NCAA to blame for this NIL mess

Morally bankrupt organization can try to corral the ‘Wild Wild West’ of NIL, but it’s too late

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In the past week, receiver Jordan Addison has gone from Kenny Pickett’s favorite target to the face of the NIL-transfer portal outrage that’s sweeping the nation (well, the college sports nation, anyways).

The Addison situation may signal the end of an era that was supposed to be the end of another era. The rumor going around at the moment is that USC and new head coach Lincoln Riley were in talks with Addison before he entered the transfer portal, a no-no, and promised the receiver a big ol’ NIL deal if he crossed the country to play for the Trojans. Addison has since entered the portal, but has yet to announce USC as his next destination, and was actually seen working out with Alabama’s Bryce Young yesterday.


The nightmare NIL rollout

NIL’s implementation ten months ago went totally unchecked, and it would be an exaggeration to say that it’s going to end in a fiery crash, but the “Wild West” (everyone’s new favorite term for the NIL-transfer portal combo) is about to get reined back in, and could leave a lot of floundering boosters and confused players in its wake.


Because the NCAA wasn’t interested in attempting to set up guardrails before the NIL began, it now has to set up limitations after the proverbial horse has left the barn. As high-and-mighty and holier-than-thou that it wants to act, clutching its pearls about the abuse of the system, it has no one to blame but itself. When it comes to money and athletics, why on earth did it think everyone would just abide by some moral code that they had inside their heads?

While I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing that Miami’s Isaiah Wong was publicly demanding a “raise,” allegedly, or that high schoolers are being promised millions of dollars to go play somewhere without ever proving themselves on a college field, I also strongly believe that this is not the athletes’ fault. The money is in front of them — why the hell wouldn’t they take it? And it’s not really the boosters’ fault either. No legal limitations exist to stop them from providing financial support to their favorite teams — so why wouldn’t they?


Both parties are using the system to their greatest advantage within the system, and a rudderless and headless NCAA is not just up shit’s creek without a paddle, it’s in white-water rapids with no life vest and can’t swim, trying to build a dam with whatever floats past. It’s desperate and it’s a bad plan, but it made this bed. I mean, come on — how did the NCAA not see this booster-collective trend coming? You’ve been dealing with these guys’ underhanded attempts at illegal recruitment for years. The chance to do it above board is all they’ve been waiting for, and with a 9-0 Supreme Court decision in support of education-related financial benefits behind them. In January, an assistant told The Athletic, “what the NCAA is concerned about more than anything else is they don’t want to restrict players’ ability to do anything because of the Supreme Court decision.”

This is the greatest thing to ever happen to boosters. They’re practically begging the NCAA to take them to court over this — because they really believe they will win.


Where does the NCAA go from here?

So what happens now, if the president-less and quickly diminishing NCAA actually does try to get its shit together for two minutes and implement limitations? Do the kids who have already signed contracts with booster-sponsored collectives have their deals voided? Do the high schoolers who were promised money to play at a certain school have to reconsider a much less financially fruitful commitment? The real question is whether the West has become too wild to rein in at this point. To go back and retroactively put in guardrails in response to self-inflicted moral outrage is a classic NCAA move, but a stupid one, too. It’s planning to claim that the boosters are violating pre-NIL association rules and crack down on the pay-for-play scheme that‘s proliferating, per CBS Sports.


But we all know that NCAA enforcement is a joke. The problem is — the collective-sponsored bribery isn’t great. It’s a poorly-concealed pay-to-play scheme. I agree that kids shouldn’t be getting pre-paid contracts from non-school-affiliated but kind-of-school-affiliated collectives, and sure, boosters probably shouldn’t be able to contact prospective athletes with financial promises not filtered through coaches and schools. Athletic directors are right to be concerned, though NIL has the potential to be an excellent opportunity at its core.

So the NCAA will go after collectives under the existing booster rule, and they’ll hopefully go after tampering of the Jordan Addison kind, because punishment for contact can be brought down on the adults in the situation — the boosters paying the kids off, the coaches talking to an athlete at another program. It won’t go after the student-athletes anymore, not after the SCOTUS decision. At least that’s one good thing to come of this mess.