Today’s exercise was intended to offer guesses as to how college sports will look in five years, which would mean 2027. This thinker of deep thoughts thought deeply for five seconds before reaching this conclusion: He has no idea.
If we count backward five years, we find ourselves in May 2017, when there was no transfer portal and no NIL money, when college basketball was about to be rocked by the federal case involving shoe-company money. The belief in this space was that the NCAA would take the feds’ evidence, wiretaps included, and delivered the sort of swift justice the organization, which lacks subpoena power, couldn’t manage on its own.
Whoops. The only swift move was made by Louisville, which dumped Rick Pitino. After a stint in Greece, he’s coaching at Iona, an NCAA member.
Arizona needed four years to part with Sean Miller, whom Xavier just rehired. LSU needed five to fire Will Wade, captured on tape referencing “a strong-ass offer” to a recruit. The 2022 national championship was won by Kansas, which is coached by Bill Self, named by the NCAA in three Level I violations but handed a lifetime contract by his employer. The case that was supposed to change everything changed little, which isn’t to say change hasn’t come.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith suggested this week that the 10 FBS conferences – the Power 5 and the less-powerful Group of 5 – operate under the aegis of the College Football Playoff, not the NCAA. Smith told ESPN’s Heather Dinich: “We create our own rules, our own governance structure, have our own enforcement, have our own requirements, whatever that might be.”
NCAA president Mark Emmert announced last month that he’s stepping down. In grand NCAA fashion, his departure date could come as late as June 2023. On Thursday, Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn told Ross Dellenger of SI.com: “Mark Emmert’s resignation is one of the many structural changes that will enable the NCAA to support our student-athletes.”
Blackburn and other senators met with the SEC’s Greg Sankey and the Pac-12′s George Kliavkoff. The commissioners went to Washington seeking legislative relief from unchanneled NIL deals, which came into being last summer. For the rights to an athlete’s name/image/likeness, a business can pay whatever it wants. “Strong-ass offers” became the coin of the realm. What boosters once did under the table is now, via state law, legit.
We’re already seeing something we never thought we’d see again. Two of the best basketball players – Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and North Carolina’s Armando Bacot – are staying in school, as opposed to bolting for the NBA. There’s thought they’ll earn more by continuing to play as amateurs than by turning professional. The same applies to Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, about to become a sixth-year collegian.
The old world: In 2018, 16th-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County upset No. 1 Virginia, which prompted thousands to follow the Retrievers on Twitter but didn’t line any pockets. The new: In March, 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s upset No. 2 Kentucky; within hours, mustachioed guard Doug Edert announced an NIL deal with Buffalo Wild Wings.
This week, the agent for Miami guard Isaiah Wong said if his client’s NIL money wasn’t upped forthwith, he would enter the transfer portal. That same agent – Adam Papas – negotiated an NIL deal for transfer Nijel Pack with LifeWallet, which pays Wong. Peck’s deal, Papas told ESPN, was for $800,000 over two years plus a car. Papas also said: “We feel the value of Isaiah Wong should meet or exceed the value of an incoming transfer.”
Got that? Wong’s agent wanted LifeWallet to match the price he’d gotten for Pack. LifeWallet declined. Wong has said he’s not entering the portal, though he remains eligible for the NBA draft.
Dan Radakovich, now Miami’s AD, told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald: “By state law, we can’t really discuss NIL.”
Also from Radakovich: “On the subject of paying players, someone said a long time ago, ‘Adapt or die.’ I think that’s where college athletics is right now.”
Even if you believe college players should be compensated at market value for their services, the lure of six- and seven-figure NIL deals have rendered collegiate sports an oxymoron. The biggest money-maker is football, run by the CFP and its 10 conferences. NIL money is regulated by state law. The NCAA has been urged to get involved. It hasn’t yet.
The blithering NCAA spent the past decade doing so little that it seems incapable of doing anything. Come 2027, it might exist only as a stager of postseason tournaments. In an adapt-or-die world, should it exist at all?
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