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Current NIL chaos a clear sign that college athletics still has a long way to go and needs to get there fast

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Villanova and Kansas tip off their college basketball game during the semifinal round of the Men's Final Four NCAA tournament, Saturday, April 2, 2022, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Villanova and Kansas tip off their college basketball game during the semifinal round of the Men's Final Four NCAA tournament, Saturday, April 2, 2022, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

After years of people lining up to fight for college athletes to get a piece of the pie, talented players in all sports across the entire country are finally getting paid.

Chalk that up on the good side of the ledger.

There is a bad side, though, and it appears to be tied directly to the fact that, while paying athletes seems to be a good thing, doing so in an unregulated environment has led to significant chaos and confusion.

This is not about whether these athletes should be paid. You know that argument. For decades, college athletes have made millions of dollars for their universities — and billions for the NCAA — without getting so much as a single cent for their efforts.

I know that a free education is nothing to scoff at, but we’re so far past that point today.

Now, we’re staring down a situation where athletes are actually getting what they deserve and yet people on both sides of the coin are struggling to decipher how that should look, how much is too much and how to monitor and manage the whole situation.

Yikes. It can’t be this hard.

And it can’t include retroactive rulings and real time enforcement that changes with the wind.

If it does, that may be the strongest case yet for a new leadership model in college athletics.

I’ve been a fan of name, image and likeness compensation from the beginning. Nothing wrong with a college athlete attaching his or her name or smile to a brand and having that company kick them a little cash to say thanks. Win-win.

What I’m not a fan of is NIL deals that read like professional contracts. The first such situation that gave me pause in my support of NIL deals came when former K-State guard Nijel Pack agreed to a two-year deal for a whopping $800,000 — and a car! — when announcing his move to Miami.

What?

This is Nijel Pack we’re talking about. Solid player. Bordering on great. But is he a star?

If a guy like that can command that kind of deal, imagine what the Zion Williamsons and Andrew Wiggins of the world would have been worth in the past or will be worth in the future.

Not long after Pack’s deal was announced, reports surfaced that Miami guard Isaiah Wong was considering entering the transfer portal if his NIL deal wasn’t sweetened. Ugh.

I get it. Free market. Get what you deserve. Take as much as they’ll pay you. I’m all for that in theory. But if we’re going to continue to call this amateur sports, and if these competitors are going to continue to be called student-athletes, then there has to be a trade-off.

For me, the solution is simple. You cap it.

Regardless of sport — or maybe even by sport, given that basketball and football tend to bring in way more money than the rest of them — student-athletes are only allowed to make so much money in any given school year.

Put the cap up there pretty high so these guys and gals can cash in on the business owners and investors willing to shell out big bucks. But don’t make it so ridiculous that it encourages a haves-versus-have-nots situation any more than we already have.

Let’s say $100,000 per year. That’s nearly a half a million dollars over a college athlete’s four-year career and that, on an annual basis, is far better than most college graduates would make in their first year in the work force.

I understand that there are people out there who don’t like this idea. I even get that lawsuits could come into play in defense of these athletes. But both of those camps could be placated if the rules are strong and clear.

Again, it’s all about the trade-off. If you want to play as a college athlete and play college athletics, your earning potential is capped.

But what about the coaches who sign crazy contracts and make all kinds of money? They’re professionals. If you want the freedom to earn an unlimited amount of money, turn professional. And good luck with that.

I’m fine with the Lamborghinis and Ferraris. I’m fine with college athletes raking in large sums of cash for true NIL deals. I’m fine with sponsorships, endorsements, merchandise and athlete representation.

I’m not fine with pay-for-play contracts being executed under the NIL umbrella and leaders from the SEC and Pac-12 visiting Washington D.C. to ask for the federal government’s help in getting control of this thing 10 months after it all changed forever last July.

I don’t think anyone who loves college athletics should be either.

Kansas coach Bill Self recently said it up best when he told a Houston television station, "It's out of control right now."

The question is can anyone get it under control again? Time will tell. But it might be a long time before we get that answer.

Comments

Brett McCabe 2 weeks, 4 days ago

The answer is simple: self control. The execution is the hard part. Let people make as much money as they want, any way they want, as long as it is healthy.

But if you are a collegiate program, try standing for something. For a change. Bill, as usual, needs to shut up. Mr. Wiggins, Embiid, Oubre and Jackson are all I need to know about Dollar Bill. Bill has no standing to talk about anything. He's just a major part of the problem.

Start acting like you are a university again, and the solutions will be simple. Or don't. And whine, whine, whine.

Brian Skelly 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Poppycock.

The Pack deal is insane, and my guess won't be worth it unless Miami has another deep run in them for the tournament -- which it might.

I couldn't disagree more about a cap. We're currently in the "wild west" time of all this, but what people don't understand -- or should more than they do considering what Adidas was clearly shuffling to KU players -- is that now this simply out in the open.

The reality is that it's NOT equal and won't be -- and never really has been. I don't get how people are chortling about this.

The NCAA will have little to no say in this. Legally, it'll be tough to claim any sorta restrictions on this. And after the Supremes ruled against them 9-0, I really, really, really don't see where they're going to get the upper hand in this.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Self-control

In the mid-20th century, when Rockefeller was one of the richest half dozen people in the world, a reporter asked him how much money it takes to satisfy?

The answer was profound. Just a little more.

Pandora’s box is open for business! Come on down.

I wonder how much Ochai, CB, and others are paying/paid for them for the special training to prep for the combine? Coaches, trainers, facilities, …

Matt Gauntt 2 weeks, 3 days ago

The difference is boosters are doing now legally what was illegal a couple years ago. Specifically in the Miami deals, billionaire John Ruiz is loudly and proudly offering deals to athletes that are coming to Miami. He has hundreds under NIL contracts. D-2 schools and mid-majors will now be farm teams for Power Five schools. Would Stephen Curry have stayed at Davidson with an NIL deal available? Just one example. I doubt the courts will allow any kind of control on this. The mayhem will continue until colleges will essentially be banner waivers for their semi-professional teams that wear their logos.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Some P5 schools are now farm teams for other P5 schools.

NIL makes being in college easier but the goal is still to play in the majors. It was the goal and reason athletes did crazy things to their bodies for decades even before $ got so outrageous.

Bryce Landon 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Come on, Brett, really? Coach Self just brought a national championship to KU, and you're still dogging him? Piss off, and take your leftist politics with you.

I'd reply to you directly, but the damn REPLY button is STILL NOT WORKING! What gives, LJW?

Clarence Glasse 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Per Bryce: "... REPLY button is STILL NOT WORKING! What gives, LJW?"

That sentiment should be directed at LJW from all of us. We should all copy it and paste it in every comment we post. Maybe then they'll understand that it needs to be fixed, or else tell us why it won't be fixed.

David Robinett 2 weeks, 2 days ago

It will bring a few more wins to schools like Miami but will not translate into championships. Just like the Los Angeles Lakers this year. More ego, less teamwork.

Matt Tait 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Hey Clarence -

It's not a matter of us understanding it, it's a matter of getting it fixed. I have checked in with our tech people multiple times per week for the past few weeks and they keep telling me they're working on it.

These are not people located in the building but rather employees of our content management system. They've always been good about turning these things around quickly in the past and I'm not sure why this one is taking so long or has been so difficult.

But they are working on it and I assure you that we want the reply function back just as badly as you all do.

Thanks for bearing with us. Checking again today. Hopefully it's fixed soon. - Matt

Gavin Fritton 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Conceptually, I understand the complaints about NIL deals being out of control and "the wild west." Those things all make sense. What I don't think that folks who propose things like a cap realize (and I know that they're making those suggestions in good faith and with the best of intentions) is that putting a cap on what a player can make is anti-competitive. Will this lead to a haves versus have nots situation? Almost certainly. And while that stinks, that might just be the price we have to pay. No one (or at least no one who matters) is suggesting that coaches or athletic directors should have to have a cap on their salary. Coaches leave jobs for more money all the time. Why not limit the amount of money they can make?

Matt, I absolutely think you're making this suggestion in good faith, but what would you do if, say, the New York Times offered you a job and they offered to quadruple your salary? Would you take it? Would you argue that they're offering you too much money and agree to move, but also insist that they only treble your current salary? Of course you wouldn't. And no one would blame you. It's possible you might not even take the job and it's just as possible that you'd pass on that job because you don't want to move, you love what you're doing, etc. And, again, no one would blame you for that either. What if the Times offered you ten times your current salary? Would you somehow be responsible for the spiraling cost of wages driving a wedge between the sports desks of large national papers (the haves) and those of smaller local papers (the have nots)? Of course you wouldn't. So why is the answer here to make the players responsible for the spiraling costs of NIL deals when the people spending the money are the real drivers?

Here's an answer no one wants to hear: allow the players to unionize. If the players can form a union, then they can collectively bargain for caps/limits on NIL deals and make compromises on things like four-year scholarships and union representation when a coach wants to take a player's scholarship because the player had an injury. I don't think anyone is really ready to have that conversation, but I think it's an idea worth considering.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks, 2 days ago

The “reply problem” is a lot like the entitlement of some KU BB fans. We deserve perfection. Matt - your efforts are appreciated by some and also similar to Coach Self agreeing that we should have more championships. Reply is not even a feature on the mobile version and yet it still works.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go yell at the neighbor kids to get off my grass.

Rodney Crain 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Children children please calm yourselves [thats rich, pun intended, coming from me lol].

Matt two things, first I would love your take on what the NCAA sent out late today on defining what a booster is regarding NIL. It looks like the business model for our two alums who handle NIL for us, might need to be reworked. Second, Your request on the reply button is way down their list on their to do list. You need to rephrase your request to them. You are not asking for something new, you are asking about restoring what you have always had, as far a fucntionality. Add how long it has been down and end with if it is something that is going to take more time, ask them for how long, and why. You just want to give a heads up to your loyal fan base. Be aware that when you went down their was a major server update when that happened. A lot of online sites blinked, or went down for hours, etc... Finally, you cc the next level up there, the boss. That last part will get at least an update if not a quick fix in less than 1 business day.

Dirk we are so alike it is scary. Entitlement, coming from you is hilarious. I love it when you try to act better than everyone else, it just cracks me up. The minor difference between us is at least I know that I do it. I get the feeling you have no clue.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Bizarro world scary. Like where losses are celebrated and negativity is just reality. Not sure about better. I don’t think I have any awards in the garage, but thanks for projecting that vote of confidence.

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