Remember that Simpsons episode many moons ago when the cartoon boldly predicted the Saints would win a Super Bowl. When the episode first aired, such a thought was laughable, hence its inclusion as a punch line. The Saints were a perennial, NFL afterthought. Several years and one deadly hurricane later, we discovered the Simpsons were eerily prescient. The longest-running, animated television show of all time also oddly (and correctly) predicted that Jeff Bezos would launch himself into outer space. We know how that turned out, with the Amazon founder taking a short ride just outside our atmosphere inside a giant, penis-shaped rocket ship. In other words, Matt Groenig is our modern-day Nostradamus.
This website isn’t much into predicting the future. I’ll leave that to the other guys who like to perennially and publicly be proven wrong. Nor have I talked much about the relatively recent phenomenon referred to as NIL, which stands for Name, Image and Likeness. NIL means that now, thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA has finally loosened its stranglehold on student athletes earning their share of the pie.
While the NCAA probably fought this decision tooth and nail, weep not for the institution. Like the squirmy cockroaches they are, they too will evolve, if not profit off the changing times. Thanks to that court order, the profiteer otherwise known as the NCAA will now turn a blind eye to student athletes getting paid. One could conceivably argue this was the best-case scenario for the NCAA. Now they won’t have to a) pay their student athletes or b) worry about who is.
Schools will not pay student athletes for their services. Room, board and tuition arrangements via scholarship will essentially remain the same. The biggest difference is that high profile college athletes can now receive reimbursement for their name, image and likeness. This can’t help but profoundly alter the way athletes are recruited. In other words, it’s about to become even more of a wild west, booster’s paradise than it ever was behind closed doors. High profile college athletes, mostly those who play football and basketball, can now attend the schools of their choosing and, for the first time ever, be compensated legally.
This all dates back to Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA for it was he who helped kick this seismic shift into high gear. Years ago, O’Bannon found his nephew playing an Electronic Arts basketball game with Ed O’Bannon’s name, image and likeness in the video. While staring at his animated and probably pixilated self, O’Bannon realized that he hadn’t received a red cent. Meanwhile, Electronic Arts had sold millions of copies of that video game with his name on it for who knows how much a pop. In other words, the video game company was using Ed O’Bannon, and others, to make millions. The odd man out, of course, was Ed O’Bannon.
That interaction got the wheels in motion for college athletes getting paid today. Let’s just say that high-profile college recruits from this day forward might want to write Mr. O’Bannon (and perhaps his nephew) a gracious thank you letter as they drive around campus in their new Lamborghinis. Bryce Young, Alabama’s newest quarterback who has yet to start a game in Tuscaloosa, will be making what head coach Nick Saban referred to as an “ungodly” amount of money. It looks to be somewhere around seven figures. All this before his 21st birthday. If anybody would like a surefire recipe for disaster, look no further into what college sports might soon become.
Not long ago, the NFL corrected itself. Kids right out of college were signing for, similarly, ungodly amounts of money before they had taken a snap. If an NFL team signed their quarterback of the future to a disproportionate dollar amount against their cap and that player turned out to be a bust, the team was handcuffed for the length of the contract. The league eventually capped what it could pay rookies so as not to handicap franchises financially.
While these things have tendency to correct themselves, there is no salary cap in college sports, not when friends of the program run Maserati dealerships and other profitable local industries. These monies soon to be lining student athletes’ pockets aren’t coming from a single organization, but rather multiple booster sources with a seemingly endless supply of revenue, meaning there’s conceivably no end to what big time college programs can offer big time college players.
Old school football fans are probably clamoring that this is the end of college sports as we know it… and they’re right. As I said earlier, I’m not one for making predictions but this can’t possibly bode well for the smaller programs that have considerably fewer billionaires on their alumni roster. There is no way that smaller programs will be able to compete with the wealthy alumni from schools like Miami, Oregon and Ohio State. Those schools already had a leg up in picking who they wanted out of high school. It’s only a matter of time before uber-rich boosters put the nail in the proverbial smaller school coffin. Meanwhile, with kids now getting rich, and the rich getting even richer, bet your bottom dollar the NCAA still gets its share.
College football will be fine. It’s not like fans are suddenly going to stop watching their favorite sport because kids are now getting paid. It will just give the tailgaters something else to complain about when the kids underachieve.
We will continue to see conferences realign, leaving lower-profile schools looking for handouts, meaning potentially less of an opportunity for kids to play college sports, which would obviously be bad. If the NCAA ultimately wanted to prove it had a caring bone in its body, it would look to protect its smaller programs but don’t hold your breath. The NCAA has always been far more interested in profiting off young men and women than it has been in assisting them.
In the end, we’ll still have our college sports that will be dominated by the haves at the expense of the have nots. The only thing that will have changed is the fact that the biggest names, from the biggest programs, will be getting paid over the table instead of under it.