2021 was the last full recruiting cycle before the NIL floodgates opened.
Since then, we have seen some absolute craziness.
In the 2022 recruiting cycle, after NIL was legalized, Texas A&M pulled in not only the top recruiting class in the country that year, but the greatest recruiting haul ever. It was the highest rated class in 247 Sports history going back at least a few decades.
A&M pulled in a whopping EIGHT five-star recruits that year. Bama, comparatively, had 3, and Georgia had 5. Ohio State and Alabama each pulled in 7 five-star prospects in 2021, which is not too out of the ordinary for them. But guess how many Texas A&M had in 2021, before NIL? One. They had 2 in 2020, 2 in 2019, 0 in 2018, 0 in 2017, 0 in 2016, and 3 in 2015.
So between 2015 and 2021, Texas A&M pulled in a combined 8 five-star recruits. Then, in 2022 alone, they pulled in 8.
As many five-star recruits in one cycle as they had signed in the previous SEVEN recruiting cycles COMBINED.
Since 2011, nobody but Alabama and Georgia has landed the top recruiting class in the country. In 2022, seemingly out of nowhere, here comes Texas A&M to sign not only the best recruiting class of the cycle but the highest-rated ever.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that a fullblown earthquake has rocked the sport of college football to its core, and not for the better.
Earlier this year, Nick Saban was pissed. In May, he straight up said, in public, that Texas A&M “bought every player on their team.” Rumors were swirling about a $30 million NIL fund at A&M’s disposal, although those claims were said to have been debunked. However much they did drop on that 2022 recruiting class, it was a lot. You don’t just suddenly pull in a class like that out of the blue because recruits are sold on the culture and the vision.
You don’t pull in a better recruiting class than Nick Saban has ever pulled in just by pitching hopes, dreams and culture. You do it by offering these recruits so much money they can’t turn it down. Everybody knows it.
Of course, after Saban’s remarks, Jimbo erupted and fired back:
“Fisher called an impromptu news conference the next morning and lambasted Saban, calling him a “narcissist,” “despicable” and alleging recruiting skeletons in Saban’s closet. (Bjork told The Athletic that day that most of A&M’s signing class did not yet have NIL deals).“
Basically Jimbo was saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
And he’s right, too.
He and Saban were both right.
More than likely, Saban was just pissed that Jimbo and Texas A&M beat them at their own game and took a bunch of prized recruits that Bama had their eyes on.
Schools via their elaborate and convoluted booster networks have been paying recruits probably for a hundred years, if not longer.
Former Valdosta (GA) high school head coach Rush Propst, an eccentric character (to say the least–the guy was fired from his job coaching at Hoover high school in Alabama in 2007 because it was found he had two separate families) was recorded, in secret, in 2021, casually saying that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart pay recruits between $90-150k apiece:
“Rush Propst, a well-known and controversial Georgia high school football coach, was caught on tape making some big-time accusations about two college football powerhouses. In a recorded conversation, Propst claimed the Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and Alabama head coach Nick Saban are paying players using wealthy donors and boosters.
Propst is a highly controversial figure in high school football, so some will dismiss anything he says outright, but he seems to have a ton of details about the inner workings of both programs. He also coached in both Alabama and Georgia and had high-level recruits play under him at multiple stops.“
Propst says recruits get between $90,000 to $150,000 to sign. And when Nick Chubb decided to return to school, there were three $60,000 donations that came in, presumably all three went to Chubb.“
Hoover is a big time program in Alabama, and Valdosta is a big time program in Georgia. Rush Propst has had players go on to get recruited by Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. He knows how it works. He was just let go as the head coach at Valdosta recently, probably because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and Saban and Smart are very powerful guys.
The important thing here was that Propst was not trying to sound the alarm on guys like Saban and Smart. He was caught without his knowledge asking the athletic director at his high school for money to pay players, and he was making his case by pointing out how Alabama and Georgia fork over big bucks for their recruits–he was trying to tell whoever he was talking to how the system really works. He goes into pretty great detail, too. The video is like 14 minutes long.
And the story never really went anywhere. It was just dismissed as the ravings of a madman who had been permanently discredited when he was found to be leading a double life with two families. Saban and Smart denied it, and that was that.
I mean, come on, who could trust a guy who had two families, right?!
But just because Rush Propst is a strange fellow doesn’t make him wrong here.
What, you thought Nick Saban built the greatest dynasty in the history of college football without ever paying a player? Yeah, I’m sure all those players from California and South Florida and all across the country are just dying to live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And I’m sure all those players whipping around $80,000 Hellcats got them by saving up.
You think Kirby Smart, Saban’s protege, turned Georgia into the best program in the country without having to buy players?
You must still believe in the Easter Bunny, then.
Zach Smith, the former wide receivers coach at Ohio State who now has a daily podcast with his buddy Kris Drew, said that while Propst is obviously not the most trustworthy guy out there, there’s absolutely no doubt that what Propst was describing was happening:
Smith coached at Florida with Urban Meyer, and then at Ohio State, so he knows how things work down in the SEC vs. how they work in the Big Ten.
He also pointed out something I’d never really thought about, which is that the SEC headquarters are in Birmingham, Alabama, and most of the people that work there are Alabama alumni. So anytime somebody complains about Alabama to the SEC, tries to report any sort of potential violation, it gets swept under the rug.
But the main thing that Smith talks about is that SEC schools are just so much more competent than Big Ten schools when it comes to funneling money to recruits. They’ve had it down to a science for years.
It’s like in the mafia, how the order to do a hit never comes straight from the Don. It’s filtered through multiple levels of middlemen so it can never be traced back to the Don in case the Feds are listening in. There’s no paper trail.
Same thing with how paying recruits used to work in the pre-NIL days. The wealthy boosters are the ones distributing, or laundering, money to the recruits, but never directly to the recruit himself–it’s usually to an uncle, or a family friend, or someone else close to the recruit. Maybe the high school coach, or even a local church leader. No paper trail. Maybe they put the brand new, murdered-out Dodge Hellcat in somebody else’s name.
They’ve got this shit down to a science down south. They’ve had it figured out for at least 20 years or so. Of course, people still get caught doing it, like the example Smith brought up of Jeremy Pruitt (another Saban disciple) who, while he was head coach at Tennessee from 2018 to 2020, was caught giving money to recruits. And it wasn’t just Pruitt himself handing out money to recruits, but also his wife and people on his staff were doing it, too. Zach Smith says Pruitt got caught because he’s an idiot, and did it in a way where there was a paper trail that led straight back to him.
And again, Smith says the SEC is so far ahead of the other conferences with all this. They’ve got it down to a science, whereas schools in the North and elsewhere are amateurs. I’m sure Texas and Oklahoma have their shit together when it comes to paying recruits, too–both have a lot of oil money and good old boys in their booster networks.
You know, I’ve always wondered if the SEC was the best conference simply because most of the great players come from the South, or if there’s more to it. I mean, it’s undeniable that Southern states produce the most high school football recruits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are always going to stay in the South and play for SEC schools.
When you think about the money that is thrown around behind the scenes in college football, and how big a role it plays in recruiting (again: 8 five-star recruits for Texas A&M between 2015-2021, then 8 five-star recruits for Texas A&M in 2022 alone), you get the sense that money talks here. In other words, the best recruits go where the money is. It isn’t just about them wanting to play football close to home and stay in the South. There’s also a component of the Southern schools being the most adept when it comes to compensating these players for their services. They don’t get outbid by Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and ACC schools.
I was able to look at some data on Pro Football Reference, which has a table that shows you the birthplace of every player in NFL history. It’s an incredible tool–there’s well over 25,000 names there.
What I found is that the South does indeed produce the most football talent: 11,696 NFL players have been born in the South, by far the most of all the four regions of the United States:
However, the South is also the largest of the four regions by a considerable margin, stretching all the way from Delaware down to Florida across to Texas and even including Oklahoma, according to the US Census Bureau. 127 million people in the US live in what is considered a “Southern” state, compared to only 68 million in the Midwest, 57 million in the Northeast, and 76 million in the West (39 million of that 76 million in the West is California).
So when we measure it in terms of per-capita NFL players produced, the South still comes out in first place at 10,878 people per one NFL player. But the Midwest is in second-place at 11,004 people per one NFL player. That’s pretty damn close.
This doesn’t really prove all that much as it pertains to our discussion of college football (i.e. it doesn’t measure high school recruits), but it does suggest that there might be a bit more to the SEC’s dominance than simply, “The South just produces the best football players.”
Just because a state or your region produces a lot of football talent doesn’t necessarily mean the college football programs in that state or region will be dominant. Look at California, which is the #2 state in the country in terms of producing football talent–when is the last time a California team won the National Championship? Way back in 2004. California schools don’t do a great job at keeping top players in-state. Bryce Young and CJ Stroud are both from California. Brock Bowers is from California.
So it’s not just about where the top high school recruits start out. It’s about where the top recruits end up. (Obviously where the recruits are from has a lot to do with it–it’s no mistake that Ohio State is as good as they are. Ohio produces a huge amount of football talent compared to other states in the Midwest. Football is just a much bigger part of the culture in Ohio than it is elsewhere in the Midwest–it’s where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located, after all.)
But I guarantee you the SEC would not be anywhere near as dominant as they are without first having figured out how to funnel money to recruits (largely) without getting caught. If it was the Big Ten programs that had mastered the art of paying recruits, they would be the best conference. They’d be poaching Southern players left and right.
All this shit is out in the open now. You don’t have to hide it anymore. And because it’s now all out in the open, that means it’s all been supercharged. There’s even more money involved in college football recruiting now because it’s all legal. It doesn’t have to be hidden and done on the sly.
And the SEC has had about a 20 year head start, maybe more, on the whole thing. Their booster networks were ready to spring into action for NIL the moment the rule was changed.
Texas A&M was so well-prepared for the NIL bonanza, A. because of all the oil money down there (they have one of the richest alumni networks in the country, and one of the largest endowments in the nation, reportedly $18 billion), and B. because Texas A&M is a cult. Or, if you prefer, a mafia. People that went to Texas A&M will fucking die for that place. It’s everything to them. Being a Texas A&M alum is like their entire personality. Everything is all about the Aggies. If you meet someone and they went to Texas A&M, you will know they went to Texas A&M within about 5 minutes because they will find a way to bring it up in conversation. They are so proud of going to Texas A&M. They want to tell everyone they went to A&M.
And the weird Aggie traditions and chants and rituals–it’s all designed to make them the most tight-knit and die-hard fanbase in college football. Aggie Nation moves as one. So when NIL was legalized, they flashed the bat symbol into the sky and Aggie Nation responded by creating a sophisticated NIL collective with tons and tons of money to spend on the highest-rated recruits. The wealthy donors all lined up to make sure the war chest was stocked.
Credit to Texas A&M, they are great at maintaining contact and connection with their alumni, and their alumni are willing to donate large sums of money to help out the football team. It’s almost like a highly competent and successful political campaign the way they can just organize and mobilize vast numbers of people toward one goal.
You know A&M has always been paying recruits because, number one, that’s how things are done down south, but number two, what kind of elite football recruit would want to not only live in College Station, Texas (which is in the middle of nowhere) but go to school with all those weird, butch cut-having, military wannabe Yell Leader white dudes?
So it really shouldn’t be a shock that A&M was the first school to really take full advantage of the whole brand new NIL system.
However, I want to pause here for a minute and take a step back to illustrate just how ridiculous this whole idea of paying high school recruits is.
For one thing, Texas A&M spent a very, very large sum of money on their 2022 recruiting class and they went 5-7 last year. If they did indeed spend $30 million on their recruiting class, that’s $6 million a win. Do you think the deep-pocketed boosters who foot the bill for these recruiting classes are satisfied with that? Do you believe they view that as a good return on their investment, or even an acceptable one? Two of their eight five-star freshmen entered the transfer portal this week. Keeping 6 out of 8 isn’t bad, but this was only year one. Watch A&M suck again next year, and then see how many of those guys still want to be there. It’s possible that in three years time, only one or two of those guys is still playing for Texas A&M. I just wrote an article recently on how 17 of the 27 players in Alabama’s 2019 recruiting class have either transferred or entered the portal.
But the bigger point here is just how ridiculous and wasteful it is to be paying high schoolers six-figure sums of money, and some of them even seven-figure sums.
I analyzed the top-10 high school recruits, as ranked by Rivals.com, between 2002-2016. That’s 15 recruiting classes and 150 players overall. The 150 best high school football players between 2002-2016.
It is extremely hit or miss with these kids. For one thing, only twice has the #1 ranked high school player in the country gone on to become the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft: Jadeveon Clowney and Trevor Lawrence.
Second, only 31 of those 150 guys went on to have Pro Bowl NFL careers. I know it’s extremely hard to just make it to the NFL, let alone become a Pro Bowler, but in theory these guys should have the best chance at doing so.
In terms of how they actually did in college–how they developed and turned into pros–only 45 of the 150 went on to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. So less than a third of these elite high school recruits turned into first rounders. 11 of the 150 didn’t even make it to the NFL draft at all, and 33 of the 150 went undrafted when they finally declared for the draft. So basically you have about as good a chance of being undrafted as you do of being a first round pick if you’re a top-10 high school recruit.
16 of the 106 guys on the list who were ultimately selected in the NFL draft never started a single game in the NFL.
The point I’m making here is that there are busts at the college level. Recruiting is extremely hit or miss, and NIL doesn’t change that. So essentially we have these schools throwing huge sums of money at unproven high school football players, when the data shows that basically only 1 out of every 5 of the very best high school football recruits will ever develop into first round talents.
And that’s what you’re really expecting when you dish out a high-six figures or seven-figure NIL deal to a 5-star recruit, right? That he turns into a first round caliber player? Because if he turns into a first-rounder, then that means he had a really productive college football career.
We always hear about what a crapshoot the NFL draft is, but what nobody really talks about is how much of a crapshoot college football recruiting is as well. So many of these top recruits end up being busts.
And yet the whole NIL regime basically revolves around pushing as much money to these kids as possible. Some of them even get seven-figures plus, and yet in all likelihood, that money will probably turn out to be a big waste–a terrible investment.
I mean, if you were a rich booster, would you give a 17-year-old kid $750,000 to come play for your alma mater if you knew there was only about a 1 in 5 chance he actually turns into an elite college football player? I certainly wouldn’t. I would be very hesitant to plunk down that much money for an unproven high school kid.
And that’s assuming the kid even stays at your school! Because that’s no guarantee, either. You could have a kid come to your school for the NIL bag, and then dip to the school he originally wanted to go to after just a year. Just takes the money and runs.
That’s going to make the deep-pocketed boosters even more reluctant to pony up vast sums of money for NIL year after year.
The odds of even half of this NIL money turning out to be well spent is extremely low.
And yet here’s the problem: you have to do it anyway. No matter how inefficient the NIL process is, no matter how much of this money is straight-up wasted and pissed away, you have to spend it.
Because everyone else is doing it, and if you don’t do it, you’re going to get left in the dust. You can’t just count on these players getting the bag and then transferring to your school a year later. There’s just too much competition there.
And NIL is a factor in the transfer portal, too. You can’t just get great players in the transfer portal without also offering them an NIL bag. Half of these players are in the portal just to test their value on the open market.
Now, in my view, there are two major components to the NIL game: you have the big, deep-pocketed boosters, and then you have the grass roots–the hundreds of thousands of alumni from these major programs who sign up for NIL “subscription” services and pledge anything from $5 a month up to like $100. Anyone can make a one-time donation to an NIL fund, and that money is then used to pay recruits.
I think you need both in order to have a sustainable NIL system. You can’t just rely on your big time boosters to fund the whole thing. They’re already donating tons of money to the athletic departments, and NIL is separate from that. The athletic department is not going to be happy if the big time boosters shift their donations to the NIL funds and away from the athletic departments. So that puts the NIL collectives and athletic departments in conflict, as they are competing over the same money. This is a huge problem (and it’s why I think that it’s extremely likely the NCAA comes in and regulates this whole NIL thing–because the athletic directors are going to demand it).
This is the biggest problem, as I see it. You can’t fund NIL with ticket sales. You can’t fund it with TV money. You can’t fund it with the endowment money. And the same boosters who donate to the athletic department are going to now be torn between donating to the athletic department or the NIL collective. This is why in my view there does have to be some sort of grassroots income stream for these NIL funds; they can’t just rely on big boosters to fund the whole effort.
Ohio State and Michigan, it was just reported, were the two most-watched teams in college football this season. They each got over 70 million views on cable TV, cumulative for all the games they played.
Yet there is no way to directly parlay that into money to fuel their NIL system. Whatever money the TV networks pay the Big Ten to broadcast Ohio State and Michigans’ games, and however much of that money is kicked back to Ohio State and Michigan themselves by the Big Ten, it’s not used for NIL.
NIL money has to be in the form of voluntary donations from private individuals. It sounds completely insane that this is what college football recruiting has come to in 2022, but it’s reality.
And make no mistake: NIL is recruiting now.
Yet no matter how rich a university is, or how rich its athletic department is, they cannot use that money to fund NIL.
So, again, there has to be some sort of grassroots effort to raise NIL money from fans. Schools will have to tap into their vast alumni networks and pump them for NIL donations, which shouldn’t be a problem if it’s like $5, $10, $15 or $20 a month. Obviously the rich boosters who have traditionally funded the under-the-table recruiting efforts are going to provide the bulk of the funding for the NIL collectives, but that might not always be the case. If you drop $15 million or more on a recruiting class and half the guys transfer, the wealthy boosters aren’t going to be happy about that. They’re not going to want to plunk down money next year if they think half the recruiting class is about to get the bag and dip.
Now, the way around this is to make recruits essentially sign free agent contracts with universities. $300,000 over three years, for instance. It entices guys to stay. But then all it takes is another, more desperate school to say, “We’ll give you all $300,000 up front, no strings attached.” That’s a better deal for the recruit. So offering multi-year NIL contracts isn’t foolproof, although it probably does help to weed out the guys who are just looking for a bag and not much else.
But now a lot of college football fans are in a situation where it’s basically, “Fork over the dough or else your favorite team is going to suck.”
Ohio State fans are basically at this point right now. They’re in crisis mode because they lost a few recruits to other schools due to NIL. There is a perception that Ohio State’s NIL game is lagging way behind that of not only the other top teams in the country, but even teams that are a tier below them in the SEC, like Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M. Ohio State fans now believe they’re never getting a five star recruit again and will be 9-3 every year due to their program’s inability to figure out its NIL shit.
And so the Ohio State fans are talking about taking matters into their own hands by getting massive numbers of Buckeye fans to donate recurring small sums each month to NIL collectives. They want to crowdfund their school’s NIL department because they feel their big time boosters and the athletic department are not getting the job done.
But here’s the glaring issue with all this talk: Ohio State’s athletic department is literally the richest in the nation.
The Ohio State athletic department spends more money than anyone else–over $215 million in the 2019-20 season. And according to the article at that link, it isn’t close, either. The next closest team in spending was Michigan at $180 million.
And the fans are expected to foot the bill for NIL? Ohio State can’t divert some of that $215 million in athletic department money to the NIL fund and start going crazy? The athletic department can’t sacrifice one single cent to help fund NIL–it’s on the fans to come up with the millions and millions of dollars needed for NIL?
Ohio State AD Gene Smith, in response to fan concern over NIL, released a statement last week (here) that basically amounted to, “Please donate to one of these three recognized NIL funds, we need your help, Buckeye Nation!”
Meanwhile he’s in charge of literally the richest athletic department in college sports. Instead of huddling up with the biggest Ohio State boosters and coming up with a plan to divert some money to the NIL fund, he’s asking the fans to fund the NIL collectives.
It’s pretty insulting, honestly, considering the Ohio State football program is what carries the entire Ohio State athletic department. You would think football recruiting would be priority #1 at Ohio State, since if the football program slips or falls off, the athletic department will take a massive hit. But apparently the athletic department budget is set in stone and not a single penny can be diverted towards NIL, so it’s on the fans to come up with the $13+ million needed to be competitive in recruiting.
It’s becoming a lot like presidential campaigns: the average American is expected to fork over his hard-earned money so that a rich and powerful man can become even more rich and powerful.
That’s where we are now with NIL. It’s a complete and total shitshow. And it’s not just happening at Ohio State, either.
But until the NCAA comes in and regulates NIL, this is how the game is played in college football recruiting now.
Either get on board with it or get left behind.
A narrative that is emerging out there is that if a kid loves your program, wants to commit, but then goes elsewhere at the last second because some other school offered him more money, then he’s a bad person for that, and you don’t want him anyway. Because he’s in it for all the wrong reasons, allegedly.
But while I sympathize with this position a bit, I think it’s grossly unfair to call someone a bad kid if he decides where to play college football based on NIL money. He could come from an impoverished family. The NIL money being offered to him could be life-changing for him and his family. What if he’s being raised by a single mother who is on welfare? You think he’s a bad person for taking the biggest bag available to him? I just can’t say that.
Yes, obviously in an ideal world, kids would be committing to schools based on culture, relationships, environment, buy-in to what the coaches are selling, and the belief that they’re going to develop as both athletes and young men.
But a lot of schools out there have good cultures, good environments, good coaching staffs, and they develop both talent and men. Fans get into this mentality of thinking that only their favorite school has a good culture, while all the other schools are sleazy, don’t care about culture, and are just out to buy recruits. That’s basically what Nick Saban was saying when he criticized Texas A&M: they buy their recruits over there; we recruit guys because they’re good culture fits and we’re going to develop them.
I can’t hold it against a kid who is choosing between two programs that he genuinely likes, and picks the one that offers him more money–even if he may have liked the other program a bit more, and would’ve been a better fit there instead.
There is nothing guaranteed in football. We just went over how many of these top-10 high school recruits end up being busts at the college level. Just because you’re an elite recruit coming out of high school doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to turn into a first round NFL draft pick a few years. Being an elite high school recruit doesn’t entitle you to shit. You might blow out your achilles on the first day of training camp your freshman year. You might just never develop into a first round talent.
For a lot of these recruits, they have to strike while the iron’s hot. They can’t afford to be turning down big sums of money to go to schools for the culture fit. When there’s life-changing money being put in front of them, you can’t begrudge them for accepting it, especially now since it’s perfectly legal to do so.
It’s not a simple matter of a recruit choosing a school for the right or wrong reasons. It’s not choosing between money and culture in a lot of instances because, again, there are a lot of high-quality programs out there that are also offering fat bags of NIL cash.
A lot of these schools that are lagging behind in NIL try to console themselves with this idea that they’re pulling in recruits for the right reasons–their recruits genuinely want to be there, and aren’t there for the money–while other schools are just luring in recruits with bags of money. No, what’s happening is other schools that have good cultures are also offering money, which makes them significantly more attractive than a school that just offers a good culture and very little money.
Big time schools need to be able to meet that minimum threshold of NIL money to get recruits to actually consider them for the “right reasons.” If a kid has offers from multiple top-tier schools and four of them are offering him $250k to come there, and the fifth is offering only $100k, that school is out of the question at that point. It doesn’t matter how great your culture is, if you can’t come close to what the other big time schools are offering these recruits, then you’re going to fall behind in recruiting.
You have to be able to offer a competitive NIL bag to these recruits so that recruits don’t have to choose money over culture. If you are at least in the ballpark with NIL money, if you’re at or near that minimum threshold in terms of dollar amount, then you can say, “Choose us because of our culture; look at how many guys we send to the league; look at our facilities; isn’t this city we’re in wonderful? etc.” If you are at least close to the other schools in NIL money, then you can shift the conversation to the things that actually matter–culture, development, history, the coaching staff, environment, etc.
It’s not simply that you want to buy your recruiting classes, and you just throw money indiscriminately at players regardless of whether they fit the culture, and regardless of whether they genuinely want to be there. Some schools are going to do that, because they’re going to view NIL money as the great equalizer–a shortcut to competing with the big boys.
It’s more that you want to get your NIL funding to a place where you are not losing out on recruits solely because you are lagging behind in the NIL department.
Get what I’m saying?
These schools lagging behind in NIL will, if they don’t get it figured out, eventually be in a place where the top recruits won’t even consider them, won’t even entertain their culture, because they are so far off in terms of what they can offer in NIL money compared to other top programs. They won’t even be able to get their foot in the door with these top recruits.
NIL money is now a pre-requisite to getting top recruits to consider your program in college football. It’s how you get your foot in the door. It’s that simple. You may hate it–I personally hate it–but it’s the reality of the game today. Money is part of the decision-making process for these top recruits. And let’s be real: it probably always has been. It’s just more out in the open now. It’s done differently. The game has changed now.
The most important thing is that you are competitive in NIL funding so that recruits can consider you for your culture, and compare you to other top programs based on that, rather than money. It’s like the idea of a competitive salary: if you’re choosing between two jobs, and one job is offering you $200k a year and the other is offering $100k a year, it doesn’t matter how great the culture is at the $100k job, you’re taking the other job without hesitation.
You have to be able to offer a competitive salary for the top recruits to even consider you nowadays. It’s just the way it is.
Almost counter-intuitively, you want a well-funded NIL collective so that money isn’t the main issue for these recruits. If you can easily pay them the going rate, or close to it, then you won’t have to worry about losing them because of money. You’ll be able to sell them on the things that really matter, and they won’t have to choose between money and culture. Other top programs are offering both, and if you’re only offering one, you’re going to fall behind fast.
If you lose out on a recruit because he just felt like he’d be a better fit somewhere else, that’s totally fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you lose out on a recruit because you couldn’t come anywhere near what he was being offered in NIL money by another school, then that’s a huge problem.
That’s the kind of thing that’s going to drive great coaches into early retirement–and not only that, scare great coaches away from the college game altogether. Why would you coach at a college football program when you know you’re going to get constantly outbid in recruiting battles due to the fact that your NIL warchest is paltry? It’s massively discouraging to know you have no chance at the top recruits purely because you are not on the same level as other schools with NIL money.
The schools that don’t figure this shit out are going to fall off hard.