By Scott Reister
DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) — A new era is here in the world of college sports.
NIL — name, image and likeness — gives college athletes the opportunity to profit off their personal brand.
“Name image and likeness was opened up with the intention that every student athlete would be given free opportunity to take their brand, their name image and likeness, and benefit from it financially, So if everybody would just do that, the world would be a better place, at least from an Athletic Director’s standpoint,” Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said.
There are countless examples of NIL deals being done in the intended fashion, such as Hawkeye basketball star Caitlin Clark’s partnership with Hy-Vee. However, some NIL deals, such as Texas running back Bijan Robinson getting a Lamborghini, sound extreme.
Some athletes hold basketball camps, some make appearances at businesses. College athletes are now getting paid for doing this, something that until now was an NCAA violation.
“I take great pride representing Ankeny Kitchen and Bath, and some of the other stuff that I do,” said Hawkeye tight end Sam LaPorta. “I make sure everything is tucked away and squared away. So, I feel comfortable with everything I put my name on.”
A rare few, such as All-American Caitlin Clark, get some big-time deals.
“NIL has just been something added on top of everything else I already had to do. I’m a full-time student. I’m full-time in basketball. So, that’s basically a full-time job right there. Partner with H &R Block, partner with Hy-Vee, have had the merch thing,” Clark said.
But in the hyper-competitive world of college athletics, outside parties called collectives began using the promise of huge NIL deals as a tool to get transfers and top high school athletes to commit to their schools.
In May, the NCAA issued a memo saying collectives were not allowed to dangle the promise of NIL deals as inducements to get players. But at the same time, collectives are allowed to raise and distribute money, and some schools simply have collectives with richer deals than others.
In essence, pay-for-play is happening.
Southeast Polk star Kadyn Proctor spoke about this very practice when being interviewed after he committed to Iowa.
“Lots of schools make that their recruiting pitch. So, that’s kind of the main point that they try to hit on,” Proctor said. “I’ve had schools say quarter-million a year, a million a year. I mean, it’s just crazy to me.”
At Big Ten Media Days, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz warned of the direction NIL is headed.
“There is a real lack of structure and framework in our sport right now. Which I think is concerning and dangerous,” Ferentz said. “I will throw this one at you. A player comes in and says I have a deal for a hundred. At this school, you know, what can you do? How do I know he’s got a deal for a hundred? Just think about that — who is advising the players? There’s just a lot of loose… a lot of gaps in there. So, it just seems like there is probably a better way to do this.”
Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard spoke about the current state of NIL with Scott Reister earlier this summer.
“When you see somebody saying they’re getting $400,000 for this or that. That’s not NIL. That’s pay for play. That’s inducement. And that’s not sustainable,” Pollard said.
While 5-star high school prospects are getting recruited with promises of giant sums of money via NIL, Pollard says he’s not worried about ISU’s ability to land the recruits they target.
“Matt Campbell’s not recruiting anybody because of the stars behind their name. Stars are made up by people. What we want are young men that are more focused on their development and getting better than worrying about what they’re going to get based of who they are today,” Pollard said.
Pollard says his teams are on all-time recruiting highs.
“Schools that have already had a great culture will be able to handle it better. And we got several really good transfers, and not one came because we did pay for play or we promised them some NIL deal, and that’s the same thing that’s going on with coach Campbell right now,” Pollard said.
Iowa State has a collective, called We Will Collective, that is not affiliated with the school. They are asking Cyclone fans for money and then matching student-athletes with nonprofit organizations.
“We’re not going to go out after the big recruits. That’s not who Iowa State is. That’s not what the coaches or the university… I don’t think that’s who we are. We just want to retain our current players, give them something. They’ve built their Name Image and Likeness. They should be compensated for that. And give a little money throughout their college career. Because if we don’t we’re going to fall to the bottom of the pack of the Big 12 Conference,” said Jason Loutsch with We Will Collective.
The Iowa Swarm Collective is similar. It is an outside entity created for football and men’s and women’s basketball. The pay is distributed equally amongst those who participate. It was formed by former Iowa golfer Brad Heinrichs.
“I want to empower these coaches to help stay competitive and win championships,” Heinrichs said at a press conference.
Iowa football players also started the Iowa City NIL Club. For $200, fans get access to videos, player meet and greets, and more.
Iowa State football players introduced their version on Aug. 2 — the Ames NIL Club. Members can donate any monthly amount to the player-led fan community.
There are countless moving parts and moving dollars and hardly any enforceable guidance from the NCAA. Especially when Iowans wonder about the actions of collectives at competing schools.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of us that are a little confused on what the rules are. And how do you operate? So, I’m not sure that’s healthy, and we just have such a good game. I’d hate to see it implode,” Ferentz said at Big Ten Media Days.
Pollard is holding onto the fact that elite players getting millions are in the vast minority. He believes it will level off.
“I can tell you this. There’s not enough money in the system to make all the payments that everyone claims they’re making. It isn’t sustainable. It is flat-out not sustainable. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in NIL and we don’t believe that the athletes are able to get incremental income off of their name, image and likeness. But if we think college athletics is going to become minor league sports, we are way off base. Because what it will become is minor league football, minor league basketball, and all the other sports will go away. So what makes anybody think that there’s enough money in this society that there can be minor league college sports. It won’t work. It hasn’t worked for the NFL,” Pollard said.
Pollard says that the NCAA has not done much to handle the situation over the past few months, in large part because of organizational leadership and antitrust laws.
“Well, they really haven’t handled it at all. In large part, because number one, we’re going through a transition of leadership. And number two, the court systems have basically said, ‘You can’t touch it.’ 95% of the rules because they would all be antitrust, and you’ll end up right back in court. So, they’ve really handcuffed our ability to make changes, and to navigate that space. So, it’s a catch-22 in a lot of ways. We know we need to make changes, yet we’re being told we can’t make changes,” Pollard said.
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