“Arms race”: NIL compensation is now a powerful recruitment weapon | Region

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson reminisces 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 the first, second, third, and fourth year? “”

Clawson isn’t necessarily talking about playing time, either. After more than a year, prospects are much more familiar with ways to cash in on their fame through endorsement deals and are keen to find out if schools can help them do so.

When the NCAA instituted a policy last summer allowing athletes to earn money using their name, image and likeness, the idea was that it would give players a chance to earn some money but would not be used as a recruiting weapon.

That’s not how it works. Pay-for-play situations or inappropriate inducements are still prohibited, but nothing prevents colleges from letting recruits know how athletes on campus are already taking advantage of NIL agreements and what support is available to them if they are interested.

For instance, The State of Ohio has a Twitter account in which he boasted this summer of having surpassed 1,000 disclosed NIL deals for his athletes. The school was among the first to publicly disclose how much its athletes earned, raising the figure to 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, who has a handful of high-profile recruits, according to the composite recruiting site rankings compiled. by 247Sports. “It’s going to be, I think, as much of a recruiting factor as anything – facilities, winning, training, all that stuff. It’s going to be there with those factors for the kids, at least for the rookies. high level.

Willie Howard, football coach and director of activities 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 every college they visited while recruiting Jaxon used the same approach to addressing NIL’s issues. Each would discuss the opportunities the athletes had received while emphasizing that nothing is guaranteed and advising recruits not to choose a school based on NUL opportunities.

“The message was always the same,” Willie Howard said. “It sometimes felt like it was a cookie cutter because it’s like, ‘We’re not going to be stuck with NCAA compliance coming after us and saying we’ve done something that we’re not. supposed to do.'”

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

“I don’t want to focus entirely on something like name and image and likeness when my end goal is to one day get a multi-million dollar contract in the NFL,” he said.

Yet On3 surveyed 85 notable 2023 recruits 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 that is where they could get the best NIL offer.

The emergence of booster-powered collectives has led to criticism that they indirectly drive recruits to a particular school, even though the NCAA issued guidelines earlier this year noting that boosters remain prohibited from recruiting or offering benefits to prospects.

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

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

The question crept into some of the coaches’ public comments, which could be seen as indirect recruiting arguments. Alabama’s Nick Saban said last month that his players had made more than $3 million in NIL trades over the past year and that SEC rival Georgian Kirby Smart has become even more precise.

“We had maybe the highest paid defensive lineman last year at NIL in Jordan Davis,” Smart said. “We had the highest paid tight end in Brock Bowers. I would say Kelee Ringo is probably one of the highest paid corners in NIL. So NIL can be a good thing, and they can learn how to manage their money at a young age.

Many coaches say they would like more oversight from the NCAA with different state laws in place across the country. Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher traded barbs over the summer over the allegation that the Aggies “bought” the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class.

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

There are ways in which schools can present their NIL cases directly to prospects – or players who have entered the transfer portal – without systematically offering them incentives.

Many have hired staff to work to maximize NIL opportunities for athletes already on campus. Some have joined groups that can advise them on what they are allowed to say to recruits on NIL-related issues.

“What we’re working on with them is what you know, how do you sell your program, what’s the philosophy of your program, and how do you fit NIL into that without just making it a dollar amount which is sometimes actually offered or what media is flagged as being offered,” said Celine Mangan, senior account manager 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 about NIL issues because prospects are sure to ask about them.

“Some kids will come into your office and that’s the first question they’ll ask,” said Boston College coach Jeff Hafley.

They don’t just ask the coaches. Upper classes answer questions related to the NIL of prospects.

“That’s probably one of the big issues, you know, like the NIL thing,” TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston said. “But the thing with rookies, they always come in and think, you know, NIL is just a given.”

Johnston says he reminds rookies that NIL deals only come after players have done the hard work on the pitch, in the classroom and in the community.

Regarding those conversations Clawson has with Wake Forest rookies, he says he keeps all NIL-related discussions within the letter and spirit of NCAA rules. But he adds that “it clearly doesn’t happen” everywhere.

“Here we go,” Clawson said. “I don’t see how it’s going to come back.”


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


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