The NIL landscape has opened up a world of big and small endorsement opportunities that have no tangible connections to college campuses. This deal, the largest NIL one ever signed by a non-professional athlete, has placed a spotlight on the hinterland of the NIL landscape.
According to The Athletic, an unnamed five-star recruit in the Class of 2023 signed an agreement with a school’s NIL collective to pay him more than $8 million by the end of his junior year.
Mike Caspino, the lawyer who drafted the contract, shared its contents with The Athletic in exchange for keeping the collective and the athlete’s name anonymous.
Reportedly, the collective will dole out a lump sum of $350,000 to this recruit almost immediately. Then, once his college career begins, Recruit X will receive nearly $2 million at the beginning of each year of his college career. Recruit X will be responsible for making public appearances and taking part in social media promotions and other NIL activities on behalf of the collective.
Recruiting experts have whittled down the list of possible identities for Recruit X as they’re the J. Jonah Jameson’s of the college football universe. Yet, this is bigger than one recruit.
Recruit X’s contract explicitly states that “nothing in this Agreement constitutes any form of inducement for (the athlete) to enroll at any school and/or join any athletic team,” meaning there’s no requirement for the athlete to sign with the donors’ school. It’s a big gamble for a collective, but the assurance is implied.
NCAA violations still prohibit prospective athletes from receiving any type of benefit from a booster, especially one that influences an athlete to attend a particular school. However, NIL collectives have emerged as a workaround, and the old guard is also getting inexplicably nervous about them, which means the NCAA isn’t far behind.
These businesses are companies launched solely to create financial opportunities for student-athletes. Many of them are led by business tycoons who are fans or alumni of specific Division I schools. Collectives then set up subscription services for fans, including access to athletes at aforementioned exclusive autograph sessions, interviews, and personal appearances.
Blake Lawrence, the CEO of Opendorse, believes “there will be a NIL collective for every Power 5 school by the end of 2022.” We’ve already seen this trend spread around the country.
Currently, the University of Texas leads the way with four school-affiliated collectives. For example, the Clark Collective describes itself as a group that “provides assistance to University of Texas college athletes by cultivating and facilitating NIL opportunities in conjunction with businesses, donors and fans to ensure college athlete success.”
In December, the collective launched with an initial commitment of $10 million from donors, businesses, and fans for Texas NIL activities. Soon after, The Clark Collective launched a non-profit entity called Horns with Hear, which sparked a program called The Pancake Factory to extend $50,000 to Longhorns offensive linemen in 2022.
Notably, The Pancake Factory initiative was announced weeks before Signing Day as the Longhorns sought to patch up one of their weakest units. Not surprisingly, three of their top signees in the class were offensive linemen, including the nation’s No. 1 offensive lineman.
That convoluted flow of money into the pockets of recruits equates to another form of boosters legally laundering money to student-athletes. I’m not trying to rain on the parade. We should laud collectives for attempting to add a few zeros to the net worths of hardworking, marketable student-athletes as long as the terms aren’t exploitative.
But what are they really criticizing him for? Doing an end-around getting student-athletes paid? That’s the very model behind collectives, and the NCAA has undoubtedly taken notice. If LSU weren’t so fearful of the NCAA threatening them with a “lack of institutional control” accusation, Wade would probably still be coaching them in the NCAA Tournament this week.
Will Wade’s firing by LSU should be the last instance of a coach getting caught up in the NCAA infraction committee’s web. Still, contracts such as the one Recruit X signed have been a clarion call for NCAA administrators to go all Dick Wolf on their bylaws to bring law and order back.
Even today, the NCAA and its member institutions feel the urge to scratch that old itch to exercise some control element. In February, the NCAA Board of Directors asked its Division I council to review the impact of name, image, and likeness on student-athletes.
The statement they released outlined their concerns but mainly seemed focused on fear mongering and the old booster money boogeyman.
“The scope of the NIL review includes school choice, transfer opportunities, academics, and mental health. We are concerned that some activity in the name, image and likeness space may not only be violating NCAA recruiting rules, particularly those prohibiting booster involvement, but also may be impacting the student-athlete experience negatively in some ways,” said board chair Jere Morehead, president at the University of Georgia. “We want to preserve the positive aspects of the new policy while reviewing whether anything can be done to mitigate the negative ones.”
Fortunately, they’ve been slow to enact many restrictions on NIL deals. But if the NCAA starts seeing numbers creep towards eight figures, these collectives may be on the chopping block.