It would be very easy for a college coach to get caught up in the moment of success and try to change a few things to make sure it lasts. Kirby Smart is conforming to the changing world of college football, but still holding onto the core roots of roster management.
For a program like Georgia to have sustained success over time, it’ll have to keep things flowing in a positive direction, especially with NIL. Star players will always be the face of a program, which is how tickets are sold and money comes in, but sometimes you have to find a balance between them and the core players.
“You have to look at your roster and say, ‘We need great players, right? But we need enough core players that believe in the value of the organization to out weigh any blinking lights.’ Sometimes a blinking light might be a talented player that doesn’t completely all the way buy in, but you have to have enough core players so that the voice doesn’t get heard. I think we had that last year. We had a really good group of core leaders and they also happened to be really good players, that is when you get to win a national championship.”
But the landscape has changed, and the money talk these days could make even a Bag Man blush. Players are looking at programs not only for their potential to win championships, but also for the amount of money that can be made over time. We heard coaches talk about the NIL changing college football this week, and Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban dove head first into the pros and cons. But as Kirby Smart mentioned on Wednesday, the coaching staff has to be aware of the players who think about contributing to the team, not just about making money.
“But you have to be selective of going really far away from home. Or, how big of a portal risk is this kid? Is NIL so important to him that he is not going to be as effective as a player? Because it is easy to sit here and say, ‘What can I make with NIL? How can you help me?’ Well I can help you a whole lot more if you come out of college with a degree and come out of college and get drafted. There are a lot more commas on those salaries than there are on NIL deals. You have to be able to explain that to kids, and they have to understand and buy into it.
“The hard part is figuring out which each kid is. Does he really buy into that or is he just providing lip service?” Kirby added. “That is where there are tough decisions made as a head coach and a position coach, of which guys you take. Because you don’t really know until they get here sometimes.”
But NIL is only beginning, and until someone decides to enforce rules upon it, the recruiting trail will continue to look like the wild wild West. Coaches continue to sell facilities, the stadium atmosphere, the chances of playing at the next level and so on. But now dollar signs have taken over the driver’s seat for many players, and schools are trying to outbid the others by presenting financial figures of what current stars have made. Several Power Five coaches have told me the game has been changed. They can no longer go on their old recruiting pitches. Now they must factor in the money being made from on-field performance.
Kirby Smart understands that things are changing, but also knows that there is only so much a head coach can do right now.
“Development has taken a step back, which it shouldn’t, and facilities, academics, what we can do for you in terms of life after football — those things have taken a backburner to NIL for a lot of people.
“Once you explain to a kid that we can’t set [NIL] up, we can’t promise that, what people are doing is they’re validating their NIL by showing what their current roster makes and by showing what current players are able to do,” Smart added about NIL. “The more marketable their players, the dollar signs fall in these young kids’ and parents’ minds. I think sometimes they’re getting misled into the numbers that are already out there, which becomes propaganda.”
The hard part of NIL is the actual market value for a potential prospect. Just because Stetson Bennett made a nice chunk of change last year doesn’t mean the next prospect who comes in will make anywhere close to that. This is where the lines get blurred, as Kirby pointed out. They cannot guarantee anything, at least the coaches can’t. Now, the people putting together these deals for players, that’s another story. They are certainly involved in the process and try to secure the right figures for a future player, but Kirby Smart understands that he can’t walk into a living room and tell a player he’ll make a certain amount each year.
“Number one, you can’t guarantee that. Number two, to each kid it may apply differently. Some guys are at developmental positions, and they are going to have to work very hard. I am not of the opinion that kids should be making decisions based on that. You’re probably recruiting the wrong guy if that is all they are making their decision based on. So, I think a lot of colleges are having to look inside out at who they recruit and why they recruit them.”
As long as the rules are lost in translation, the schools will work inside the area that is currently set up. For Kirby Smart and others, they might not enjoy the direction college football is heading, but they are trying to adapt as quickly as possible.
Welcome to the new world of amateur athletics.