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NIL Changes Are Coming Fast But No One Really Knows What That Means

And they called the transfer portal was the Wild West

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North Dakota State v Duke
At Duke, RJ Barrett, dunking, and Zion Williamson, in mid-air, would have been worth millions in NIL money
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We’ll know a lot more soon about just how NIL changes will affect college sports but a few things seem clear even now:

  • The debate over capitalism vs. socialism, so heated on campuses already, is about to get a major new twist as some athletes will cash in in a big way
  • Collegiate athletes, at least prominent ones, will have more of an investment in capitalism than most of their contemporaries
  • Some athletes will be more equal than others

There is no one in college now who had the earnings potential Zion Williamson had at Duke. However, some of the more prominent athletes will make a lot of money, probably more than their parents do. And some of the ideas are just being born. For instance, one quarterback has already trademarked a logo with his initials. Some schools are bringing in consultants to help athletes maximize their income. People are figuring it out. At Kentucky, just wait until BBN figures out they can pay players by buying autographs. Previously only wealthy alum could pay players. From now on, it’s crowd sourced.

In other words, while a great many American college students are currently drawn to socialism, their most visible peers are going to be making great money for teenagers and young adults and perhaps for anyone and may end up, whether they like or not, being the biggest advocates, or at least symbols, of capitalism on their campuses.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch that dynamic play out, and while it might not be fun for the athletes, it’ll also be interesting to see how some professors at say, Berkeley or UNC, reacts to athletes who make more than they do.

There are going to be some interesting tensions with all of this, including potentially within teams.

Take 1979 Indiana State for instance. The only really good player on that team was Larry Bird, who in this environment would have made millions.

More recently, Stephen Curry at Davidson was in the same vein. If anyone who is not a Davidson fan, grad or member of that squad can remember one Curry teammate, we’ll be hugely impressed.

What happens when a Curry, Bird or Williamson is making six or seven figures and someone less marketable is not? What happens when a star emerges at a small school?

Take Seth Curry, who was tremendous at Liberty before transferring to Duke. He was ready to get out of there clearly, but today he’d have a major financial incentive to do so.

There will always be people who think differently of course. Bird left Indiana because it was too big for him. He worked on a garbage truck before turning up at Indiana State and said he loved the job. Tim Duncan promised his dying mother he’d graduate and wasn’t willing to leave until he had.

Generally speaking though, the money is very likely to call the best players up from smaller schools and with one-year scholarships, the lesser athletes in major programs will end up effectively trading places with them.

Schools that own major mind space, like Duke or Gonzaga, will probably become more of a destination/goal than they are now. Schools like UCLA, Notre Dame or BYU, with major fan bases that might be spread around, may do well.

But smaller schools won’t. The odds of athletes at Prairie View A&M, located in Prairie View, Texas, population circa 7,000, getting much out of NIL are pretty slim. If you saw a late bloomer like David Robinson show up there, odds are he’d book it out pretty quickly.

Essentially, we expect the divide between smaller schools and conferences and larger ones to become bigger. and in some way, the smaller ones are going to try to find a way to demand a cut. We can’t imagine what it will be but it’ll happen.

And when it does, it won’t surprise us any if the Power 5 conferences just break off and do their own thing.

Anyway, that’s all just in-house if you will, all college sports issues. You know who’s going to be really mad about this? Overtime and G League Ignite and possibly Australia’s NBL. Overtime is a startup and they will not have the money to compete for the best players. G League Ignite can probably compete more effectively but the NBA will limit that budget.

A lot of change is coming after the 1st but Overtime may not be around to see much of it.