Look around the parking lot of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at The Ohio State University this fall and you might come across a $200,000 palace on wheels, the kind of luxury ride most likely to be found in garages of stars. movie stars, music moguls and titans. business than on a college campus.
That’s assuming Buckeyes quarterback CJ Stroud hasn’t traded in his silver Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon for a Bentley or Porsche, which his name, likeness and deal with Sarchione Auto Gallery allows him to do every 45 days. .
“It’s definitely changed my life for the future,” Stroud said of the various NIL deals that have worked their way over the last year, “and I think it’s a good start to being a businessman before you get to the NFL, if that’s your interest. path.”
More than a year ago, the NCAA lifted longstanding restrictions on players who profited from celebrity status and, in some cases, turned elite players like Stroud and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young into instant millionaires. . But the financial benefits to some athletes are being weighed against the possibility that such deals will divide locker rooms, create tension within programs, produce an uneven playing field in college athletics and overwhelm students with little time.
“As far as NIL goes in the locker room, you see stuff, but nobody talks about it,” Oklahoma wide receiver Marvin Mims admitted. “It’s never like a competition, like, ‘Oh, I got a lot more money than you. I have this deal. You couldn’t get this deal. But you realize the NIL offers other guys are getting.”
College football has seen the biggest impact of the NIL legislation, though athletes across all sports have taken advantage of the sudden influx of cash. Of the estimated $1.14 billion that will pour into athletes’ pockets in Year 2, the NIL Opendorse platform predicts that nearly half will be spent on the grid.
The largest and most high-profile deals go to individual athletes who have successfully harnessed their exceptional ability, potential, influence and exposure: Young’s portfolio is believed to have exceeded $1 million before he took a shot at Crimson Tide, while his Alabama teammate Will Anderson signed a NIL deal that allows one of the nation’s top linebackers to drive a $120,000 Porsche Cayenne GTS.
In Texas, broker Bijan Robinson has deals with Raising Cane restaurants, C4 energy drinks and sports streaming platform DAZN, while forging a partnership with a car dealer for the use of a Lamborghini. At Notre Dame, tight end Michael Mayer has parlayed his first-round shares into deals with clothing brands Levi’s and Rhoback.
It’s precisely the kinds of endorsement deals and cozy relationships with boosters and businesses that once led to players being suspended and programs on probation.
“I feel bad for the older players who didn’t get a chance to get money off of this, like Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones, Justin (Fields),” Stroud said of the Ohio State quarterbacks who came before him.
“They should have made a killing,” added Stroud, who also works with Value City Furniture, Designer Shoe Warehouse and trading card company Onyx Authenticated. “It’s good that players are in control now when it comes to money.”
Along with agreements signed by individual athletes, collectives have become a major player in the NIL landscape. Some are organized by schools and others by boosters acting on their own, but both distribute the money raised from businesses and donors for everything from sponsorships to meetups and charities.
The Foundation, a third-party collective at Ohio State, says it has raised more than $500,000 for Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and cornerback Denzel Burke. Texas Tech boosters have formed the collective The Matador Club, which says it is signing all 85 scholarship players and 20 walk-ins to $25,000 contracts this season in exchange for appearing at club events and doing a certain amount of service. community.
“I think we’re well into the seven figures with all of our collectives,” said Morgan Frazier, a former gymnast in Florida and now general counsel for Student Athlete NIL, which operates collectives at Penn State and several other schools.
When asked where most of the money goes, he replied: “Overall, definitely football.”
It’s nearly impossible to determine how much players with NIL deals make, in part because reporting rules differ from state to state. The vast majority are relatively modest, perhaps $50 for a tweet or $100 for a fan sign on platforms like Cameo, vidsig, and Engage. Rarely do bids exceed $1,000.
But for top-performing players on featured shows, with NFL potential and huge social media followings, the money on the table can be life-changing. Twelve college players have a valuation of at least $1 million entering this season, according to On3, a platform that uses an algorithm to take things like social media reach into account to project a NIL value.
More than 50 players have a valuation of at least $500,000, most of whom play in the SEC and Big Ten.
“Having the opportunity to change other people’s lives, that’s what’s great about NIL,” said Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who founded Limitless NIL, believed to be the first athlete-created agency to help other athletes. His clients include Nittany Lions wide receiver Ji’Ayir Brown.
“It’s not about what we’re doing or what I’m doing,” Clifford said, “it’s about what Ji’Ayir came to where he is now, to be able to impact a guy like that. And I’m proud to be able to say that he was our first guy to come on board.”
Loot can come at a price. For one thing, players who have already had trouble juggling classes and study halls with practice and movie sessions must now balance meet and greets, autograph sessions, and other work.
“If you want to monetize or be compensated for all the hard work (and) sacrifice that you’re putting in, this is part of it,” said Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn, a preseason All-American. “I have learned to read a contract. I have a marketing agent. I learned how to talk to companies, participate in conference calls and things like that.”
Vaughn also acknowledged the added pressure to perform: “With that money comes expectation.”
Then there’s the often combustible locker room atmosphere, where lines have always existed between the haves and have-nots. In the past, those might have been between support players and interns. Now, they could be between players driving exotic cars or wearing expensive jewelry and those trying to scrape together rent.
“I know it could be a distraction,” Robinson said, when asked what it’s like driving his Lamborghini to practice. “If a teammate brought it up, he’d just joke around and say, ‘Oh man, but it’s not like what you’re getting right now.’ Just to not make it about you, because it’s not about you.
“If you’re not winning,” Robinson said, “none of us can get these NIL deals.”
AP sportswriters Schuyler Dixon, Stephen Hawkins, Erica Hunzinger and Michael Marot contributed to this report.
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