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Mac Engel: One year later NIL has not crippled NCAA football, because nothing will

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In this photo from November 13, 2021, Bijan Robinson of the Texas Longhorns reacts after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter against the Kansas Jayhawks at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.

In this photo from November 13, 2021, Bijan Robinson (5) of the Texas Longhorns reacts after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter against the Kansas Jayhawks at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. (Tim Warner/Getty Images/TNS)

ARLINGTON, Texas — The three-letter monster that the NCAA and its fleet of lawyers predicted would be the demise of college athletics has changed amateur sports, not ended it.

NIL (name imagine likeness) celebrated its one-year anniversary this month, and you will note that, ultimately, not much has changed when it comes to watching college football, basketball or any other collegiate sport.

From Kansas and North Carolina in men’s basketball to Georgia and Alabama in football, the names at the top remain the same names at the top.

The NCAA transfer portal, which “opened” in October of 2018, is still doing a brisk business.

Head coaches are paid like they just joined the LIV Golf tour.

The major difference now in an NIL world is a bunch of kids are paid some of that money over the table rather than under. Direct compensation to student athletes is now an open part of the recruiting process.

The NCAA and NIL

The rules are still vague, and enforcement looks nearly impossible as the parameters of the NIL world are still being set.

“NIL is a long ways from being settled and governed because there is nobody that is in charge of NIL right now,” Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy said last week at Big 12 media days in Arlington. “My opinion is in a couple of years it will settle, where it will go I have no idea. It’s running a little out of control right now.”

The intent of NIL was that a player could make some money based on their name, image and likeness on a product endorsement; that they could use their social media accounts to make some money on the side.

What has happened is schools are using the “NIL” tag to collectively gather money to entice players to attend that university for nothing in return. It is being used as a recruiting tool, which was never the intent.

“Once they get it out of the recruiting aspect, it will return to what name, image, likeness should be,” Gundy said.

The hope among college athletics administrators and coaches is that a rule book with a prayer of semi-enforceable parameters will come, perhaps in the form of a “salary cap.”

“I do think that will come, more likely from the NCAA rather than state or federal governments; they’ve made that clear they are not interested in doing anything,” said Brent Cunningham, who runs Think NIL, a collective of TCU student-athletes who are compensated for serving as TCU ambassadors.

“The NCAA may wise up and put together legislation. They had it last year but they were afraid to be sued.”

The money comes from an assortment of boosters and donors — a collective — and the student-athletes are paid an undisclosed amount.

Then there are the student-athletes who use their social media platforms and are basically sponsors, normally for local business.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson signed an NIL deal with Lamborghini car dealership in Austin. He also has deals with Raising Cane’s fast food chicken and “C4” energy drink.

More changes are coming, but NIL has not been the end of college sports, as the NCAA wanted people to believe.

Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell said the creation of NIL hasn’t changed his job.

“The guys that have had that opportunity have used it as a positive for themselves or their families to give back and make a difference,” he said. “We’ve never found it had a negative connotation on our team to the players’ success.”

What NIL has done is further exploit and grow a disparity gap between schools that has existed for decades; a gap that the NCAA paid lip service in trying to close.

NIL has zero effect on the Top 25

Unlike previous generations of student-athletes who received $1,000 handshakes from wealthy boosters, we can see the transactions online.

What we don’t see is how much is in those handshakes.

Most schools hide behind FERPA laws (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) to keep dollar figures private.

Brian Davis of The Austin American Statesmen reported last month that University of Texas student-athletes collected more than $2 million in NIL deals since the rule was put in place last year.

He reported that 154 student-athletes at UT were part of NIL deals. University of Texas football players had 94 NIL deals for a total of “$879,447” from Aug. 1 to April 30.

That sort of information is the exception.

Most of financial figures in this NIL world are rumors and speculation born from the reliable world of college sports message boards, a place where the accuracy of the time of day must be triple authenticated.

When Texas A&M signed its top ranked football recruiting class, the internet nearly exploded with rumors that the Aggies spent $30 million to land the class.

It was a charge that Alabama coach Nick Saban reiterated in May during a promotional event in Birmingham, Alabama, when he said: “A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player.”

The next day, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher shot back at his ex-friend as he furiously denied Saban’s claims, saying, “We didn’t buy anybody.”

Fisher is the same coach who on the early signing day in December told Paul Finebaum of the SEC: “There were a lot of NIL deals going on before all this was going on, they just weren’t legal. Nobody told nobody.”

Only the Aggies know how much they spent to secure their top ranked class. It wasn’t $30 million. It wasn’t three dollars.

What the NIL ultimately will look like and how it will function will change in the next few years.

Right now, it’s an open door to pay a student-athlete in exchange for attending and playing for a school.

Former Wichita State athletic director Darron Boatright, who was fired in May without cause, told The Wichita Eagle in April: “Where we erred was focusing on educating our athletes about NIL, and not just collecting cash and paying kids to come to Wichita State.

“We were told all along this was not pay-for-play, but now it appears the NCAA has no problems with that, so why not?”

That wasn’t the intent, but that is what is happening.

“I don’t know what (rules) are going to look like,” Cunningham said. “The NCAA has said it does not want to penalize kids as much booster-run collectives. I don’t know much (rules) are going to curve the wrong doing.”

Not much.

The NIL and student-athlete compensation is 1 year old, is here to stay, and you will notice while it will change college sports, it won’t end it, and the names at the top will remain the names at the top.

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