“Recruits, come play for this man. Best coach in America.”
That was Indiana offensive lineman Dylan Powell, who interrupted Tom Allen’s post-game interview on ABC after a 14-6 win over Wisconsin in Madison in Dec. 2020.
While less than two years ago, that was also a simpler time in the context of college football recruiting.
One-by-one they followed Powell as Allen tried to answer questions in the end zone, and his team ran behind him towards the locker room.
“Best coach in the nation,” said running back Stevie Scott. “Best coach in America,” said safety Jamar Johnson.
A month later those sentiments would be validated, when Allen won the AFCA national coach of the year award.
Would anyone say those words today?
They kept coming, with Allen’s Love Each Other mantra on full display in front of a national television audience.
“Love you coach,” defensive end Michael Ziemba said.
“I love this man,” safety Bryant Fitzgerald said.
Standing on the field that day in Madison, Allen was completing one of the best two-year runs in program history, as the Hoosiers went 14-7 and reached back-to-back January bowl games.
In a chaos filled 2020 season defined by the pandemic, culture reigned supreme, and no one had a better culture than Indiana. And that on field interview was seemingly one of the best recruiting tools anyone could have imagined.
But six months later, the NCAA began allowing college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness.
And suddenly LEO didn’t cut it in the brave new world of NIL.
In the two seasons since, Indiana has gone just 5-17, and each year Allen has seemed to lose his team along the way. That great culture seemingly no longer resonates.
He landed one of the program’s best ever recruiting classes in 2022, but many of those players had committed before anyone truly had their arms around just how significant NIL would be. Now in the class 2023, IU has just nine verbal commits with national signing day only a month away. Their class ranks last in the Big Ten according to the recruiting outlets.
The joy of Madison now long gone, things look very bleak in Bloomington.
And while NIL isn’t the entire story, it’s certainly part of a sea change in college football that has left Indiana behind financially.
On his radio show on Wednesday evening, Allen spelled it all out in a rather surprising and animated segment. Here were some of his eye-catching statements.
On how NIL has changed recruiting
“It’s (NIL) now the way the game (of recruiting) is played,” Allen said. “Both getting them to your school, and retaining them. And if you’re not in the (NIL) game, and you’re not on the train, you’re going to get left out and run over. It’s a variable in the recruiting process, and if you’re not a part of that variable, then you’re out of the loop on those guys. You won’t get them.
“And we already started seeing that with this last class. We’ve not brought anybody here with that premise (of getting NIL deals), but that has to change in the future. Now, when you talk to recruits, it’s ‘what are my opportunities in that area (NIL)?’ And if you don’t have those opportunities, then okay, ‘I’m not going to Indiana, I’m going to the next place.'”
On the competitive landscape in the Big Ten
“When the season started we had eight players who were getting about $150,000, and that was it,” Allen said.
“(Ohio State coach) Ryan Day was very clear at Big Ten media day before the season that he needed $13 million to keep his team in tact. That got a lot of attention, but that’s the reality for them and where they want to be. And (Michigan) coach Harbaugh said ‘hey we think we can do better than that,’ and (Penn State) coach Franklin said ‘we better be at least right there because that’s what these guys are doing.’ And everybody else is like ‘man I’d love to have half that.’
“We’re playing against teams with a really big budget right now. I mean $13 million is a lot, and we’re like one percent of that. You talk about certain positions, and Coach Day talked about it takes $2 million to get an elite quarterback, and a million dollars to get an elite tackle and an elite pass rusher. You know what? That’s proven to be true as this thing has played itself out. We’re not even close to that, not even in the conversation of that right now.”
The realities on the ground
“I want guys that still fit with us,” Allen said. “I want guys that have high character, and they’ve got the values that we value, and they want the things we want, and they care about their education, and they’ll play their tails off — but now, you have to have all that and have an opportunity for them to maximize their NIL opportunities when they come to college, because that’s what’s going on everywhere else.
“It’s not everything, but it’s a variable, and if you don’t have that variable, I’m telling you, they can love you as much as they want, they can think you’re the most awesome person, they can love your culture, and they say “Coach, it’s been great to meet you, I’m going to go somewhere else and get my money.’
“I struggle with that because I know why I do this, but I also know how the game is being played right now.”
The radio show conversation came up as a result of a $1 million donation tied to NIL that was announced this week. You can read more about that here.
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