Service Academy Recruiting Prepares to Take an NIL Hit
(Photo Credit: FanDuel)
In comparison to their Division I (D-1) counterparts, service academy football programs face a unique myriad of additional recruiting hurdles. For example, service academy commits not only sign on to play D-1 football for four years, but also to at least another five subsequent years of military service after graduation. This obligation precludes the overwhelming majority of NFL prospects from being draft eligible; short of those who receive the Secretary of Defense's express permission. Other than for the rarest of circumstances, academy athletes are not permitted to redshirt, starting their eligibility clock day one. Last but certainly not least, in addition to the demanding life of a D-1 athlete, they’re faced with a grueling academic and military schedule. These non-negotiables are viable elements of concern to particularly talented high school recruits who believe a shot at the NFL is in their future. While taking this into account appears to be a statistically misguided mistake for most recruits, the limitation is still plausibly on the minds of many when signing day comes.
Recent NCAA rule changes allowing collegiate athletes to sell rights to their names, image and likeness (NIL) will act as yet another barrier to service academies’ recruiting. Under federal law (5 C.F.R. § 2635.702 ) “An employee may not use his public office for his own private gain or for that of persons or organizations with which he is associated personally. An employee's position or title should not be used to coerce; to endorse any product, service or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental sanction.” One would presuppose the athletes will be even less inclined to the idea of playing at these programs knowing the opportunity for NIL compensation is definitively off the board.
The lack of opportunity for NIL compensation is amplified by the key role social media plays in recruiting. It remains to be seen how many D-1 football athletes will take home considerable coin in exchange for their NIL, but if the instant notoriety of Barstool's Dave Portnoy’s press conference and Hercy Miller's widely publicized deal are any indication of how widespread these contracts will be, it is safe to assume the belief of an opportunity to be significantly compensated will play a role in the recruiting process.
Ken Niumatalolo, Jeff Monken and Troy Calhoun, head coaches of Naval, Military and Air Force Academies respectively, will inevitably face more of an uphill battle convincing recruits to sign. Let’s illustrate the new thought process coaches will be up against through a quick thought experiment-- while controlling for those who have NFL aspirations and presumably wouldn’t choose a service academy regardless of NIL. I’m a three star high school recruit. For the sake of the experiment (and to control for the aforementioned restraints), I’m a rational kid who has no dreams of Roger Goodell calling my name from his creepy leather chair in April. I’ve been offered a full ride at comparable American Athletic Conference football programs- the Naval Academy and Memphis. Faced with an opportunity to earn an endorsement deal at Memphis and no such opportunity at Navy, what’s an average high schooler going to choose? Think back to yourself as an 18 year old and be honest about what sounds more appealing: 'Plebe Year' with no NIL or a BBQ with Lamborghinis and the chance for an NIL endorsement?
Service academy sports, particularly football, play a highly visible role in the Department of Defense’s recruiting efforts. The Army/Navy Game has 7-8 million plus viewers each year. If NIL significantly dilutes the talent pool of incoming recruits and quality of play leading to a decrease in viewership, at what point would legislatures or the President step in to consider making an exception to 5 C.F.R. § 2635.702 ?
You can find Rob Williams on Twitter @RobWilliams804