IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa athletics once devised a pseudo-collective for its football players, and it briefly cost the hawkeyes their Big Ten membership in 1930.
Alex Karras was stashed in northwest Iowa for an entire summer and received payments from football coach Forest Evashevski. Joe Namath allegedly visited the back room of a plumbing supply shop in Iowa City where he was assured his needs would be met in exchange for signing a letter of intent. Rumors hovered for generations about other Evashevski dealings or the Iowa men’s basketball players receiving payments in other eras.
Slush funds, lakefront hideouts or new automobile agreements are ghost stories from Iowa’s past. They were major allegations with serious ramifications. Now, through the US Supreme Court dismantling NCAA control over name, image and likeness, athletes are fair game to receive compensation from outside sources. In fact, the 1920s fund to which Iowa City businessmen contributed to provide spending money toward “the upkeep of football men” not only is legal, but it’s also encouraged.
This time, the Iowa athletics department is more prudent — and less blatant — than in previous decades when it comes to athlete compensation. All of the NIL initiatives are open and documented through associate athletics director and lead compliance officer Lyla Clerry. Talk of collectives has ramped up with prominent former players involved, but nothing is official — yet.
“I think there’s people interested in it,” football coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t know all of the moving parts and mechanics of things. I imagine pretty much everybody will have some form of one at some point. I’m hardly the expert. But I think it’s coming.”
“How quickly can a group of people come together and create a collective? I assume it can happen fairly quickly,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said. “The donors who have asked us. We’ve had good conversations about wanting to do it the right way, and I know they want to do it the right way. So, they’re talking. How fast is it going to happen? I can’t predict.”
Methods by Barta and Ferentz don’t exactly harken back to when an Iowa booster traveled to Pittsburgh, met Namath and struck a bargain for $1,000 and a new car, according to the book “Rising Tide” by Randy Roberts and Ed Krzemienski. But those types of now transactions are commonplace and taking place on Iowa’s campus, as long as athletes perform required tasks.
Although the NCAA appears nowhere in sight when it comes to NIL regulation, Barta still identifies several areas of importance to avoid improprieties or prompt a possible investigation.
“I don’t happen to have any of these confirmed, but I’m concerned when I hear stories of pay-for-play, because that’s not name, image and likeness,” Barta said. “Absolutely when you talk to a donor or company that wants to participate in name, image, likeness, talk with them. You talk to a student-athlete, you can introduce them to that group. But we’re not going to offer money to come to this school that isn’t tied to an exchange for doing something, in exchange for that support. It’s murky waters these days across the country, but we’re going to do it the right way.
“One of the things we’re educating our student-athletes with is, you don’t have to seek permission to do something, but you want to report it to us so that you can avoid any traps of a compliance issue or becoming ineligible. .”
Clerry’s office also spends time going over tax issues with athletes, which is especially true when goods are involved rather than just a check.
“There are stories of student-athletes across the country receiving a vehicle,” Barta said. “Let’s say the vehicles were $30,000 or $40,000. That’s a taxable exchange. So, making sure that students are aware that if they receive something, they have to pay taxes.”
Although Iowa athletes have become the public faces of regional grocery chains, various restaurants and plenty of endeavors, the most important work lies with collectives. Discussions are ongoing among people representing alumni, companies and civic groups. Before anything is unveiled, the remaining questions include the type of collectives to the amount of contributions from fans to the services provided by athletes in exchange.
With football coaches now visiting schools (not prospects), plus June camps and official visits, questions about income potential will come from players and their families. Assistant football coach Jay Niemann, who recruits the state of Iowa, expects those topics to be “more on the forefront here as we go.”
“Many of those questions right now would be ones that would come over the phone,” Niemann said. “Once we get into the fall and we can actually get in at the school themselves and sit down and talk to seniors face to face, get into parents’ homes, things like that, then it’ll probably become even more and more of an issue. But it’s out there, and it’s not going away. So, it’s going to be something we’ve got to talk about.”
While there’s urgency to form a collective, especially with other programs securing seven-figure deals for recruits, Iowa’s approach remains deliberate.
“We’re approaching name, image and likeness the way we approached just about everything: win, graduate, do it right,” said Barta, repeating the department mantra. “We certainly intend to be relevant and competitive and make sure our student-athletes have the opportunities that are available, but we’re also going to make sure we do it the right way.”
(Top photo: Scott Taetsch/USA TODAY Sports)