College football’s influx of NIL money has coaches concerned

UGA coach Kirby Smart

UGA coach Kirby Smart
photo: Getty Images

The first 12 months of NIL have taught us a valuable lesson — that a lot of college football coaches are “pocket-watchers.”

As the market continues to grow and shift, and as we approach our second college football season of the NIL era, the obsession over how much some players are making is showing us the hypocrisy that exists in a sport in which some coaches who make hundreds of millions of dollars “have concerns” about the thousands that players are bringing in.

There has always been enough to go around, however, you can still sense the one-sided greed.

“You give a young man … $8,000 a month or $6,000 a month, you can say, ‘He deserves that.’ Well, he might deserve that if he earns it, if he goes out there and plays,” UGA head coach Kirby Smart said recently at the Texas High School Coaches Association annual convention in San Antonio. “I’m all for taking care of guys that have been part of the program and start and play. It’s just that it’s a reverse system right now, where the bottom coming in are getting rewarded more than maybe the top going out. And…that makes it really tough.”

There’s nothing “tough” about this to understand. Players aren’t in a union because they aren’t employees and don’t have a salary. Players aren’t even getting a piece of the billions of dollars of revenue that they make for their schools and conferences off apparel and TV deals. And in a world like that, realizing that everybody has to get what they can get based on who they are, is actually a simple — not “tough” — concept to grasp.

“What do you think he’s doing with that?” Smart said about incoming freshmen making more money in NIL than upperclassmen. “Is that actually going to make him more successful in life? Because I promise you, if you handed me $10K a month my freshman year of college, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I believe that.”

For some reason, Smart thinks that teenagers getting a jump on real-world money management is a bad thing all because he would have blown it and made bad decisions. Mind you, these are the words from a man that just agreed to a new one 10-year, $112.5 million deal that’s made him the highest-paid coach in college football. But yet, Smart isn’t the one making tackles, throwing and catching the ball, or setting blocks on the outside.

Smart’s new deal isn’t the issue here, as we’ve seen coaching contracts skyrise recently. LSU’s Brian Kelly, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Alabama’s Nick Saban, Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, and USC’s Lincoln Riley all have deals that pay them $9 million per year — at minimum. The problem is when these coaches insinuate that the amount that players are making is “getting out of hand,” or should be limited in some capacity as they’re allowed to keep getting raises.

In 2014, Swinney threatened to quit if players ever got paid. Five years later, he signed a 10-year, $92 million deal and still hasn’t turned in his resignation letter. At SEC Media Day, Ole Miss head coach basically called NIL”legalized cheating.” And in May, Saban started a war of words with Fisher and Jackson State’s Deion Sanders as he accused them of “buying players,” as the coach who brings in arguably the best recruiting class in the country every year feels that NIL is giving schools a “competitive advantage” on recruiting.

Four years ago, Alabama announced that they were going to upgrade their athletic facilities with a 10-year, $600 million initiative. You can’t make this stuff up if you tried.

And if NIL hasn’t exposed enough of the greed and selfishness of some of these coaches embody, there are things coming down the pipeline that will reveal even more about these men. Pay close attention to how coaches will address conference realignment in the coming years, as California Governor Gavin Newsom is demanding that UCLA publicly explain its decision to join the Big Ten — which plays sports on the other side of the country. And just last week, the NCAA announced that the Division I Council has recommended getting rid of rules that restrict players from transferring multiple times which would open up the door for players to change schools and make the best business decision for them without sitting out a season — putting a bigger emphasis on the transfer portal.

There’s no telling what college sports will look like in the coming years, as “football money” is why things will change. By then, hopefully, the players will get a bigger piece of the pie. But if they don’t, it’ll probably be because their coaches haven’t advocated for that part of the system’s evolution.


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