IU and Purdue agree on something!
Seemingly since the inception of sports, professional athletes have been able to monetize their name, image and likeness without controversy.
But in the two years since NIL was allowed by the NCAA, coupled with the introduction of the transfer portal, all hell has broken loose.
The main reason why things are chaotic is fairly simple — because very little of the payments players are receiving right now in college sports have anything to do with their NIL.
Stop me when you’ve seen a collective gathering money from wealthy and desperate fans to pay the pro athletes of their favorite teams. No, that hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen.
Or stop me when you’ve seen a large business, operated by a fan of a pro team, pay a pro athlete with nothing of any real substance expected in return. No prudent business owner would operate in that fashion.
No, real NIL involves an unrelated third-party paying an athlete, out of their own pocket, to represent their business interests. The business is only going to pay what it believes is fair market value for all of the benefits and burdens of having the athlete represent its brand.
But what is happening at the college level right now looks more like a money laundering scheme.
How much money can we rustle up from rich boosters and fans to buy a quarterback this year? (Never mind that the quarterback has never taken a snap in your college town, and could end up as the third-stringer after fall camp with no real NIL value at all.)
This is a bidding war, after all, and the schools with rich donors who like sports win in this NCAA version of “NIL.”
Trayce Jackson-Davis did quite well financially over the last two years since NIL was permitted by the NCAA. If anyone had real NIL value at IU over the last two years it was TJD, and he cashed in — as he should. You’ll find very few reasonable people who have any real issue with that.
But Jackson-Davis doesn’t let his own good fortune cloud his judgment.
Things can and have gotten out of hand quickly. And that’s especially true in the case of recruiting players out of high school and the transfer portal.
“It’s (NIL) good for college sports, but we need to figure out a way to make sure it’s not so crazy I would say,” Jackson-Davis said this week at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “Just how players can go to teams with the highest amount of money, it takes the fun out of what college is supposed to be about.”
For his part, IU coach Mike Woodson has said publicly he wants no part of highest-bidder “NIL.”
“The NIL is there to pay players money, and if they can negotiate their money, I’m happy for them,” Woodson said last summer. “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.”
Woodson, Jackson-Davis and Purdue head coach Matt Painter encountered one notable instance of highest-bidder “NIL” on different ends of the spectrum over the last year.
Jackson-Davis’ last college game was played against Miami and its roster brought to you by LifeWallet. Did you see the national advertising campaign featuring Nijel Pack and Isaiah Wong to justify their massive six-figure deals with Life Wallet? Neither did I.
Pack’s $800k pay-for-play deal with LifeWallet on behalf of Miami pulled back the curtain on highest-bidder “NIL” when the news broke a year ago.
Left wondering what happened was Painter, who thought he was going to land Pack, an Indianapolis native, from the portal.
This year Painter is dealing with another potential NIL mega-deal.
Like Jackson-Davis, national player of the year Zach Edey has undeniably meaningful NIL value at Purdue. He’s the best known, most identifiable person in West Lafayette, and Painter says that’s the sweet-spot of NIL. That makes sense.
But when it comes to situations like what happened with Pack, or the bidding wars going on right now for transfers?
“That’s where things have gotten screwy to where guys are just lobbying between three or four different schools and just trying to run their money up,” Painter said this week on The Field of 68 podcast.
“The people with the most money are getting guys.
“I just don’t know how it’s gotten to where it is without anybody talking about some level of a cap.”
But to this point, the NCAA has not made any serious attempt to lay down a clear set of rules that in any way reins in bidding war “NIL.”
Sure, there are some supposed guardrails the NCAA has set out. You aren’t supposed to guarantee NIL money as a recruiting inducement (uh huh), and a deal isn’t supposed to tether you to a specific school (okie dokie).
But without a comprehensive set of rules with real enforcement, that stuff is being ignored by many.
Some solutions seems simple and rather obvious — take the booster money, like LifeWallet’s John Ruiz, out of the equation. The NCAA already has rules for identifying who boosters are and prohibiting their financial involvement with athletes.
And take fan money in collectives out of the equation too. That’s another component creating irregularities. It turns out other people’s money is far easier to spend. Who needs to show an ROI on an endorsement deal when you’re spending OPM? Did you ever notice how LeBron James’ NIL deals went with him from team to team? We shouldn’t be talking about a school’s NIL program. It’s the the player’s NIL, after all.
Instead, leave the NIL deals to businesses and the athletes or their agents. That’s the pro athlete model, and it works. In that same vein, perhaps let the college athletes negotiate their own shoe and apparel deals rather than the schools.
There are no doubt better answers than those. Even IU and Purdue can agree on some of them.
But the NCAA needs to do something.
Because the current model is alienating some college sports fans, who barely recognize their favorite teams from year-to-year.
And when they lose interest, it all goes away.
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