] Millions. He did not pick the highest offer,” Forward Counsel attorney Michael W. Caspino told On3 at the time. “He went there because he loves Miami, the coaches, and the opportunity.”

Rivals’ Futurecast, 247’s Crystal Ball and On3’s Recruiting Prediction Machine have been able to predict where a top-recruit is going to land for years. Sure, there have been surprises. The Crystal Ball has a 71.48% all-time pick rating dating back nearly 10 years. And since its launch, the RPM has correctly predicted 1,443 of 1,628 picks. 

It’s hard to question the work recruiting analysts have put in – developing relationships with coaches, families and recruits – when a recruit decides to flip or choose the school nobody saw coming. 

Simply put, the “Oh my god” moments these days very well could be fueled by NIL. Whether it is cash being offered upfront or a lucrative package when they arrive on campus, the best of the best are taking the dollar signs into account. 

As one SEC collective operator recently told me: “If you want to talk ball with the top quarterbacks in each class, you’re going to need to come to the table ready to pay a seven-figure yearly salary.”

The old days of recruiting are dying off, and NIL is climbing the rankings of importance. The right culture fit and NFL development are still factors. Yet, 30% of the recruits in an On3 survey this summer said they would be willing to go to a school that’s not a perfect fit for a NIL deal.

“I’d have to think that number is probably around 50-50,” a Pac-12 coordinator told On3 at the time. “It’s no longer about culture. 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?’”

So, where does the NIL and college football marriage go from here? For starters, divorce is not an option. Conference commissioners pleaded this summer during media day season for Capitol Hill to provide reform. Keep asking. 

If Congress does ever take a hard look at NIL, it won’t be happening anytime soon. Economic and national security issues sit atop the agenda. 

Trying to solve the “NIL crisis” at the NCAA level seems like an inside joke. College athletics’ governing body can keep clarifying its clarifications. But until it shows it is going to come down with a sanction on financial punishment, no collective or institution is going to let its program fall behind. 

Football is the front porch of the university, and it is critical to make sure that section of the house is something they can be proud of. It can also be a vehicle to put a school on the map. Over the course of this season, through Tennessee’s win over Kentucky two weeks ago, first-year applications were up 47% compared to this time last year, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel

That’s tangible evidence of how winning on Saturdays elevates an institution’s national profile. So raising funds through NIL collectives does not seem to be a big ask to draw the top talent. Paying a prospective student-athlete for their commitment is of course an NCAA violation, but it’s not slowing down any school wanting to compete for a national championship. 

NIL is not always going to provide instant gratification. There’s multiple programs this season who have struggled to put a winning product on the field, despite being the top spenders last recruiting cycle. 

“I think the willingness or lack of willingness to embrace NIL is that if you’re unwilling to adapt and embrace, wherever you’re at on the totem pole, people will climb above you,” an athletic director of a top 25 team recently told On3. 

College football, and how programs recruit, is in the middle of a reckoning period because of NIL. It’s adapt or die time.