Updated: Aug 7
When NIL came into effect, many people predicted there would be a plethora of “unintended consequences'' in the college athletics landscape as a result. While many agree that student athletes should’ve been allowed to profit off their name, image, and likeness long ago, there are a wide range of opinions on how NIL deals should be handled. Over the history of college athletics, we’ve seen schools like SMU, Miami, USC, and many others get busted for illicit payments to student athletes.
Even today, you would be naive to think that high profile recruits don’t receive any benefits for attending a particular school. However, with NIL, some of these previously “under the table” payments can be made more overtly to the public eye. Some businesses have even gone as far as offering every single member of the roster a NIL deal. With the proliferation of these deals around the country, student athletes are obviously interested in where they can go to secure the biggest NIL deal. Alongside NIL, another recent development in the college athletics landscape has been the Transfer Portal. Previously, all football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, and baseball players had to sit out a season if they transferred from their previous institution to another. However, this past Spring, The NCAA Board of Directors ratified a one-time transfer legislation allowing these athletes immediate eligibility. As a result, the combination of NIL and the one-time transfer rule makes life even more difficult for college coaches trying to manage their roster. One coach made that clear in a message last week.
Sometimes, people criticize coaches for mincing their words and not expressing their real feelings towards a particular subject. However, longtime TCU head coach Gary Patterson didn’t fall into that characterization in a recent “NIL Open House” hosted by TCU. In his message, he encouraged local business leaders and TCU supporters to embrace the NIL era in college athletics. Patterson implied that if his players don’t receive sufficient NIL offers, they are likely to utilize the one-time transfer rule to find a school where they could cash in on deals. “We’re going to have to be up and running for my group by the end of November,” Patterson said, “or I have a chance to lose 25, 30 guys. That’s as plain and simple as I can speak of it.”
Since July 1st, (when NIL came into effect) most coaches have skirted around questions about NIL and have stuck to talking about football, but Patterson’s honesty is refreshing because it’s the truth. At the end of the day, student athletes, just like any of us, will go where the most money is. Whether it’s a high-profile high school recruit or an established player already on a college roster, everyone will always be looking for a situation in which they’ll be better off. The fact of the matter is that if a school is unable to present their student athletes significant NIL offers, they will likely look to go somewhere that does.
This new reality in college athletics is going to make a coach’s job to manage their roster extremely difficult. Even a coach as good as Gary Patterson can be undermined by a lack of support from local businesses. These days, coaches are often lauded and judged on how they develop their players’ talent. Patterson, along with Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald are extolled for competing for conference titles with inferior talent in comparison to their peers. However, as important as development is, it’s extremely difficult to compete at the highest level consistently without an abundance of 4- and 5-star players on the roster. The ability to win relies just as much (if not more) on the ability to bring in talent than talent development and in game coaching. The correlation between annual recruiting rankings and on field success is obviously strong. A coach can have the best game plan and scheme for a particular opponent, but if the other team has better players, the game plan will often fall short.
With NIL playing a huge part in the recruiting process now, I think coaches see it as a variable outside of their control that will have a huge impact on their ability to win. Their ability to set a culture, develop players, and effectively plan for games is still definitely important, but it might not be enough in today’s landscape. If a coach doesn’t have the support of local businesses willing to offer his or her players with NIL deals comparable to their competition, their on-field success will likely be negatively impacted. Along with the other traits we associate with good coaches, developing relationships with local business leaders might be just as important in the NIL era.