NIL is Ruining Collegiate Sports

Most universities are not capable of operating as professional sports organizations
It is a detriment to collegiate sports as a whole if we continue to allow the same teams to be competitive every year.
“It is a detriment to collegiate sports as a whole if we continue to allow the same teams to be competitive every year.”
Virginia Noone

Due to his stellar performance, Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman Trophy, an award annually given to the best collegiate football player. During his short time at the University of Southern California (USC), he recorded 1,740 rushing yards and 478 receiving yards and scored 18 touchdowns as a running back. He was recognized as one of the best, if not the best, collegiate players during his career and over the last 30 years. 

NFL scouts noticed his ability, and he was chosen second overall in the NFL Draft in 2006. However, things didn’t go as well for him in the NFL; although he was successful — even winning a Super Bowl — he never found stardom like he did in college. 

Bush held onto his college stardom, calling winning the Heisman “one of the greatest moments in my life.” 

Unfortunately, this is not a “feel good” story for Bush. In 2010, Bush returned the trophy after USC was discovered to have allegedly given Bush financial benefits during his time at USC. Bush lost credibility, and his reputation as a college football superstar is now tarnished as a result. Any knowledgeable sports fan is aware of his story, and whenever one hears his name in conversation, it is almost impossible not to mention his revoked Heisman Trophy. 

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NIL policy change has altered collegiate sports

16 years later, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) changed its policy regarding players profiting from themselves. Players can now receive financial incentives for their name, image and likeness (NIL). According to the NCAA, players can be paid directly for social media, autographs, lessons and camps, their businesses, advertisements and other activities. And so Bush’s story, left alone for the past 17 years, is now relevant again. 

This massive story would have gone unnoticed and uncriticized if Bush had played in today’s game. Players across the country now earn thousands of dollars doing the exact same thing he did. Hearing this news angered Bush, as he sued the NCAA in 2021. However, they maintained their ground, saying they still do not allow “pay-for-play” arrangements between team and player. 

This statement made by the NCAA is what I would like to prioritize in this article. Although the NCAA has publicly said that they do not allow “pay-for-play” incentives, it is clear that this is where NIL is headed — if it’s not already there. Different schools nationwide have jumped on the opportunity to set up NIL funds and other organizations to help incentivize players to attend their respective schools. 

These schools can now pay these players to have the rights to their name, image, and likeness. Although no rules are broken, bidding wars between schools are now commonplace due to the size and money that some of these schools have. Schools like Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Ohio State all have massive funds for deals of these sorts. Due to the sheer amount of money injected into these funds, these schools can promise to buy a certain player’s NIL for millions of dollars.

These institutions have quickly identified and utilized this new collegiate landscape. This is not how NIL should be used, as it subsequently accentuates problems for less endowed schools that do not have the booster money that these larger schools do. 

Smaller universities can no longer compete off the field

Schools utilize these funds through the transfer portal, which was established in 2018 to help players transfer from one school to another. However, this and NIL’s coexistence have made things even worse for smaller schools nationwide. 

For example, in early 2023, former Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman, announced that he was transferring and attending Notre Dame for the next season. One can only assume that NIL played a massive role in his decision. 

An On3 valuation of his NIL contract was $772,000 — a large amount of money that Wake Forest clearly wasn’t willing to pay. Wake Forest Head Coach Dave Clawson is on record saying Hartman was “rented for a season,” further emphasizing the discrepancy between large and small schools. 

But Wake Forest is not the only small school that has fallen victim to this new landscape. 

Matt Rhule, head coach of Nebraska, has also said that “a good [quarterback] costs 1 to 2 million dollars in NIL resources.” Every year now, schools nationwide lose players to larger programs that promise a better shot at professional sports and a lump sum of money. Players of the past have succeeded in college from a variety of schools. Now, due to this new environment in college sports, more players seem to be going to the same programs, furthering the gap between dominant programs of the past and smaller, less competitive schools — an ongoing problem that limits the development of smaller programs. 

In addition to smaller programs getting hurt from this new modern landscape in collegiate sports, predominantly large football programs are also losing out on superstar players. 

This month, we witnessed Ohio State (OSU) completely reshape their entire team. Top recruits such as Caleb Downs (Alabama), Julian Sayin (Alabama) and Quinshon Judkins (Ole Miss) have chosen to play Big Ten football at OSU next season instead of playing in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). This jump to the Big Ten a few years ago would have been unheard of, but due to NIL, this is simply normal. 

Navigating NIL requires a reevaluation

These funds ruin college football and allow the same teams to remain competitive while leaving other programs out to dry. Teams like Alabama and Ole Miss will find replacements for these star players because they will always have the money that other programs do not. Whereas, other less fortunate schools will have to embark on the long process of finding an undervalued player in upcoming high school graduation classes and hoping they will develop into a star. Not only does this process take time but it is not guaranteed to work, and who is to say that if it does, those players won’t just be paid by these powerhouse schools and transfer anyway? 

There is a lot to fix in this new collegiate atmosphere, and some new rules must be implemented. It is a detriment to collegiate sports as a whole if we continue to allow the same teams to be competitive every year. 

Gone are the days of seeing a new national champion every year. It’s time to fix this ongoing issue. Smaller schools deserve a chance, and it is clear that they are currently not getting it. Whether it’s limiting each school’s spending or installing a salary cap similar to the NFL, something needs to be done. Although some schools will always be good due to legacy, coaching ability and other controllable factors, the NCAA must act on this and make the collegiate landscape fair again. 

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