While many people claim that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” bribery is the more effective method for college athletic recruitment. For decades, colleges have found ways to slip money under the table, allowing them to lure top prospects. In order to secure the most talented athletes, many colleges utilized “boosters” (mostly proud alumni) to pay recruits to play for their alma mater. It's hardly surprising that a young athlete who’s eager to start making money would be influenced by such an offer.
Although it’s technically illegal for schools to pay prospective and current athletes directly, recently passed NIL laws allow the athletes to be paid if it is done indirectly by alumni or through opportunities the school provides. This may make the recruitment of athletes through “bribery” more common, or it could actually reduce the number of athletes who choose schools purely based on the deals they are offered. Due to their ability to sign endorsements earlier in their career, high school NIL contracts may be able to prevent the influence of money on recruitment.
How Do NIL Contracts Increase Recruitment with Money?
The NCAA now gives student-athletes the opportunity to profit from their NIL (name, image, and likeness), allowing them to receive money during their college careers. While schools cannot pay their athletes directly, there are many ways that they can help them profit.
Because schools can now promise their recruits NIL-related opportunities, athletes are less inclined to choose schools with the best programs for their sport or best environment for them. Instead, they may simply choose the schools that offer them the best deals.
One of the most effective methods of recruitment will be through boosters, or “representatives of athletic interest”, as described by the NCAA. Even though NCAA policies now allow boosters to recruit players, they have clarified that these boosters and colleges can not engage in “pay-to-play” methods. However, there are loopholes in the rules that do not prevent boosters from forming organizations that provide profitable opportunities for athletes. For example, boosters for the University of Texas football team arranged the “Horns With Heart” organization. Although they struggled to fill this position in the past, their pledge to give $50,000 to offensive linemen who participated in local community service was very effective. This helped them acquire seven talented OLs, including five-star rated Devon Campbell. While some attributed it to coaching changes and others argued that he felt some loyalty to the team that had given him his first offer, Texas’ paying opportunity may have also contributed.
How Do NIL Contracts Prevent Athletes From Choosing Schools Purely Based on Money?
Recent NIL laws may cause athletes to choose schools based on the incentives they offer, but an argument can be made that in some cases it will have the opposite effect.
Many highly recruited athletes will already have NIL contracts. If students have the ability to begin earning money in high school through these contracts, they may be less susceptible to financial incentives. In addition to this, many of their contracts will be longer-term (hence more lucrative) than the opportunities provided by boosters.
Some of the very best recruits will be able to earn millions of dollars while in high school, which is already the case for Mikey Williams. Last year, Williams signed a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Puma.
Williams has mentioned that he would be interested in attending an HBCU (historically black college/university). Due to a lack of funding, HBCUs are unlikely to be able to compete financially with the strongest sports programs because they often have less funding and wealthy boosters that can help with recruitment. Despite this, Williams is still likely to go to an HBCU. Since Williams will already have made plenty of money by the time he graduates high school, he can attend a school that has the best environment for him, rather than a school where he will get paid the most.
Will Bag Money Bag Top Recruits?
Whether colleges will be able to “bag” top recruits with money will depend on the athlete. If the athlete has a NIL contract as a high school student or doesn’t care about earning money as quickly as possible, they are unlikely to be influenced. However, many may be tempted to attend the schools that show their interest with a little cash.
This may create a variety of potential issues. Many coaches have already criticized the situation as being immoral or unfair because it rewards the teams that have the most money and boosters. Therefore, wealthier schools can take advantage of being able to pay their recruits, creating an uneven playing field.
High school NIL contracts may be the solution. While the number of athletes who will be able to secure NIL contracts is slim, top athletes will often achieve some degree of financial security before finishing high school. If colleges are unable to sign the very best athletes by offering them money, they may stop attempting to use this method because it is ineffective.
Danica Zelvin is a high school student with an interest in high school NIL contracts. She can be found on LinkedIn.