College football season hasn’t kicked off yet and we’re already seeing things we’ve never seen. Kids cashing checks for nine figures has set a new precedent all the while ruffling the feathers of the old school college football fan. Meanwhile, we wait to see who amongst this new, young breed of millionaires will boom… and who will bust. Either way, there’s no giving that money back.
Arch Manning, who will one day become the fourth Manning to play football in the NFL, is getting around $4 million to play quarterback at the University of Texas. Other kids his age, but with a less familiar surname are getting considerably less, and sometimes more, than that. The backbreaker came when a young man named Jaden Rashada took $9 million, allegedly, to play for the University of Miami when the University of Florida offered him millions more. That buys a lot of X-Boxes.
It’s a new day and kids are getting rich before our very eyes but let’s take this a step further.
While the transfer portal has also changed in recent years, with kids no longer having to sit out a year to play, one thing we haven’t seen is a kid lead two different programs to a national title. Most kids transfer because they’re not getting the desired playing time, or they had a disagreement with how they saw themselves fitting in. But throughout the history of college football, we’ve generally seen kids make their mark with one university. That’s how they enter the history books.
These days, it’s perfectly conceivable to see a kid win national titles with two different programs and get filthy rich in the process.
Hear me out.
Let’s say a kid named Rich Handmedowns plays his high school football in the state of Texas. He’s a phenom unlike anything we’ve seen from a state that has produced a lot of phenoms.
He signs on to Lone Star University for an unprecedented amount of money. The kid bides his time as a freshman then wins a national title his sophomore year. They host a parade in his honor; he wins the Heisman as well as with several other national player of the year awards. His smile lights up the cameras nationwide. He becomes the talk of the town.
Then, that summer, another school woos him. After all, he hasn’t signed a contract with the school who recruited him. He’s indebted to them as much as they are to him. Despite his success, let’s say he’s had his run-ins with the coaching staff. Or perhaps the coach who recruited him retires, riding off into the sunset, or the offensive coordinator he really clicked with decides to take on a head coaching gig at another school and the kid wants to go with him.
That high-profile school offers Rich Handmedowns a lucrative NIL deal, this one more extensive than the first. There’s nothing to stop him from leaving so he transfers to play for an altogether different school, one that also holds national championship aspirations and is loaded at every position but quarterback.
What we have here is not only a very rich twenty-year-old but a kid who can do something that’s never been done before: become the first to win titles at two different schools. Tell me that wouldn’t make him the most sought-after quarterback in NFL draft history.
Allegiances begone when our allegiance adheres to the almighty dollar. While it’s probably easier for a high-profile student athlete to win national titles at two different basketball programs, or more individual sports like golf or tennis, who’s to say this couldn’t happen down the road in football, perhaps sooner than you think?
The good news for college football (and basketball) fans is that with all this money floating around campuses, we might see a kid stay in college longer. Salary capped sports like the NBA and NFL aren’t going to be able to compete with what kids are getting from boosters, especially since those leagues cap rookie salaries. In other words, the future is as uncertain as it’s ever been.
For better or for worse, we have opened that door and there’s no closing it.
College football has changed dramatically in the 21st century and not just because of the money kids are now receiving “legally.” They’ve been doling out Heisman Trophies since 1935. In the past, it was inconceivable that an underclassman take home an award that had traditionally been given to juniors and seniors. Then, in 2007, a sophomore named Tim Tebow won it. The following year, a sophomore named Sam Bradford won it. In 2009, yet another sophomore, Mark Ingram won the award. The Heisman Trust went from never including a single sophomore to them winning it three years in a row.
At least no freshman had won the award up to that point. Until 2012 when Johnny Manziel won it, followed by Jameis Winston in 2013. Lamar Jackson won it as a sophomore in 2016 and last year, freshman Bryce Young won it for Alabama.
In other words, something that had never happened in the history of college football prior to 2007 has now happened seven times in the last fifteen years.
So, who’s to say a college kid can’t lead two different schools to national titles, and make some healthy scratch in the process?
These kids are signing no contract that can’t be broken. They owe nothing to the schools that recruited them other than to bust their ass for the time they’re there.
Fifteen years down the road, college athletics might look a lot different just as it did fifteen years ago. We’ll still have our booms and our busts, our highs and our lows, and our Saturdays spent cheering for kids who just learned how to shave. They’ll just be driving considerably nicer cars to class.