The NIL Mess
A delegation led by NCAA president Charlie Baker, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Alabama coach NIck Saban and others visited Washington last week to lobby for federal legislation to clean up the NIL mess in college sports.
You know the problem. In the brave, new world of college football and basketball, athletes are being paid huge sums of money--under the guise of name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation--to sign with a particular school or transfer to a particular school.
The NCAA resisted, lost several court challenges, then grudgingly went along. But the organization has failed to legislate NIL or enforce guidelines requiring payments to be made from third party entities (not the schools themselves) and prohibiting them to be used to induce commitments from recruits.
Those guidelines are being ignored and violated every single day throughout the country.
So the NCAA hired a former governor, Baker, as president in hopes of getting Congress to intervene.
Good luck with that. Congress has more serious problems to deal with, starting with its own dysfunction.
So, not surprisingly, while the NCAA and Congress dither, a number of states have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Last week Texas joined six other states that have signed NIL measures basically legalizing an end run around oversight by the NCAA.
Texas, Texas A&M and other colleges in the Lone Star State helped write the legislation, which prevents the NCAA from launching investigations into NIL activities and allows schools to be directly involved in the compensation of "student-athletes."
Previously, lawmakers in Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, New York and Oklahoma passed similar bills.
Baker hasn't been pleased by the states' actions. "They say screw the NCAA," Baker said. "Screw the conference. Screw their rules."
So how extensive are NIL activities across the country, and what kind of money are we talking about?
Jason Belzer, CEO of SANIL (Student Athlete NIL), an organization that manages more than 30 collectives from Oklahoma to Penn State, told On3 that the average compensation for a Power 5 football player is usually $10,000 to $50,000 annually, but "about five players per roster are making more than $100,000 on average."
Reports in The Athletic and On3, plus our own sources, have confirmed that some top quarterbacks are making more than $1 million per year, while star receivers, cornerbacks and edge rushers can earn $200-300,000. All this to send out a few tweets, sign a few autographs or appear in a commercial.
There are now over 200 collectives among the 130 FBS schools. The third-party model--where schools direct donors to contribute to the collective--is a way for coaches and ADs to get money in players' hands without getting their own hands dirty.
As one SEC athletic director said, "let's be honest, we are all money laundering."
But laws like the one just passed in Texas allow a hands-on approach where the school can be directly involved in making the deals, raising the funds, distributing the Benjamins, and rewarding donors with perks like tickets, parking and meet-and-greets with players and coaches.
Perhaps I need to state it clearly. College football and college basketball are now professional sports.
Years ago, when coaches were making $40,000 a year, only one game a week was being televised, and players were actually going for the education and love of the game, it was different.
But the Big Ten recently signed media rights deals for over $1 billion a year. Coaches are being paid $5 to $10 million. Athletes are making six and seven figures.
In the not-too-distant future, some court will determine that players are employees, and the "student-athlete" charade will finally be put to rest.
Saban, for one, would have "no problem" with athletes being employees and sharing in the profits. "Unionize it. Make it like the NFL," Saban said at the recent SEC meetings. "I think it's better than what we have now."