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Money has always been the driving force behind college football, but NIL puts it out in the open. While many recruits may choose to attend the program that puts them in the best position for success, others may follow a paycheck.
Both of those things can also be true.
With such an emphasis on financial opportunity, there is a lot of controversy about how it looks. The schools themselves cannot be directly involved in the NIL process, which leaves boosters and “collectives” to their own devices.
While money cannot be used as an inducement for a commitment, as explicitly stated in the NCAA rule book, there are legal workarounds. They can’t give a recruit X amount of money to play for their program, but they can suggest that X amount of money exists if the recruit signs with their school.
It’s an extremely grey, undefined area in which donors and supporters can operate. And although it is not stated publicly, college football staffs know more about the process than they lead on.
There is a lot of don’t ask, don’t tell when it comes to NIL — same as there was with the previous system that saw Eric Dickerson get compensated. Not much has changed, but NIL makes it legal, and the numbers have inflated.
College football programs who can offer the most NIL money through their boosters and collectives are in the best position to land top-ranked talent. It’s the nature of the beast.
Maryland is at the forefront of fan-spun NIL controversy.
While the Texas A&Ms and Miamis of the world, among others, are paying out small fortunes to players, some schools don’t have that luxury. Where Texas A&M has nearly 60,000 undergraduates who later become part of the alumni base, Maryland has about 40,000.
This is where big NIL boosters come into play. Smaller schools have to tap their deepest pockets more often and in a larger way.
For the Terrapins, one of those notable alumni donors is Kevin Plank, who is best known for founding Under Armour. He was the CEO of the sports equipment company from 1996 until 2019.
Plank was in attendance at Maryland’s basketball game against UCLA on Wednesday. As were two top college football prospects from the DMV area.
- Nyckoles Harbor, an absolute freak of nature, is a five-star edge rusher from D.C.
- Oluwatosin Babalade is a four-star offensive lineman from Maryland.
Both players are being recruited heavily by the Terrapins, but have offers from more than 20 schools.
They spoke with Plank during the game, which raises an interesting dynamic. Multiple schools are contracted by Under Armour, but they are not receiving Plank’s help in recruiting or NIL.
As a result, that conversation between Plank, Harbor and Babalade stirred up some frustration— particularly amongst South Carolina fans. Why should they contract with Under Armour when the founder of Under Armour is actively recruiting against them?
Technically, because Plank is no longer involved with the management of Under Armour, he is just another booster talking to recruits. However, because of his ties to the company that is also contracted by other schools, it makes for a unique relationship.
Phil Knight is doing the same thing with Nike at Oregon. It’s no different, but in the NIL space, people like Knight and Plank certainly muddy the waters a little bit.
And if Maryland lands Harbor and Babalade, the conversation will only get louder.