The New Wild West: With No Standardized Rules in Place, NCAA’s NIL Landscape a Tricky One
Decades ago, a few Razorback fans put $100 bills into the hands of Arkansas basketball great Sidney Moncrief.
“I can’t say that occasionally an alumnus or overzealous fan didn’t walk up to me after a game and put a hundred-dollar bill in my hand when he shook it,” Moncrief wrote in his autobiography.
This, however, was appreciation cash. Moncrief was already a Razorback and was not heading elsewhere. It wasn’t under-the-table cash meant to sway a high school recruit to one school or another, which has long been perceived by the public as one of the biggest problems in big time college basketball or football.
Bringing that booster money out into the light and legitimizing it is one of the biggest selling points of the new NIL laws, which allow student-athletes to profit off of their names, images and likenesses through ads, commercials, sponsorships, signing events, camps and other opportunities.
No more need to pad pockets on the DL, the theory goes, when deals can be announced publicly, and everybody can benefit from the exposure. Already, the entire Arkansas football offensive line has been featured in The Wall Street Journal for inking deals with a local barbecue joint.
The O-linemen are just some of the nearly 100 Razorback student-athletes across all sports who are making good side money this fall.
“As of [the last] report that I received, we had 93 student athletes that had worked with over 65 companies for 121 different name, image, and likeness agreements, a little over six figures in totality,” Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek recently told Razorback sports radio host Josh Bertaccini. “And it’s not just football and basketball, but 16 of our 19 sports have student athletes that have signed name, image and likeness agreements — 53 men and 40 women.”
Arkansas football star Grant Morgan is among the latest Razorbacks to announce a deal, his with Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux. This is so appropriate, given Morgan started his career as a walk-on and has developed into the Hogs’
best walk-on since the late Brandon Burlsworth.
For all the feel-good fuzzies, however, there are already some troubling developments.
Illegal NIL Dealings Cost Razorbacks a Recruit?
Yurachek also discussed the negatives of the new NIL laws in his interview on The Red Zone.
“The negatives of this is what happens in the recruiting process,” he said. “We feel like we may have lost a recruit in a particular sport that will go unnamed because a school promised upfront that recruit a name, image and likeness agreement, which is illegal by kind of the basic NIL rules.
“Right now, we have 50 different rules because each state gets to kind of operate under their own premise. And so we need something, whether it’s NCAA or federal legislation, so that we’re all kind of operating from the same playbook as far as name, image and likeness goes moving forward.”
Lots to unpack there.
First, the fact that Arkansas would have lost a recruit (my guess is football or basketball) to a school offering the carrot of making more money isn’t novel at all. It’s just taking a different form here.
In the past, the Alabamas and Kentuckys of the world could offer that same recruit the prospect of bettering themselves for the draft and making more money by getting drafted higher.
“When you think about all those schools that have been at the top, this has always been a part of the recruiting tactic. But they’ve just been sold on going to the NFL, getting a great education and the support from the people around these institutions,” ESPN analyst Marcus Spears said.
This is a dynamic that has actually played in Arkansas’ favor when it comes to baseball. Peyton Stovall, for instance, is the equivalent of a five-star recruit who turned down a signing bonus of around $2 million to play for Dave Van Horn this summer.
Stovall cited Arkansas’ ability to prepare its players for the MLB as a big reason he’s becoming a Razorback. We can also safely assume Stovall is looking forward to some NIL opportunities given the avid Arkansas baseball fanbase.
But that success story for Razorback baseball shouldn’t cloud the bigger picture: In the new NIL world, there’s an unequal playing field among schools in different parts of the country as far as what they can and can’t offer recruits coming out of high school.
The SEC schools, for instance, can sell recruits on the potential of crafting NIL deals with (usually local) companies or companies from the area where that recruit grew up.
The University of Arkansas has an entire new office of athlete brand development that helps Razorbacks with business skills, storytelling, public speaking and understanding NIL legislation.
But, critically, it does not hook Hogs up with deals. (That’s usually up to the student-athlete and their inner circle that includes a representative/agent.)
“The rules and laws outside of the SEC schools are different and can impact recruiting more, as some schools can start arranging deals for athletes, which SEC schools can’t do,” Harrison Reno wrote for SI.com. “Obviously, arranging deals for athletes could be seen as an advantage in recruiting as schools could promise athletes deals as part of their recruiting pitch.”
Reno continues: “A prime example of the differences between conferences and the rules and regulations impacting recruiting would be the surge of recruiting a school like USC has seen in California. They have already landed products like defensive end Mykel Williams from the state of Georgia.”
This potential trend of SEC recruits heading to USC is also relevant to Arkansas basketball fans.
Is Kijani Wright the Razorback Recruit in Question?
Recently, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman was in the running to get a commitment from five-star big man Kijani Wright, who also had Texas, Stanford and USC in his top four. Wright, a southern Californian, recently chose to stay home by committing to the Trojans.
While staying close to home is no doubt a factor in his reasoning, it also would not be surprising in the least if the fact that USC had set up NIL deals for its recruits on the front end also played a factor.
Yurachek declined to provide any details on the Razorback recruit in question, so proposing Wright is speculation on my part. I don’t bring him up to disparage the young man in any way, but rather to point out the differences in state laws around NIL, how it’s already played a role in USC getting a football recruit from Georgia and how it could easily have played a role in other sports for other SEC teams.
And this applies to other schools in the Pac-12, as well. For instance, the Arkansas basketball program also lost out on highly touted big man Kel’el Ware out of North Little Rock.
Ware said all along that he was looking forward to getting out of state, but it would not be surprising if Oregon’s NIL potential (supported by Nike) was just as appealing as USC’s when compared to what SEC schools can offer.
Regardless of conference, it’s illegal for high school recruits to sign NIL deals before they enroll in college. But the extent to which schools in some states can entice those recruits with the potential (which can become a “promise”) of NIL deals in the future is one significant gray zone in an emerging NIL landscape that has more opportunities than what you could find to wager on with the best betting app.
“It hasn’t helped that permissible NIL activities began under a patchwork of state laws or executive orders permitting NIL activities,” the AP’s Aaron Beard wrote. “There are no standardized rules, and the NCAA has left specific guidance to school compliance offices. Broader NCAA regulations or a federal law are nowhere close to happening.”
He also quoted Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who said these early NIL days have already offered insights into which schools will “bend and push the rules in this game.”
Some recruits may decide it’s not worth tampering with in a gray zone.
“If I’m a player that was tempted, get paid in my recruitment illegally, should I even mess with that when I know I can just go make the money legally and not jeopardize my name or my eligibility or all of that?,” Riley said.
“So in some ways, it may even it out a little bit, if you will. I think the purists hope that. But the reality is, we’re going to have to have some lines and regulations, especially when it comes to the recruiting piece for this to work and not be a mess.”
Arkansas Basketball NIL Deals
Yurachek told Bertaccini that, “For the University of Arkansas and our student athletes, I thought we were ahead of this, developed a flagship program, hired a senior associate AD for athlete brand development. We now have an athlete brand development department that consists of three full-time employees.”
This department helps Razorbacks like Devo Davis understand the industry better so he can make good decisions about who does business with. And he’s inking a number of deals, including ones with FAB&T and Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville.
Such deals “just show the support across the state that our student athletes have from businesses, because most of those agreements are … within this state, which is awesome,” Yurachek said.
How much are these deals worth? Yurachek said that, in total, 92 Razorbacks have signed contracts for a little more than $100,000. That means most of these are going to be in the hundreds or thousands. Perhaps someone like Devo Davis or KJ Jefferson could get a five-digit deal.
We know the potential for much bigger deals is out there, however. Consider Alabama’s quarterback, Bryce Young, is already closing in on $1 million in total bank.
But how can Razorbacks get bigger and better deals?
Maybe they just need to mentally prepare themselves with surreal mind training videos. Or the secret to success could be much simpler: In the next decade, just win a handful of college football national championships.
This story first appeared on BestofArkansasSports.com.