In the 1994 basketball film Blue Chips, Western University coach Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) is recruiting a Chicago point guard named Butch McCray (Anfernee Hardaway). He meets with McCray's mother who wants a new job and a house with a yard if her son chooses Western. Bell asks her, "If your son starts off breaking the rules, what will he become?" She looks him dead in the eyes, and says, "A Millionaire."
They say that art imitates life, and this film was touching on the worst kept secret in college sports. College athletes are paid more than their scholarships to attend a particular University, and that salary is often used in the recruiting process. Even though everyone knew it was happening, the NCAA would come down like a hammer on any team that let it leak. The Michigan basketball team was stripped of banners and records after their actions from the famed Fab 5 came to light. SMU was hit with the dreaded "Death Penalty" when they were banned from having a team for a year. In 2021, the NCAA agreed to the NIL exception, and the college sports landscape will never be the same.
In The Beginning
Since it's inception in 1910, until things were somewhat set right in 2021, the NCAA was able to get rich beyond imagination using a system that former Ole Miss basketball player Kylia Carter compared to slavery or prison. Though many shuddered at the words, it's easy to see where the mother of former Duke Blue Devil, Wendall Carter Jr, was able to draw a parallel.
The NC double a**holes, as they were accurately referred to in the movie The Program, were able to rake in tens, possibly hundreds of billions of dollars over the years exploiting the athletic talents of teenagers, and giving them practically nothing of value in return. Student-athletes (how disgustingly spun is that term) were told by the University where to go, what to do, how to act at all times. Under no circumstances could you sell you sell yourself for extra cash. The university could sell your jersey, and anything bearing your likeness for infinite amounts. School administrators and head coaches would dine out a Michelin rated restaurants, arguing over who will pick up the tab, while the person really paying the bill for them couldn't afford a large pizza.
Let's not try an pretend that their tuition is a valuable asset either. It costs the college close to nothing, and they brainwash the general public into thinking it's worth tens of thousands of dollars. Think of it this way. If Brad Pitt stays at my house, and I make tens of millions of dollars selling pictures of him and tipping the press off, but he got to live with me rent free for 8 months, is that a fair trade? The NCAA is fraud. It's funny to think they now "allow" athletes to profit off their own NIL. I wonder if they allow them to breath too?
A Long Time Coming
The Supreme Court slapped the NCAA with a ruling allowing amateur athletes the ability to market their NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) for profit and retain their amateur status. On July 1, 2021 the flood gates opened and former Miami quarterback D’Eriq King became the poster boy. He signed multiple deals, making over $20,000. Very small beginnings, as several athletes have now signed six and seven figure deals, the largest so far, an unnamed 2023 five star recruit has signed a deal that can make him more than $8 million.
The impact on recruiting has been the subject of much debate. While NIL contracts may NOT have any language stating that the deal is an inducement to attend a particular University, many of these deals are given by boosters of particular schools to athletes at those schools. In many cases, the introductions to these boosters are made by the athletic department. “Welcome to Tulane young man. This is Otto, and he owns the local Chevy dealership, and wants to pay you $50,000 to be his spokesperson.”
While these may seem above board, there are many, including the recently outspoken Nick Saban, who believe that the conversation sounds more like this; “If you choose Tulane, our boosters will give you $50,000 in an NIL contract.”
Saban believes this is exactly how Jackson State landed the top recruit of 2023, cornerback Travis Hunter, who had originally committed to Florida State before flipping to play for coach Dieon Sanders. Regarding the turn of events Saban said, “They paid a guy millions of dollars, and then bragged about it.” Saban also blasted Texas A&M by stating they “bought every player on the team.”
Since Alabama has several players with NIL deals, many believe his fake outrage was just a ploy to get the Tide alumni to pony up for better recruits. No matter the reasoning, this a good thing for college sports. These kids are the ones earning the money on the field, and it’s about time they were paid. For too long, the NCAA has been stealing money from the very people working for it. If you are one of the old heads who thinks the kids should be playing for their scholarship, then you must also agree that the schools shouldn’t be allowed to be capitalist and profit off of sports. Or you're a hypocrite. Whatever the case, complain all you want because college sports will no longer be able to use free labor to turn billions in profit. Like the immortal Sam Cooke sang, “It’s been a long, long time coming….”