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The NIL and College Football's Future

Have we opened a Pandora’s box?

When asked, the casual fan has no issue at all with the name and image likeness (NIL) deals that college athletes are allowed to make now. Many feel that being prevented from personally profiting off of one’s own name or work product is simply unfair. After all, such business does not suddenly transition a player from an amateur to a “professional” athlete. The kid isn’t being paid to play by a professional team. They’ve made a deal outside the scope of the relationship with their school-based entirely upon their own unique ability or talent. “That’s called free enterprise and it’s a good thing!”, they say. “Good for them.” Is the typical barbershop refrain.

The inevitable "but" that follows is… "should they still receive a free education?"

While speaking recently at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention Nick Saban observed that Alabama QB Bryce Young has inked deals worth seven figures.

"Our QB has already approached ungodly numbers, and he hasn't even played yet. If I told you what it is… it's almost 7-figures."

Chris Hummer
247 Sports

Do not think for a moment that Saban mentioned this casually. He is well aware that recruits are hearing what he’s preaching. ‘If you come to Alabama, you can get a deal like this too’ is the unspoken implication. Stanford head coach David Shaw would seem to agree. During the PAC-12 media day he said:

"My gut reaction is on multiple levels. First of all, Nick Saban is smarter than any 10 of us in this room combined. There's no way that was a throw-in. It's obvious to me that Nick wanted to plant that and make sure people knew that. It's a great way to recruit people to come to you, which the guy hasn't started a college football game and he's already signed a whole bunch of deals to make money."

The national attention that Alabama affords college football players is no longer valuable merely for the potential impact on NFL draft positioning. The NIL decision, paired with Alabama’s brand means a player could become a millionaire several times over before he even graduates. Or without graduating. Or even if they never play a snap of professional football.

The NFL is no longer the only way to cash in on athletic talent. And that’s a good thing considering that only 1.6% of college players make it to the big leagues.

"Those that made the cut for college football then stood just a 1.6 percent chance of going from the NCAA to a major pro – highlighted by the fact that of around 16,380 players eligible for the draft, from 73,712 college ballers, only 254 were likely to be picked."

"While, according to other sources such as the NFL Players Association, some rate the odds of ultimate success as even smaller – and even as little as a 0.2 percent shot for any player to make it all the way to the NFL."

Aaron Shields

So, add yet another arrow to Alabama’s already substantial recruiting quiver. A very, very big arrow. Undeniably, playing for Alabama will create more of an opportunity for a lucrative deal than say, Alabama State or even Auburn. Again, David Shaw recognized this by saying, "I don't believe that is true market value. I think that's Alabama value."

Of course, opportunities will change as fortunes change on the field. Tennessee is not the brand it was in the ’90s nor is Alabama the brand it was in the ’90s or even the 2000s. But for now, thanks to the enormous success of Bama’s run under Nick Saban, Bryce Young is a millionaire college football quarterback.

"Good for him," some say. While yet others are saying, "he can now obviously PAY for his college education…and he should."

Clearly, Young would not have this financial opportunity if not for the exposure and access that he has benefited from by virtue of the Alabama football program. And he is benefiting from something that costs the average student $40K or more to attain.

"For the students who were admitted in Fall 2021, the estimated tuition for 4 years is $48,618 for Alabama residents and $132,017 for out-of-state students."

via College Tuition Compare Website

Ironically, as the opportunities increase now for athletes, those same opportunities come on the back of cost increases for the average student at the University of Alabama.

"The 2021 undergraduate tuition has been risen by 7.79% for Alabama residents and increased by 2.78% for out-of-state rates from the previous year. The Living costs increased by 1.06% from the previous year for both on-campus and off-campus stay."

via College Tuition Compare Website

Thus, the average student is paying for a program that fellow student Bryce Young (and potentially any student-athlete) has leveraged into a million-dollar payday with zero financial investment on his own part. Young will owe none of the tuition, dorm, books, or activity fees that Joe Student will likely need loans to pay for.

That doesn’t quite pass the smell test for many parents sending kids off to college this fall.

The fact is, and some predict this will happen at some point, schools may have a legitimate argument that they deserve a percentage of what the student-athlete makes from these deals as the athlete has utilized the schools own name and image as well as resources in order to make their deal. As schools realize how much these athletes are making, rest assured, they will want a piece of the pie. Money draws attention like a carcass draws flies.

The tangled spider’s web of issues such as who is entitled to what or whether schools should be allowed to require athletes to fulfill a four-year commitment now that they have a financial windfall is going to be discussed. Ironically, schools may seek compensation from athletes for use of the school’s NIL. That would be an ironic role reversal that few predicted but should have. Make no mistake, the NIL decision has opened a Rose Bowl-sized Pandora’s box that will likely join the long historical list of those “be careful what you wish for” moments in time.

In addition to figuring out how to defend the RPO or control the clock, add “future earnings potential” and “copyright royalties” to a young athlete’s future required skill set. A kid will need a lawyer to sign a scholarship. For better or worse College football has just become as much of a business transaction between the school and student-athlete as it is between a free agent negotiating a contract with an NFL franchise.

Without praising or criticizing this phenomenon the casual observer can gaze with the curious awe that one feels when standing on the crater rim of an active volcano. There is the awe, alongside no small amount of terror when considering the potential power and devastation just below you. Yet, even devastating eruptions have the power to transform beyond the destruction they cause. Kilauea has made parts of the big island (Hawaii) uninhabitable, yet it is also growing the island inch by inch. So, if college sports can endure the inevitable carnage the eruption of the NIL era will bring, in time it could grow into something better. If not, it may become something similar to Pompeii…a disaster preserved in time to be studied and marveled at by a distant future.

The only certain thing arising from the NIL decision is that college football fans are witnessing the beginning of a change to college sports whose impact, for better or worse, will alter the landscape forever.


About the author

Tim Killen

Tim is a Quality Management professional and father of two boys living in Tuscaloosa, AL. As a graduate of the University of Alabama and veteran of the US Marines, Tim has a passion for college sports and the military that he shares with his teenage sons.

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