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On3 exclusive: Top recruits open up about NIL’s influence

Jeremy Crabtree07/26/22
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No topic has dominated the discussion around college football recruiting over the past year more than NIL.

Starting on July 1, 2021, NCAA rules allowed college-student athletes to profit off their NIL for the first time. But on the high school level, it’s been a piecemeal situation. Currently, only 14 athletic associations allow high school athletes to profit off their NIL without losing their eligibility.

Even with the fragmentation, NIL has become one of the most polarizing topics on the recruiting trail. Nobody will ever forget Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s claim that Texas A&M “bought every player on their team” with NIL deals. And other coaches across the country, including Penn State’s James Franklin, have suggested over and over that college recruiters can’t compete against a lucrative NIL deal. Furthermore, many coaches say NIL has become the ultimate recruiting tool through “pay-for-play” deals.

There have been plenty of people talking about NIL over the past year. But one voice has been missing from the dialogue – the high-profile recruits themselves.

That’s why On3 deployed an exclusive survey in June and July to get honest and unfiltered feedback from star high-school prospects about how NIL impacts their recruitments. On3 surveyed 85 of the players ranked in the top 200 of the On3 Consensus. On3 asked the prospects a series of 11 questions with additional follow-up queries based on their initial responses. The survey received responses from prospects in the top 25 talent-producing states in the country. It included a proportional concentration from top talent states like Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and Louisiana.

On3 also conducted follow-up interviews after the results were tabulated for additional analysis. We gave the recruits anonymity in the interviews and on the survey so they could speak freely on the subject.

It’s truly the first time recruiting observers get an inside view of how five and four-star prospects – the future stars of college football – view NIL and its impact on their recruitments.

On3 will highlight the key results from the survey in this story. But throughout the rest of the week, On3 goes in-depth on some of the most noticeable results from the survey and follow-up interviews.

30% of top recruits open to taking NIL deal over perfect fit

The first survey question focused on whether or not recruits would be willing to go to a school that isn’t a perfect fit from a football or academic standpoint for a NIL deal.

Thirty percent of the recruits surveyed said they would be willing to go to a school that’s not a perfect fit for a NIL deal. An example of some of the players that responded yes to this question included a pair of highly-ranked quarterbacks, multiple defensive ends and receivers from Florida, a couple of defensive backs from Texas, several defenders from Georgia, and a handful of defensive backs each from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

While the 30% result is significant, several recruiters believe prospects might not have been truly honest in answering that question.

“I’d have to think that number is probably around 50-50,” a Pac-12 coordinator told On3. “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?’”

NIL ranks in middle when it comes to deciding

On3 also asked the 85 prospects to rank where NIL factors in when making their college decision. On a scale from one to 10 – with 10 being the highest – 22.9% of the prospects said NIL ranked right in the middle at a five. After that 15.7% said it ranked as a seven, 13.3% ranked it as a three and 10.8% ranked it as an eight.

All in all, 57% of the recruits said NIL ranked as a five or higher in their decision. This type of data indicates NIL is definitely playing a factor on the recruiting trail.

Coaching staff, NFL development more important than NIL

However, another survey question maybe gives us a better indication of just where NIL stands in top recruits’ decision-making process.

On3 asked the 85 prospects to rank in order of importance what they care most about when picking a school. The overwhelming top response was coaching staff and NFL development. From there, academics were second, scheme fit/early playing time was third, tradition/history was fourth, facilities were fifth, NIL was sixth and distance from home was seventh.

“That’s actually a pretty good thing to see,” an SEC recruiter told On3. “I think these results show that, yes, NIL is important with a lot of these top guys. But maybe there’s actually some hope that traditional recruiting factors are still important.”

31% of recruits have been contacted by a collective

Collectives in NIL have become lightning rods in college athletics over the past six months. Coaches say NIL disguises “pay-for-play” deals choreographed by collectives. Collectives are groups of boosters that pool funds to help facilitate NIL deals for athletes. Coaches say the groups are using money to persuade recruits and target players on other college teams.

With that in mind, it is interesting to see that 31.8% of the recruits surveyed say they have been contacted by a collective to do a NIL agreement with them. Many of the prospects that responded yes to this question would not reveal what schools the collectives represented.

Additionally, a highly touted offensive player that responded yes said he received an offer for “$3.7 million” from a collective. On3 has not been able to verify the claimed offer.

Moreover, 7.4% of the recruits that responded said they asked for more money from a collective.

An overwhelming majority of the recruits – 90.6% – said coaches have not put them in contact with collectives. However, it’s important to keep in mind in most states it’s not permissible for college coaches to directly or indirectly arrange for collectives to provide compensation to a student-athlete through NIL. However, that is quickly changing in some states thanks to new laws that have been repealed or amended. So, this might be a question to revisit later on down the road.

Recruits are talking to each other about NIL

Another fascinating result from the survey is that 64.7% of the recruits said they are talking with other recruits about NIL deals. Plus, 38.2% of the recruits said they are comparing their NIL offers with other players they talk with.

Those results seem to make a lot of sense when looking additionally at the responses to the question – how do recruits figure out what they’re worth when it comes to NIL deals?

A large majority of the recruits said they were unsure of how to calculate their worth from a NIL standpoint. Multiple mentioned they use the On3 NIL Valuation as a guide to gauge their value. But many said they turn to their peers for support.

“All of us top guys talk, so we know what everyone is getting,” a highly ranked Texas offensive recruit said. “We can use that knowledge piece to determine our own value by comparison.”

Additional NIL recruit survey results

  • Only 11.8% of the recruits say they are working with a lawyer on a NIL contract. Of the recruits that said yes, 80% said they reached out to a lawyer on their own instead of the lawyer reaching out to them or their family.
  • With NIL restrictions different all over the map in high school, some prospects have made moves to different states. However, 80% of the recruits surveyed said they would not be willing to move to a different state to sign a NIL deal while in high school.
  • Similarly, 85.7% of the recruits surveyed said they would not be willing to reclassify or skip their senior season of high school football to sign a NIL deal.