The new NIL marketplace is already influencing recruitment tactics and changing the stakes for schools

Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham plays on the field for the Cardinals and also represents Planet Fitness on a notice board bearing school grades.getty pictures

When alabama Nick saban publicly shared last month that his starting quarterback Bryce Young already had $ 1 million in approval income before playing his first game of football, the crafty old coach was sending a tag to each rookie on how many money he could potentially earn from his name. , image and likeness rights while playing for the Crimson Tide.

What the NCAA and many college executives hoped to avoid – players choosing a school based on their earning potential or being paid for their performance – is already just 11 weeks after the start of the NIL era.

Enterprising Memphis basketball coach Penny Hardaway credited the new rules and promise of NIL deals with Memphis-based FedEx for helping him recruit the nation’s top-ranked 2021 class.

Deep-pocketed supporters of BYU, the state of Michigan and Miami, among others, have made significant financial commitments to entire football and basketball teams.

This is the new competitive battleground in college recruiting.

“You have a marketing ROI, but you also have a recruiting ROI,” said Blake Lawrence, CEO and co-founder of NIL specialist Opendorse, who estimates the NIL market will grow into a Billion Industry. of dollars.

“Athletes are winning and if the trend continues there will be a lot more spending in the NIL market than we could ever have foreseen or predicted,” Lawrence said.

Likewise, the schools that have been the most aggressive and creative in pushing the boundaries of the NIL agreements “win,” he said. “Miami wins NIL, BYU wins NIL, Alabama wins, Kentucky wins.”

However, when NIL deals creep into recruiting or paying for the game, it’s the aspect of the aspiring athlete endorsement marketplace that causes college leaders to wring their hands as they go. are trying to figure out how to govern themselves – or seek an advantage over the competition – in the rapidly changing marketplace.

The distinction with varsity athletics is that there are offers to market products and offers that enhance brands just like any other professional setting, but there are also offers designed to make recruiting easier. This is where this NIL movement moves away from traditional athlete marketing.

“Schools have moved from a compliance-oriented mindset to a more coach-oriented mindset, and a lot of that is because schools are able to set their own rules,” he said. said Jim Cavale, CEO and founder of INFLCR, an NIL agency. . “Coaches are like, ‘What is it, I have to recruit”. So with that comes the chaos inside the schools.

TCU football coach Gary Patterson, who has become known for his frankness over 21 seasons at school, confirmed this in comments to The Star-Telegram last week.

“The rules have changed. It’s no longer a problem, ”Patterson said while urging the Horned Frogs business community to get more involved in the NIL deals lest TCU start losing players to schools that can offer. more opportunities.

Many of the restrictions that were outlined in the NCAA’s proposed NIL legislation provided safeguards against the type of NIL agreements that could influence recruiting. This failed bill, which took two years to draft, has never even been put to a vote. The NCAA removed it and instead asked schools to find out for themselves, if they weren’t in a state that already had an NIL law.

Schools basically ended up with three guidelines: not paying players for performance or recruiting purposes; do not play matchmaker with athletes and their sponsors; keep a log of all NIL transactions.

Here’s the catch: Athletic departments are on a mission to help their college athletes, but they’re not supposed to help them in their business pursuits beyond education. Some states don’t even allow schools to share an athlete’s contact details with a potential sponsor.

One school in Texas dug into its state law and determined that if the athlete gave permission, the school could share an athlete’s contacts for a possible business deal.

Not only does this help the athlete, but it also represents a recruiting advantage that the Longhorns can tout to rookies.

“Exploring state law and just trying to navigate it to maximize the opportunities for student-athletes is really fascinating,” said Drew Martin, senior associate director of AD Texas.

Earlier this month, former Michigan state basketball player Mat Ishbia, now CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, pledged $ 500 a month to 133 football and basketball athletes. male.

“I was once a student athlete and you play sports and go to school full time,” Ishbia said. “We don’t have time to find a job, so it’s complicated for these guys. We looked at “How can we help them solve this problem?” We can help them.

The lack of an NIL playbook, however, created some unique case studies, like the Gorilla Glue promotion. In partnership with media personality Rich Eisen, Gorilla Glue plans to present a weekly award called “Toughest Player on Planet Earth.” Week 1 winner Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis was awarded a NIL contract from “The Rich Eisen Show” which paid out $ 1,000 in cash.

In the 11 weeks since the start of the NIL era on July 1, group licenses, which would not have been permitted under NCAA law, became a reality thanks to the agency’s Wesley Haynes, The Brandr Group. Brandr went from school to school establishing group licensing programs, starting with North Carolina.

Athletes also regularly use the school’s colors and markings in their marketing efforts, another no-no if NCAA rules were in effect. Without the NCAA, athletes often seek and obtain permission from the media rights holder and / or the school to wear school clothing in promotions.

A Planet Fitness notice board in Louisville contains an image of Cardinals starting quarterback Malik Cunningham in his red No.3 match jersey. Planet Fitness had a sponsorship with the school, so it was already eligible to use the marks of the Cardinals.

In Louisiana, state law allows athletes to use school grades in certain circumstances. A baseball player hosting a camp can identify themselves as an LSU player and use a photo of them in action on marketing materials.

As long as the use of the grades elevates the athlete’s mark, the school is okay with that, LSU Deputy Administrator Stephanie Rempe said. But if school grades are used to promote the facility where the camp is taking place, “that’s when we have to say no,” Rempe said. “Every deal is different and that’s how things get complicated very quickly,” she said.

As recruitment becomes more and more a motivation in these agreements, it seems that athletes hear “no” much less often.


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