Alabama football head coach Nick Saban alleged that Texas A&M is paying its players. Meanwhile, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher has denied the claims, instead telling reporters to look into how Alabama runs its sport-dominating operation.
While the public bickering between two college football giants provided a humorous offseason moment, their argument highlighted a much larger issue with the state of name, image, and likeness (NIL) in the NCAA.
“There are some concerning trends,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey told Yahoo Finance. “We’re not seeing name image and likeness activity — we’re seeing just straight payments. And I think it’s important that we recenter ourselves on what’s supposed to be happening here and the desire to keep that activity out of recruitment to benefit young people economically but to do so in a healthy way.”
Yahoo Finance spoke with Sankey and five NCAA Division I athletic directors about the state of NIL at the Sports Business Journal Sports Business Awards on May 18. Their concerns and references to “chaos” rang true over the following 24 hours as Saban claimed Texas A&M “bought every player on their team,” and Fisher suggested reporters “dig into” how Saban has been so successful throughout the years.
The public display of displeasure with NIL policies comes as collectives, often organized by wealthy university donors, have taken over the NIL industry with direct payments to players regardless of what their name, image and likeness is worth. A Miami player recently signed a $800,000 deal around the time he transferred. ESPN reported a Boston College receiver was flashed six-figure deals to entice him to transfer. If either offer was made prior to the decision to transfer, it would be a direct violation of NCAA policies.
“We feel like we’re in a little bit of crisis, a little bit of chaos,” Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, who was named Athletic Director of the Year at the event, told Yahoo Finance. “I think ‘chaos’ is the word that’s been used and so, I think we’ve got to find a solution pretty quickly.”
The solution likely won’t come anytime soon, though. Sankey doesn’t believe much will change within the market prior to kickoff of the 2022 season in August. With state laws impacting some schools, and not others, conferences are hamstrung regarding regulation. Schools want to remain competitive and have a compelling interest to stretch the rules as far as possible.
Essentially, the onus is placed on the NCAA, which just launched new NIL guidance on May 9. The new guidelines provide updated definitions of boosters and collectives and indicate that the NCAA plans to clamp down on boosters and collectives paying recruits.
Still, college administrators have questioned the NCAA’s efficiency in shutting down illegal activity. Tracking the recruiting activity of 130 teams can be a logistical nightmare. On top of that is the NCAA’s track record, or lack thereof, when it comes to laying down the law (See: the years-long college basketball FBI probe that’s led to limited punishment for certain programs that are still winning national championships).
Sankey told Yahoo Finance he doesn’t believe the NCAA alone can solve the problem. He and coaches like Saban have instead called on Congress to develop broad rules.
“We’ve been clear about the need for a national standard and that you’re going to have congressional activity,” Sankey said. “And whether or not Congress sees that as a need, the protection and support of college sports in a healthy way, is part of the conversation that’s not going to adjust anytime soon.”
Sean Frazier, athletic director at Northern Illinois University, is confident that everything will “level itself out” at the end of the day.
“Everybody just needs to calm down,” Frazier told Yahoo Finance. “The sky is not falling and we’ll get back to business.”