NIL casts cloud over college football’s early signing period

The early signing period for college football opened Wednesday and in many ways it looked the same as usual.

There were surprising last-minute flips by blue-chip recruits, pick-a-hat commitment ceremonies held at high schools across the country and Alabama signing the nation’s top-rated class.

Hanging over it all, though, was the impossible to quantify but hard to ignore influence of NIL money impacting players’ decisions.

This was second signing class since the NCAA lifted a ban on college athletes being able to earn money for the use of their names, images and likenesses. There still there are no clearly defined, detailed and uniform rules regulating how third parties can pay athletes.

“I think there’s major concerns with what’s going on in college football,” said Penn State coach James Franklin, who emphasized he supports athletes being able to cash in on NIL opportunities. “Right now, there’s really no guardrails. There’s not a whole lot of guidance, and there’s not a whole of governance.”

Penn State has a recruiting class ranked in the top 15 in the country, according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings.

It is still against NCAA rules to use NIL payments as a recruiting inducement or offer pay-for-play deals. But with money and NIL deals flowing to athletes through booster-funded collectives, it seems nearly impossible for the NCAA to enforce those rules.

“We all want something if we can get it” said new Nebraska coach Matt Rhule, who returned to the college game after three years in the NFL. “You can see [NIL is] being misused and mishandled in a lot of places.”

While coaches complain about bad actors, nobody names names and NIL is now part of the recruiting conversation, whether coaches like it or not.

“The reality is this day and age you have to make decisions on how you’re going to handle this,” Southern California coach Lincoln Riley said.

Riley said he believed USC lost recruits to other schools because of NIL deals, but he added that “everybody did.”

Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said of NIL deals: “If that’s the only reason they want to come to Notre Dame, we’re not going to be the right place for them.”

The Fighting Irish were on the short end of two surprising flips pulled off by Oregon.

The Ducks received commitments from five-star defensive back Peyton Bowen of Texas and four-star running back Jayden Limar from Washington. Both had been committed verbally—and very much nonbinding—to Notre Dame.

Oregon coach Dan Lanning and his staff also flipped four-star defensive back Daylen Austin from an LSU pledge and four-star quarterback Austin Novosad from a Baylor commitment.

“I think it’s great to be in a place where you can be innovative and ahead of the curve, but I think anybody that really knows college football right now knows there’s a lot more to recruiting than NIL,” Lanning said. “Nobody picks the place just because of those factors … it goes back to relationships.”

Oregon also signed five-star Matayo Uiagalelei, who picked the Ducks over Ohio State and Southern California. The California linebacker is the brother of former Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei.

The Ducks secured the top-rated class in the Pac-12—and top 10 in the nation—despite losing out on five-star quarterback Dante Moore earlier in the week. Moore, from Michigan, was a late flip to UCLA.

Not every coach is leaning into NIL.

“We built this program on NIL. We really did,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s probably different than what you’re thinking, though. We built this program on God’s name, image and likeness.”

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10 thoughts on “NIL casts cloud over college football’s early signing period

  1. They need to come up with some rules on this! It is going to ruin college sports as we know them….The NCAA has been asleep at the wheel since this started. They had absolutely no clue on this which is strange because they are the most controlling institution I have ever known!

  2. Agreed with the above responses. These NIL deals are already getting out of hand. The variations of deals from one athlete to another is crazy. Seniors in high school with social media influence (fuel for this fire) are making $300K BEFORE freshman year of college. That’s absolutely changing college sports.

    1. Compared with what came before — namely the draconian limitations on students’ ability to earn income just because they’re athletes — I’ll gladly take an over-correction in this direction. If college sports‘ existence is predicated on unpaid labor, maybe it shouldn’t be saved.

    2. Sure, they get a scholarship.

      It should also be noted that the time requirements for them to be athletes in the big revenue generating sports are such that most of them can’t take full advantage of said scholarships, and they’re dissuaded from majors that take serious academic commitments.

      Go look at the Purdue football roster. Whole lot of guys learning to be salesmen. Not very many engineers. Heck, I don’t even see the majors listed for IU and Notre Dame football players.

      And that’s leaving out the travel schedules for basketball players, what with their 9pm start times for TV. Think they’re making that 7:30 am class the next day?

    3. So should students who are attending school on academic or arts scholarships also be prohibited from making money elsewhere?

  3. NIL is the response to the previous situation, which was colleges taking advantage of players in revenue sports, while also punishing kids who find themselves stuck with a new coaching staff with sitting out a year if they want to transfer.

    I’d have preferred the NCAA show some leadership then … as opposed to their response, which was to just throw everything to the winds and hope it goes so badly that people ask them to do something. A better solution was there to be crafted and they totally dropped the ball.

  4. You can always count on Nike to do the wrong thing. Also, it should surprise no one that 2 morally bankrupt programs like Oregon and Miami are leading the way

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