By RALPH D. RUSSO
Broken promises and unrealistic expectations have been a part of college football recruiting ever since coaches have been pitching their programs to living rooms across America.
As always, playing time opportunities and a path to the NFL are being sold, but now also potentially lucrative endorsement deals run by booster-driven collectives are in the mix. There is even more potential for prospects to feel ripped off after signing a national letter of intent.
When college football’s traditional winter signing period opens on February 1, among the top-tier unsigned players will be Jaden Rashada. The four-star quarterback from California signed with Florida in December but petitioned and was granted his release after an endorsement deal with a collective potentially worth more than $13 million fell through.
The unfortunate deal between Rashada and the Gator Collective — one that helped persuade him to back off a previous verbal commitment to Miami and a name, image and likeness offer from a collective that works with Hurricanes athletes — should be a cautionary tale for Recruiting in the it was NIL.
“NIL and the presence of collectives and promises to prospects create a facet of the recruiting experience that is 100% outside the control of the school, and what is magnified by the Rashada situation is that the promises of independent third parties are impacting where the children decide to go. to school,” said Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse, a company that works with schools and communities on NIL compliance and other services.
The NCAA lifted the ban on athletes cashing in on their fame in 2021. While the association still has rules in place that make using NILs as a recruiting incentive impermissible, fragmented state laws and fears of legal challenges have prevented that the NCAA put detailed and uniform regulations into effect.
The rise of collectives, which operate outside of the school and its athletic department but ideally in its best interest, led the NCAA to clarify that collectives, like individual boosters, cannot participate in the recruiting process.
But the lines have blurred as coaches try to present potential NIL opportunities to recruits without giving guarantees.
“Coaches who are well trained in NIL say things like this: ‘I can’t promise you anything. But what I can share is that a player who is in his position on our campus is currently getting XYZ,’” Lawrence said.
Coaches and athletic department employees may publicly support their athlete support groups, although they may not directly raise funds. That allows recruits to easily identify the groups most associated with the schools that go after them.
Still, many of those who run colectivos proceed with caution when it comes to contacting recruits.
“They can communicate with us. Frankly, I avoid those conversations because there’s a fine line between sharing information and encouraging,” said Gary Marcinick, president and CEO of the Cohesion Foundation, an NIL collective that works with Ohio State athletes.
Mike Caspino, an NIL attorney who has worked with numerous college athletes on class agreements, including Rashada’s with Miami, sees it differently.
He said the difference in drafting pitches falling within and outside the rules comes down to semantics. Ideally, schools would be directly involved with NIL agreements rather than having an outside entity with little accountability representing their interests.
Caspino said the Rashada/Florida situation is indicative of systemic problems with NIL and recruiting.
“Like the lack of proper representation on both sides, like the lack of documentation, like we need to treat them like the businesses they are,” Caspino said. “And in any business deal, we’re going to have a contract that sets out everyone’s obligations and the benefits that everyone receives from the contract. And we don’t do that.”
Lawrence also said that the reality behind the rhetoric is that most collectives are not funded enough to meet the demand for NIL settlements.
Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said coaches are concerned that collectives dictate which players they can recruit.
“They have no control over some of the processes that are happening and who they are receiving. And then you don’t even get the (players) you want,” Berry said.
Berry said most coaches would prefer to work collectively with established players already on campus.
“So now you have this external entity that is basically valuing the players and you don’t even have control over the value of what’s going on,” he said.
Mit Winter, a Kansas City-based sports attorney, said the fallout from Rashada’s release should make schools take a close look at the groups they support.
“I think the moral of the story is collective, you have to focus on your dealings with current athletes and help them with their NIL opportunities,” Winter said. “And you leave the recruiting to the coaches.”
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