IU basketball head coach Mike Woodson grew up in a small house in Indianapolis, brimming with 14 family members.
He knows what it feels like to arrive on a college campus with an opportunity to provide stability and comfort for loved ones. Ultimately, he did just that.
So it should come as no surprise, Woodson fully supports the idea of college athletes monetizing their name, image and likeness.
“I’m not against players getting paid, I’ve said that numerous times,” he said at a fundraiser in Fort Wayne this week.
But Woodson has also spent most of his adult life in the NBA as a player and a coach.
And from that experience he knows the ruinous effect money can have if it is overemphasized. If a player masters his craft, the money will follow. If the money takes precedence, rarely will a career last very long.
At the professional level, NIL has been around for generations, and it isn’t the least bit controversial. Businesses find high-performing athletes through their agents, and they make deals.
At the college level things aren’t so market-based black and white.
Deals are being struck to recruit and retain players, schools and coaches are getting involved, and collectives are creating arrangements that look nothing like true arms-length, free-market contracts. It’s those aspects that have created murkiness at the college level.
Coupled with the free agency of the transfer portal and lack of a cap on the size of deals, the current college NIL environment has has led some athletes to put the financial part first.
No longer are some players simply testing the waters of the NBA, now some are doing the same with NIL.
How much can I make?
Now nearly a year into this brave new NIL world, that’s where Woodson draws the line.
“I am against the players that strictly uses the college sport just to get paid,” he said. “You know I think they’re going about it the wrong way if they do it that way.”
During his time in the NBA, Woodson operated in a world where the players and their agents struck their own deals with private businesses. There were no collectives, and no involvement by the teams or coaches. That all seems to have shaped his thinking on NIL at the college level.
Basically, you take care of your money on your time. And if you want to make more money, you better work on your game. That would seem to be the right message for a coach to deliver who wants to prepare players for the NBA. And Woodson is there.
His views align with recent NCAA guidance, which suggests that schools, collectives, boosters, etc. should not be advertising NIL deals to lure recruits or retain current players.
“The NIL is there to pay players money, and if they can negotiate their money, I’m happy for them,” Woodson said. “But you come to college to get an education and play basketball. That to me is first and foremost, and if you think any other way, I don’t want you on our ball club. You can go somewhere else and do your thing.”
The transfer portal and NIL have, in at least one way, become intertwined. Some players are using the portal to evaluate their financial opportunities elsewhere.
Of course the portal has also become the outlet for the inevitable subset of players who are for whatever reason unhappy.
“The portal changes the game in terms of how you navigate your team every season, because you’re going to have someone that’s going to be disgruntled that wants to leave,” Woodson said.
For those players, Woodson has pretty much the same message he does for those who are prioritizing NIL money over basketball and education.
Woodson acknowledged in Fort Wayne that at age 64, he doesn’t have a lot of time at Indiana to get this right.
So his message is simple.
In essence — thanks, but no thanks.
“I tell the players, ‘If you don’t want to play for us, then you leave and I’ll find me somebody that would love to play and wear that uniform,'” Woodson said.
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