‘Arms race’: NIL compensation now a potent recruiting weapon

Pay-for-play situations are still prohibited, but nothing prevents colleges from letting recruits know how on-campus athletes are already benefiting from NIL.

ATLANTA — Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is reminiscing about the old days of college recruiting.

“You used to talk about graduation rates and majors,” Clawson said. “Now the first question is, ‘What do you guarantee me in years one, two, three and four?'”

Clawson doesn’t necessarily talk about playing time, either. After more than a year, prospects are far more familiar with ways to capitalize on their fame through endorsement deals, and are looking hard to see if schools can help them.

When the NCAA introduced a policy last summer allowing athletes to make money from using their name, image, and likeness, the notion was that this would give players an opportunity to make a little money, however would not be used as a recruitment weapon.

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That’s not how it works. Pay-for-play situations or improper incentives are still prohibited, but nothing prevents colleges from letting recruits know how on-campus athletes are already benefiting from NIL deals and how much support is available to them when they are interested.

For example, The State of Ohio has a Twitter account in which it boasted this summer of having surpassed 1,000 disclosed NIL deals for its athletes. The school was one of the first to publicly announce how much its athletes earned, putting the figure at nearly $3 million just six months into the NIL era.

“It’s basically becoming an arms race,” said Andy Stefanelli, the football coach at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Maryland, which has a handful of top recruits, according to a ranking of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports. “I think it’s going to be as important in recruiting as anything else — facilities, winning, coaching, all that. It’s going to be right up there with those factors for kids, at least for the senior recruits.”

Willie Howard, football coach and activities manager at Cooper High in New Hope, Minnesota, is a former defensive end for the Stanford and Minnesota Vikings. His son, defensive end Jaxon Howard, is a Top 100 prospect who has verbally committed to LSU.

The Howards say that every college they attended during Jaxon’s enlistment took the same approach to addressing NIL issues. Each discussed the opportunities athletes had been given while noting that nothing is guaranteed and recommending that recruits should not select a school based on NIL opportunities.

“The message was always the same,” Willie Howard said. “Sometimes it felt like a cookie cutter because it was like, ‘We’re not going to get stuck with NCAA compliance coming after us and saying we did something we shouldn’t do.’ “

Jaxon Howard recently hired an agent as the state of Minnesota allows high school athletes to explore NIL opportunities. But he added that NIL was not a factor in his college choice.

“I don’t want to put all my focus on something like name, image and likeness when my ultimate goal is to one day land a multimillion dollar deal in the NFL,” he said.

Still, On3 surveyed 85 notable recruits in 2023 and found that 30% of them would be willing to attend a school that is not ideal from a footballing or academic point of view if they could get the best NIL deal there.

Stefanelli says he hears complaints from college coaches who attend his school.

“Honestly, some of them were like, ‘Yeah, we’re losing recruits because X, Y, or Z school is throwing a bunch of money at them,'” Stefanelli said.

The problem has crept into some of the coaches’ public comments, which could be seen as indirect recruitment talks. Alabama’s Nick Saban said last month that his players made more than $3 million in NIL deals over the past year, and his SEC rival, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, got even more specific.

“We had maybe the highest-paid defenseman at NIL last year in Jordan Davis,” Smart said. “We had the highest-paid tight end in Brock Bowers. I would argue Kelee Ringo is probably one of the highest paid corners in NIL. So NIL can be a good thing and they can learn money management from a young age.”

Many coaches say they would like more NCAA oversight because of different state laws across the country. Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher traded barbs over the summer over claims that the Aggies “bought” the nation’s highest-ranking recruiting class.

“Change is inevitable,” Fisher said. “Those are the rules we have to play by, so we all have to adapt and adapt.”

There are ways that schools can target their NIL cases directly to potential clients – or players who have entered the transfer portal – without offering them full incentives.

Many have hired staff to work on maximizing NIL opportunities for athletes already on campus. Some have partnered with groups who can advise them on what to say to recruits on NIL-related matters.

“We work with them on what you know, how to sell your program, what the philosophy of your program is, and how to incorporate NIL into it without it being just a dollar amount that is sometimes actually being offered or what is going to the media reports that it is being offered,” said Celine Mangan, senior account executive at Altius, whose client list of about 30 schools includes Georgia, LSU and Texas, among others.

Schools need to have a good idea of ​​what to say on NIL issues as prospects will certainly ask for it.

“Some kids will walk into your office and ask their first question,” said Boston College coach Jeff Hafley.

They don’t just ask the coaches. High school students ask NIL-related questions from prospects.

“That’s probably one of the most important questions, you know, like the NIL deal thing,” said TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston. “But the thing about recruits, they always come in and they think NIL is just a given.”

Johnston says he reminds recruits that NIL deals only happen after players have done the work on the field, in the classroom and in the community.

As for the conversations Clawson has with Wake Forest recruits, he says he holds all NIL-related discussions in both the letter and the spirit of NCAA rules. But he adds that “obviously that doesn’t happen everywhere”.

“It’s gone,” Clawson said. “I don’t see any possibility of that coming back.”

AP sportswriters Aaron Beard, Stephen Hawkins and Michael Marot contributed to this report.

https://www.king5.com/article/sports/arms-race-nil-compensation-now-a-potent-recruiting-weapon/535-9408ce88-8660-4816-a430-51e67258304e ‘Arms race’: NIL compensation now a potent recruiting weapon

Emma Bowman

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