Some Thoughts on NIL, Recruiting and the Wisconsin Badgers

Friday night, for the first time in a while, my Wisconsin chat group was going full throttle with takes, texts, and shouts. This is usually reserved for actual games, but on Friday we were talking about Oklahoma announcing that they will be giving away up to $50,000 in NIL cash for soccer, men’s basketball, and softball players.

The discussion continued on Saturday morning, then I saw this Badgermaniac thread on Twitter, and I don’t want to try and “dunk” this account (because a lot of people have said it or thought it that way), but it made me want to write down some of my thoughts because I don’t believe there are as many “college sports being ruined for good” as people think.

Let me be perfectly clear from the start: I think college athletes making money is a good thing. If they are paid by the NIL collectives, that is fine. If they do sponsored Instagram posts, that’s fine. If they’re just able to sell their art because it’s their hobby, you guessed it, that’s fine too.

The thread linked above begins with a classic trolling motion, asking “what happens to the gymnast or offensive guard on the third rope?” The next tweet then immediately says “schools guarantee 50,000 to every player whether you contribute or not” as if that’s a bad thing. Wouldn’t the third tailpiece, a team player, get that money? Problem solved!

Also, Wisconsin doesn’t even have a gymnastics team, but I understand what is being argued here. Tell them that athletes in Olympic sports or less televised sports will be left behind. It should be noted that athletes, such as gymnasts, cheerleaders, or athletics, may have niche audiences that they can reach, which would be invaluable to advertisers and NIL collectives.

None of the people discussing this have ever considered these sports before and just use them as some sort of Fairness Boogeyman, which they don’t even really care about. They’re just upset that their football team isn’t doing what Oklahoma or Alabama or whoever else is doing.

At least in the Badgermaniac thread, they admit that there has never been a “level playing field” when it comes to recruiting, and that it should end there. They go on to say that being “under the table” kept him from being as great as he is now. This is false and also naive. Schools have been circumventing NCAA rules for, literally, never. If anything, making NIL collectives a thing above board makes it better for a school like Wisconsin that prides itself on being a “cleaner” program.

Then there’s a discussion of Nike’s Phil Knight giving every football player in Oregon $1 million and calling it an NIL license. It just won’t happen and it’s hilarious to suggest it. Knight is going to pay $85 million every year for the Ducks to make the playoffs? Lol, okay.

Then there’s a bit of a tangent about the “allure of the NCAA tournament” being underdogs beating blue bloods. They note that mid-major rosters typically have an expanded veteran roster that can be hung with the Dukes and Kentuckys and their portal one-and-dones or transfer mercenaries.

They specifically mention that the Wildcats are buying mid-major players to make them the eighth man in the rotation, weakening the mid-majors. It’s especially fun to pick Kentucky this year because they literally just lost in the first round to 15-seeded Saint Peter’s. The transfer portal and NIL are not going to ruin the NCAA tournament. It’s silly.

College football and basketball have always been the minor leagues of the NFL and NBA. College players getting some cash didn’t change that. Big schools that can “buy” rookies aren’t going to change the balance of power in college football or basketball. Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State will always have the best recruiting classes in football and Duke, Kentucky and UNC will be in men’s hoops.

If anything, schools like Wisconsin or South Carolina or Arizona, basically Power 5 schools that aren’t blue blooded, will now have a better chance of getting a top-notch recruit because they can also offer NIL. The Badgers have often found themselves finalists for a 4 star football rookie but then lost and now that UW can offer NIL money chances along with all the other great things the program/university has to offer, that could change.

I get why coaches often snitch on players making money because they’re used to being the ones in control and might not like players having a tiny bit of agency to themselves . I don’t understand why the fans are against it. Whenever there are major shifts or changes in college sports, some people think the world is ending.

Purse limits would ruin the sport. Televising all games would ruin the sport. The BCS was going to ruin the sport. Sport changes and people adapt. None of these concerns are new, they are simply being raised around a different change from the status quo. Players, finally, making money playing college sports won’t sound the death knell alarmists think.

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