Growing up as a kid who's only true passion was sports, I tried to find every way possible to incorporate them into my daily life, especially in school.
Whether it was essays, speeches, debates, or presentations any chance I had to incorporate sports into my work I took. The one issue that came about in doing this was finding topics within the sports world controversial enough to apply to public school curriculum. Enter the payment of college athletes. Controversial and in the news enough to get approved by a teacher, and interesting enough to produce material for a good grade. I dedicated no less than 12 assignments to the topic, from the time I was in 5th grade writing about Reggie Bush to my Sophomore Year at Ohio State talking about Chase Young, and every assignment followed the same theme: College Players should be able to profit off their name image and likeness but not be paid by the school as if they were employees. I always thought this was a damn near flawless strategy to allow kids to make the money they deserved without completely ruining the integrity and amateurism of college athletics. Boy was I wrong.
Starting in the 2021 season the NCAA brought my years of assignments to life and granted college athletes the ability to profit off their Name Image and Likeness. It, along with the transfer portal which is another topic onto itself, has completely flipped college athletics on its head. When writing the papers and preparing the presentations as a student, I always imagined NIL looking something like an adidas cleat that would don the name "Johnny Football" or the #15 scarlet kits in the Ohio State bookstore finally including a stitched "Elliott" across the back. I was not completely wrong, as major sponsorship deals and the expansion of memorabilia, with which the players can profit, has become a piece of NIL. However, what accompanied it I could have never imagined.
The creation of "collectives", essentially a way for boosters of universities to directly pay players in return for them committing to their schools, is the monkey wrench in this entire ordeal that the NCAA, and many of it's fans, were not prepared for. Just recently, we saw Quarterback, and then Florida commit, Jaden Rashada agree to an over $13M NIL deal with the Gators collective only to de-commit soon there after because he was not being paid these said millions.
These "collectives" paying players millions is now becoming the norm in the college football, and at times basketball, recruiting cycles. The issue is, once you get past the point of signing the player, you need to actually pay them. Not only that, you must continue to pay them even if they become complete busts and slide down the depth chart. That is where a situation like Rashada's goes awry. Much of this "13 Million Dollars" is banking on empty promises from boosters who, in the past, have only ever committed at most 7 figures to an athletic department or university over the course of many years. Now they must send cash both upfront and monthly to kids who in many cases are not even old enough to vote. That is when these "promised millions" begin to disappear. These boosters did not become wealthy by making poor investments, and dedicating millions to an athlete, one who has never played a game past high school, with no fiscal or brick and mortar ROI is exactly that, a poor investment. This is why you hear so many whispers of players not receiving their promised money even after playing, such as USC transfer wideout Jordan Addison who supposedly never got the full $3M he was promised in exchange for moving cross country from Pittsburgh to LA.
It does not stop there, as many of these contracts are officiated by "agents" who themselves are still using fake ID's to get into the pub on Thirsty Thursday. Rashada, for example, was represented by a Sophomore at SMU throughout his negotiation process with the Gators collective. Entrusting the inter workings of an 8 figure contract to an adolescent who still has a minimum of 5 years of schooling before he can even begin to practice law in the state of his choice is reason enough to believe these contracts are not worth the paper they are printed on.
The NCAA must do something to address these collectives and the empty promises they are selling kids on in order to lock in their signatures. The initial point of NIL was to afford college athletes the opportunity to enter into mutually beneficial agreements with companies where the player could leverage their popularity to help said company and be compensated for doing so.
However, now that the toothpaste is out of the proverbially tube with NIL it may be hard to put it back in. Rules must be implemented, but which ones and how? Should companies need to be publicly traded and have a minimum trailing twelve months revenue in order to engage in NIL negotiations with a college athlete? I think that would definitely be a good start.
The bottom line is the NCAA found a way to further complicate an already broken system, and it is now leading them away from the amateurism they so crave. Unless they realize this and make the necessary adjustments, we may be looking at the new reality in college athletics, and not one that makes it a better place.