When All-Big 12 point guard Nijel Pack received a two-year, $800,000 deal to promote the app LifeWallet after he transferred from Kansas State to Miami in April, it raised eyebrows.

A month later, in a meeting with business leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, Alabama coach Nick Saban claimed Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher “bought every player” in the school’s top-ranked 2022 recruiting class with a collective the school formed that raised $30 million for promotional deals. Fisher, a former assistant under Saban more than 20 years ago at LSU, vehemently denied the claims.

The NCAA adopted an interim Name, Image and Likeness policy on June 30, 2021, which stipulated schools could not use the deals for athletes as a recruiting inducement. But it hasn’t stopped schools finding loopholes to create big-money deals designed to either keep top players on campus or, in the case of Pack, pry them from other schools.

The NCAA is reportedly looking into Pack’s deal, furnished by Miami booster and Miami-based attorney John Ruiz. A former Indiana All-Star from Indianapolis, Pack bypassed offers to play closer to home for Big Ten schools Purdue and Ohio State to join the Hurricanes. But the gray area of whether Pack accepted the deal before or after he chose to enroll at Miami remains. Both Pack, who told ESPN he chose Miami because of his relationship with head coach Jim Larranaga, and Ruiz, have denied wrongdoing.

The rise of collectives — business entities that support school-athletic teams and are formed under state laws to generate or pool revenue used to furnish NIL deals — has created another method for schools to lure and compensate student-athletes.

Nearly every Power 5 conference member has created a collective of some form, either for profit or non-profit. Indiana has created the non-profit Hoosier For Good Program, a 5013c which compensates selected athletes from all of its sports programs to make appearances for charitable causes.

IU athletes involved in the Hoosier For Good program include men’s basketball players Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, football players Jack Tuttle and Matthew Bedford and women’s basketball players Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes.

NO CONSISTENCY

Indiana football coach Tom Allen supports NIL but wants uniform guidelines in place to create a more level playing field.

“Every state is different,” Allen said. “There’s no consistency. Conferences have different things, but it’s really state to state based on the rules that you have, how your boosters feel about it.”

That’s an issue being tackled by the NCAA Division I transformation committee, which includes Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio athletic director Julie Cromer. The NCAA has lobbied Congress to provide an antitrust exemption or enact uniform NIL legislation, but so far Congress has yet to act.

“We have to understand the reality of Name, Image and Likeness,” Sankey said at the Associated Press Sports Editors Convention in Indianapolis earlier this month. “For the first time, we had state laws telling us how we were going to run our athletic department. That’s reality.”

Another reality, Sankey said, is the 9-0 decision in the NCAA vs. Alston Supreme Court case, which sets a legal precedent that makes it difficult to place guardrails on how student-athletes are compensated.

“That puts us in what we describe a post-Alston environment,” Sankey said. “A very clear message that says while we might like certain guardrails, regulations and we’d like to go to the NCAA Convention and cast a vote and call the NCAA and say, hey come in and interpret how I need to meet this expectation, that’s not our reality.”

Mit Witner, a Kansas City-based sports law attorney who specializes in NIL, does not expect Congress to get involved and said it will be up to the NCAA to police its rules regarding schools not using NIL as recruiting inducements. Witner said enforcing those rules, in his opinion, could stand up to legal challenges.

“People have voiced their opinion on that — if the NCAA does try to enforce its rules it’s going to lose lawsuit after lawsuit,” Witner said. “I don’t feel that way. Under antitrust law, even if the rules are technically restraining competition by not allowing payments as part of the recruiting process, the question is are those rules reasonable? But I think a good argument can be made that they are reasonable, keeping third parties like boosters out of the recruiting process via payments.”

Others are not as confident the NCAA can enforce those rules. NCAA investigations following the FBI probe into college basketball corruption, which were unearthed in 2017, ran at a snail’s pace. One blueblood men’s program implicated in the probe, Kansas, has yet to receive any significant penalties and went on to win the 2022 NCAA championship.

“If no one gets pulled over for speeding, everybody is going to speed,” Allen said, “As soon as you see somebody on the side over there, you slow down. Or you yourself get a ticket, you slow down.

“It’s human nature, right? And so nobody is getting pulled over for any of these things that are going on, and nothing is going to change. That adds to the frustration. The tampering piece is a major source of frustration among coaches, and how do you prove all of that and what’s really going on at other places? And, yes, I think there’s not a lot of confidence in that right now, and it’s frustrating. It’s hard.”

Sankey wants to create a national standard for NIL while pairing down the NCAA’s rulebook. It would first need approval from the NCAA’s Board of Governors and then possibly Congressional involvement. Until then, Sankey said the NCAA will try to enforce the rules it has in place.

“There are going to be extremes,” Sankey said. “What we had hoped from the beginning, we wouldn’t have booster involvement with the recruiting activity around Name, Image and Likeness. We would have actual business activity, and we all have a responsibility to work toward that. There’s just no easy pill that we can take or magic button we can push that makes that reality come alive right now.”

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

According to Cleveland.com’s Doug Lesmerises, Ohio State coach Ryan Day in early June told Columbus-area business owners during a meeting the Buckeyes needed $13 million to keep their roster from the previous season intact.

Less than a week after Day’s admission, Penn State football coach James Franklin didn’t mince words when fielding questions about the Nittany Lions’ standing in the current NIL landscape and how much money in NIL deals the program would need to remain competitive in the Big Ten East and nationally.

“I don’t know what schools you’re talking about, but if we want to compete with the schools that (the media) writes articles about us competing with, why wouldn’t our number be the same as others?” Franklin said. “If School X has a number, and we’re supposed to be competing with School X, why would our number be different?”

Penn State currently has two NIL collectives in Success with Honor and Nittany Commonwealth. The university system, which includes 20 campuses, counts more than 700,000 people among its living alumni. In the past year, however, it’s been shown a large alumni base alone doesn’t automatically equal a treasure chest of money for NIL.

Although Franklin didn’t give a firm number when asked how much money Penn State’s football program needs to compete during the NIL era, he did say, “More than the numbers you’ve heard.”

NIL hasn’t only shifted the recruiting paradigm.

Some coaches have said they now have to re-recruit their players each season, making sure they’re content with their role and standing with their respective programs. NIL, coupled with new transfer rules, makes it much easier for players to leave their programs and contribute right away to new ones.

As a result, coaches and administrators have alleged roster tampering by programs looking to pluck players with the promise of lucrative NIL deals. First-year Penn State athletic director Patrick Kraft addressed the issue during his introductory press conference in May and said it was one that needs to be addressed.

“What I’ve learned in the past year is there’s a lot of sharks in the water and they’re attacking, and we have to protect our athletes,” Kraft said. “Because there’s a lot of things happening that, candidly, I don’t really agree with. I think the NIL legislation was great. I really do. I’m a believer. I think athletes should absolutely have the opportunity to monetize their name, image and likeness. I do have an issue with people calling others on rosters, offering them money to go into the portal. That’s what is happening, and we have to find a way to fix that.”

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