Is NIL Money an Unwanted Diversion for College Football Teams? –

Today’s guest columnist is Michael H. LeRoy.

If you had a million-dollar ZERO deal as a college student, would you spend more time fulfilling that deal’s obligations, preparing for your next game, or (gasp) studying?

During the college football offseason, Nick Saban insinuated that Jimbo Fisher was using a large pot of NIL money to recruit five-star players (Texas A&M had the #1 recruiting class among players graduating high school in 2022 completed). But eleven weeks into the 2022 college football season, Texas A&M looked like an overpaid team sitting at the bottom of the SEC. Alabama, with players boasting their own sizable NIL deals, also underperformed, ranking 8th in the AP poll.

The real story in college football this year is the unexpected emergence of TCU, Liberty, Illinois, Kansas State, Tulane and Syracuse — all of whom were ranked in the AP poll sometime in November, and none of them have such big NIL- Deals made headlines nationwide.

Is it possible that players with smaller and fewer zero deals can focus better on the sport and develop good team chemistry? No single factor explains why some football teams win and others lose. Still, there may be some truth to the less-is-more NIL theory for college football in 2022.

I examined the 25 NIL state laws enacted through July 1, 2021 and ranked each law in terms of the number of salary caps placed on athletes. Illinois had the most salary cap points (45), overtaking Arkansas (29) and Mississippi (28) for second place.

As of November, football teams in these states — Mississippi State, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Illinois — were doing better than teams in states with no NIL laws or less restrictive laws. Are these teams better trained? Do you have more talent? Are their schedules easier? Or are their players less distracted by NIL deals and riches?

My analysis (“Do Players Get NIL?”), coming soon in the University of Illinois Law Review, noted that only two states — Illinois and Mississippi — immunize universities from claims of tort or unfair competition in NIL deals. These laws are legally problematic because they can raise antitrust concerns, aside from the blockbuster antitrust lawsuit that sought NIL funds for players who competed from 2016 through 2021 before the NCAA issued an interim NIL guideline.

After all, who is the biggest competitive threat to a school profiting from the marketing of their logo and brand? It’s a star athlete from a school who could put on his own shoe contract, endorsement, or whatever.

Now think about NIL deals from the player agent’s point of view. Would you look for business in Illinois and Mississippi knowing that if a school revoked approval for a NIL deal or fired a player, your client would have no legal recourse against the school? NIL sponsors might think similarly: if a school interferes in a NIL deal, there is no way to obtain an injunction to prevent a school from irreparably damaging the sponsor’s commercial interests.

While my analysis sees these situations as potential antitrust issues affecting athletes in Illinois and Mississippi, this could be a blessing in disguise for football programs. Your players could be less attractive to NIL agents and sponsors in regional and national markets, giving them fewer NIL opportunities – and more time to think about the game.

For heavily marketed players, the constant churn of deals, interacting with agents, and fulfilling NIL deal obligations – making appearances or creating social media posts – is just the beginning. Thanks to NIL, college athletes also master new tasks such as bookkeeping and tax returns.

And remember – these athletes must continue to attend classes. They must maintain a minimum GPA while holding the full-time job as a soccer player.

I teach undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As COVID-19 has transformed their educational experiences, they are showing more stress and achieving less academic achievement than before the pandemic. My colleagues here and at other universities report similar experiences. But these students don’t have demanding athletic seasons, nor are they taken up by NIL businesses.

At a Power Five university, it’s not hard to imagine that the teams with the richest NIL deals would have athletes with shorter attention spans to devote to winning football.

University of Illinois professor Michael H. LeRoy has published several legal review articles on college sports as well as the book. Collective Bargaining in Sports and Entertainment: Professional Skills and Business Strategies.


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