AP Photo/Wade Payne
Ole Miss head football coach Lane Kiffin, who spent two years coaching the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, said the arrival of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals has made NCAA recruiting no different than pro leagues’ free agency.
Kiffin was asked about his NIL discussions with recruits Friday during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show (5:10 mark of video).
“It’s professional sports,” he said. “It’s no different than an agent with a free agent saying, ‘OK, we have this from the Raiders, but we’ll come to you with the Falcons if you match it.'”
Kiffin is the latest high-profile coach to speak out about the direction of college sports in the NIL era, which began in June when the US Supreme Court ruled the NCAA could not prevent certain payments to student-athletes.
Last week, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney told ESPN’s Chris Low he isn’t against the idea of allowing players to profit off NIL opportunities during the college careers, but he feared a “pay-for-play” system was starting to emerge:
“I am against anything that devalues education. That’s what I’m against. I am for anything that incentivizes education. People will come after me because I’ve always said that I’m against the professionalism of college athletics, and I am. Kids don’t know what they don’t know.That’s a slippery slope if you professionalize college athletics, and now you’ve got salaries and taxes and you can fire kids on the spot and they’ve got to pay for their tuition and they pay for their housing and everything else. Athletic directors would sign up for that in a heartbeat. They’d save money.”
Alabama’s Nick Saban followed suit Wednesday, telling the Associated Press’ Ralph D. Russo what’s going on isn’t a “sustainable model” for college sports:
“But that creates a situation where you can basically buy players. You can do it in recruiting. I mean, if that’s what we want college football to be, I don’t know. And you can also get players to get in the transfer portal to see if they can get more somewhere else than they can get at your place.”
Saban added Crimson Tide players probably ranked at or near the top of NIL earnings in 2021, and he’s confident his program would continue to thrive regardless of the rules, but he’s worried about the college football landscape as a whole.
Having any semblance of balance in college sports has long relied on players making a choice between prestige and opportunity. Some recruits were willing to wait their turn at Alabama, while others wanted a quicker path to playing time and would go elsewhere.
If it becomes a simple case of the highest financial offer wins, that trickle-down effect allowing other programs a shot at high-impact players is going to evaporate, especially for programs outside the top-tier group in the major sports.
There isn’t an easy solution to the problem, though.
It’s impossible to blame a student-athlete for maximizing their financial opportunities in college, and Russo noted most of the NIL deals are made by companies with “no obligation to publicly disclose deals,” giving the NCAA no regulation power.
That’s why the NCAA has requested a federal law that regulates the market. NCAA President Mark Emmert asked for a “federal framework” during a congressional hearing in October, per Maria Carrasco of Inside Higher Ed:
“This framework needs to put college athletes first, on that we all agree. While it has been exciting for me and others to see college athletes explore new financial options in recent months, we’re also seeing many challenges and concerning trends. These concerns , if not addressed soon, may be very difficult to reverse.”
So far Congress hasn’t acted on the issue, as coaches continue to sound the alarm.