For years, it was an ongoing debate in the sports world about the issue of college athletes being paid and profiting from their likeness. Numerous high-profile TV segments on shows like “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and ESPN First Take have offered their views on the subject. High-profile coaches like Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban provided an open debate that seemed like it would never end.
There was a lot of nuance and varying degrees of opinion for college athletes being compensated. Although there was no one consensus agreement, it seemed like the main point of disagreement was the professionalization of what has been, in an official and legal sense, a volunteer activity. It’s a common adage – “student athletes. The ‘student’ comes first.”
For many, inviting the invitability of athletes as well as individual sponsors and pay scales to sports seemed to be an invitation to make college sports something it isn’t. For others, such as Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney, he was famously quoted for believing that college athletes being paid was bad for the sport, saying “there’s enough entitlement in the world as it is.”
For many in agreement of college athletes being paid, the main point of contention came from the hypocrisy of the NCAA and quotes like Dabo Swinney. Athletes shouldn’t be paid for a volunteer activity, yet colleges get the revenue for their sports off the athletes’ performances. Athletes cannot make money while playing college sports, yet coaches can make of millions of dollars in base salary and make additional income up off their own merchandise and potential independent sports camps – both of which Dabo Swinney has done.
Another argument against college athletes being paid was the existence of scholarships. The fact that they partially receive paid or fully paid schooling as a result of their play.
However, not every athlete receives a scholarship, and a lot of schools can take them away or change the amount depending on changing conditions to when the scholarships were first offered.
There’s also the pointed-out hypocrisy of the NCAA, not allowing players to even profit off their likeness but, up until a few years ago, selling jerseys of the players on their shops as well as making the NCAA Football game in which the players didn’t have names, clearly bore resemblance, and were made to emulate the real-life rosters on college football teams.
This was an ongoing debate that seemed to never end. Until it did.
On July 1, 2021, the NCAA enacted a policy change in response to new state laws, allowing players to profit off their names, image and likeness. Otherwise known as NIL.
In less than a year since the policy changed, there have been plenty of cases across the country of players entering individual deals with various companies or transferring to places where they can profit on themselves more easily.
Despite the NFL being the number one sports league in America, when it comes to their college levels of competition, football has long been the runner-up in the race compared to College Basketball. Years of lack-luster championships in the BCS era and the monotony of SEC and Clemson domination that has put a stranglehold on the College Football Playoff has long been panned. Especially when the football playoffs are compared to the unpredictability and excitement of March Madness and the NCAA College Basketball Tournament.
College Football needed a breath of fresh air, and NIL deals offer something different. NIL deals in combination with the new NCAA COVID-eligibility rules have had huge ripple effects and have encouraged players to take their careers in their own hands.
One of the biggest cases of this happening is what has happened in the University of Oklahoma’s quarterback room.
This year, Oklahoma starting quarterback and preseason Heisman front-runner Spencer Rattler was benched in favor of Caleb Williams. Spencer Rattler in the offseason transferred to the University of South Carolina. Nothing abnormal – benched players or backups transferring schools is nothing new. But then, Caleb Williams announced his entry to the transfer portal and followed former Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley to the University of Southern California.
Other notable transfers are years-long University of Auburn starting quarterback Bo Nix transferring to the University of Oregon to possibly start at quarterback for the Ducks.
The new NIL and transfer portal rules are having immediate results: players going to new schools and locations and making the most out of their image.
This has even crossed over into Vandal athletes. Former Idaho linebacker Tre Walker made his own merch last season and 2022 defensive team captain, linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae has his own clothing line.
For the first time in the history of college sports – players are marketing themselves. It is college football’s free agency and it is exactly what college football needs right now: unpredictability.
It won’t stay this way forever, the extra year of COVID eligibility for players as well as the ability to now play the season after transferring is, more than likely, a temporary measure. The NCAA said as such when they called it a one-time rule when passing it last April.
NIL deals are going to change, also. There are already reports of the NCAA meeting to discuss the rules and will, assumably, make some kinds of amendments to change how it currently stands.
In short – this unpredictability is here for a good time and not a long time. But it is the breath of fresh air that this sport needs and as more players choose to transfer and sign NIL deals, the next season or two of college football is going to be one of the more interesting ones in a long time.
Teren Kowatsch can be reached at [email protected]