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Some thoughts on NIL, recruiting, and the Wisconsin Badgers

Let’s have some discourse on a Saturday afternoon.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing making money.

On Friday night, for the first time in a while, my Wisconsin group chat was firing on all cylinders with takes and texts and shouting. This is usually reserved for actual games, but on Friday we were discussing Oklahoma announcing that they were going to give up to $50,000 in NIL money for football, men’s basketball and softball players.

The discussion carried on into Saturday morning and then I saw this thread from Badgermaniac on Twitter, and I don’t want to try and “dunk on” this account (because many people have said this or think like this), but it made me want to write down some of my thoughts because I don’t believe there is as much “collegiate sports are being ruined for good” as people think.

Let me just be perfectly clear from the start: I think college athletes getting money is a good thing. If they are getting paid by NIL collectives, that’s good. If they are doing sponsored Instagram posts, that’s good. If they are just able to sell their art because that is what their hobby is, you guessed it, that’s good too.

The thread linked above starts off with a classic concern trolling move, asking “what happens to the gymnast or third string offensive guard?” The next tweet then immediately says that “schools are guaranteeing 50K to every player, regardless of whether you contribute anything” as if that is a bad thing. Wouldn’t the third string guard, a player on the team, get that money? Problem solved!

Also, Wisconsin doesn’t even have a gymnastics team, but I understand what kind of point is trying to be made here. Their saying that athletes in Olympic sports or less televised sports will be left behind. It is definitely worth noting that athletes, like gymnasts or cheerleaders or track and fielders, can have niche audiences they can reach which would be highly valuable to advertisers and NIL collectives.

None of the people discussing this have ever considered these sports before and are just using them as some sort of Fairness Boogeyman, which they don’t even really care about. They’re just upset that their football team isn’t doing what Oklahoma or Alabama or whoever is doing.

At least in the thread from Badgermaniac they admit that there has never been a “level playing field” when it comes to recruiting, and that should be where it ends. They go on to say that it being “under the table” kept it from being as big as it is now. That is untrue and also naive. Schools have been skirting NCAA rules for, literally, ever. If anything, making NIL collectives an above board thing makes it better for a school like Wisconsin who has prided themselves as a “cleaner” program.

Next there is discussion of Nike’s Phil Knight giving every Oregon football player $1 million and calling it NIL licensing. That’s just not going to happen and it is hilarious to suggest. Knight is going to pay $85 million every year so the Ducks might make the Playoff? Lol, ok.

Then there is a bit of a tangent about the “appeal of the NCAA tourney” being underdogs beating blue bloods. They note that mid-major rosters usually have a veteran, developed roster that can hang with the Dukes and Kentuckys and their one-and-dones or transfer portal mercenaries.

They specifically mention the Wildcats buying mid-major players to make them the eighth man in the rotation, thus weakening mid-majors. It especially funny to pick Kentucky this year since they literally just lost in the first round to 15-seed Saint Peter’s. The transfer portal and NIL is not going to ruin the NCAA Tournament. That’s asinine.

College football and basketball have always been the minor leagues for the NFL and NBA. College players getting a little bit of money didn’t change that. Big time schools being able to “buy” recruits isn’t going to change the power balance of big time college football or basketball. Alabama and Georgia and Ohio State are still going to have the best recruiting classes in football and Duke, Kentucky and UNC will in men’s hoops.

If anything, schools like Wisconsin or South Carolina or Arizona, basically Power 5 schools that aren’t at the blue blood level, will now have a better chance of getting a blue chip recruit because they can offer NIL too. The Badgers have often found themselves as a finalist for a 4-star football recruit but then lose out and now that UW can offer NIL money chances with all of the other excellent things the program/university has to offer, that could change.

I understand why coaches often speak out against the players making money because they are used to being the ones in complete control of everything and might not like that players have a tiny bit of agency for themselves. I don’t understand why fans are against this. Every time there are major changes or shifts in college sports, some people think that the world is ending.

Scholarship limits were going to ruin the sport. Televising all the games was going to ruin the sport. The BCS was going to ruin the sport. The sport changes and people adapt. None of these concerns are new, they are just being brought up around a different change to the status quo. Players, finally, getting some money while playing college sports won’t be the death knell that alarmists think.