MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. — The amount a college football coach complains about name, image and likeness rules and transfer rules appears to be inversely proportional to the length of that coach’s remaining working life. Florida freshman coach Billy Napier is 42 years old. Presumably, he would like to remain employed at his current income level for a long time. He certainly knows the recent history of the job he just took, which is probably why he offered a different kind of history lesson on Tuesday before meeting his fellow SEC head coaches at the spring meetings of the conference.
“I am convinced that this is a positive point. We live in a different time,” Napier said. “If you go back to 1990 — I did some research the other day — each SEC institution received about $1.3 million a year from the league. Just 13 years ago, I think it was around $6 or $7 million, and I think this deal (2024) is in the 60 or 70 a year range. One of the things about my career is that I’ve been in the profession and watched this explosion. It’s silly to say that the players don’t deserve a piece of the pie. If there are no players in those stadiums, no one shows up to watch, and they certainly aren’t sitting at home watching it on TV.
The 2024 deal Napier is referring to is the SEC’s new media rights deal with Disney/ESPN that kicks in two years from now. The SEC hasn’t publicly released the revenue projections for this deal, but it does appear someone told Napier that each school’s annual cut would be about $70 million, down from about $55 million. in the SEC’s latest disclosure in February. Meanwhile, the Big Ten are closing in on a new media rights deal (starting in 2023) that should see the conference split a pot totaling about $1 billion a year. And the historical figures of Napier are close. In 1990, the SEC divided a total of $16.3 million among 10 members (less the conference cut to fund the league office). So $1.3 million per school is dead. Thirteen years ago, each school received $11.1 million a year. The $6 million per school figure would have been more accurate around 2001, but Napier’s more important point stands. The amount of money schools make from televising football games has skyrocketed, and coaches need to understand that whether they like it or not, they are part of an industry whose core business is creating TV shows. They do not work in higher education, although their offices are on college campuses. They are in the entertainment business.
Nothing exposes the generational divide in coaching more than this awareness. Last year’s changes – a sweeping change in transfer rules by schools as well as the invalidation of NCAA rules against paying players through state NIL laws and the trade end of a 9 decision -0 from the United States Supreme Court – upset coaches who grew up in a time when college sports were not a multibillion-dollar business. For coaches who didn’t enter the business before the head coaches of major colleges were already millionaires, the changes are just another thing they will have to deal with by retirement around 2050.
Nick Saban of Alabama and Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M have amused us the past few weeks by throwing accusations at each other based on rules that no longer exist. But beyond our “OOOOOH, FIIIIIIIIIIIGHT” playground fascination, it doesn’t matter if Fisher bought a recruiting class (not really against any rules that might be enforced) or if Saban has recruiting irregularities in his past ( not really against the rules anymore, plus there’s a statute of limitations that doesn’t date back to the turn of the century). They can have their spit. The younger ones need to figure out how to keep working so they can lead teams to national titles and become curmudgeons in a future age.
Like his fellow coaches, Napier would like to have strict guidelines on what coaches and athletic departments are allowed to do when it comes to name, image and likeness agreements for players. But unless the federal government comes to the rescue of college athletic departments with a comprehensive set of rules — a possibility that seems more remote by the day — Napier doesn’t look like a man ready to quit the company. whether he has to deal with players allowed to be transferred in the blink of an eye or recruitments that revolve around how much a player could earn on a NIL deal.
Nor Eli Drinkwitz, the 39-year-old Missouri coach. Someone tried to ask Drinkwitz on Tuesday about the difficulty of recruiting a roster again because players can be transferred so easily. “We’re pretty lucky to have these jobs, man,” Drinkwitz said. “I coached football in high school. I painted lines. In the summer, I used to open weight rooms. I have to come here on a private jet. I sit at the beach. Is it hard? Absolutely. Do we have the best jobs in the world? Absolutely. There’s no way I’m turning this into a “poor me” deal.
After attending various conference meetings this offseason, it’s clear that the younger generation of coaches seem far less concerned about NIL’s “resolve.” It will simply be a job change to which they will have to adapt.
Saban, 70, has led his teams to seven national titles due to his willingness to adapt to scheme changes and rule changes. The bigger question now – and it could be a game changer depending on the answer – is whether his vocal calls for hard and fast NIL rules are the result of an unwillingness to adapt in this particular case or they are a feast for the eyes. distracting everyone while he works behind the scenes to adapt to the changes in a way that continues to give Alabama the greatest possible advantage.
Saban demands an impression that all politics is local. Like all coaches, he knows he can’t say the ability to pay players is a bad thing. This would immediately be used against him in recruitment by rival coaches. But the NIL model that has been sold to the world – players already on campus are allowed to enjoy their fame rather than being paid what they are worth as football players – is the one he wants. And that makes sense. Although in his comments Saban hides his desire in an argument of competitive fairness, the truth is that in practice such a system would allow schools that recruited the best players from the old system to guarantee recruits that they would draw the best of the old system. new system. It would be great for Alabama, Ohio State or Georgia. It wouldn’t be so good for Tennessee, Miami or Florida.
The way NIL has evolved in practice – because competitors tend to compete when not constrained by collusion – Is factor of how much a rookie could possibly be worth as a football player. And that will translate into financial bets aimed at convincing some recruits to turn down schools that recruit the best players in favor of schools that recruit a notch or two below.
It has also created an uncertain market where NIL collectives and the football programs that do not guide them struggle to separate fact from fiction as agents seek the biggest paydays for clients and for themselves. This bothers some coaches and administrators. “We need some kind of transparency in name, likeness and likeness agreements to verify that players are doing what they need to do to have the opportunity to earn money in name, likeness and likeness. “said Saban. “Believe me, I’m all for players winning as much as they can win. But I also think we need to have a consistent and transparent way of doing that.
What you are looking at is the pain of a lack of information in an emerging market. Almost every private industry in America has dealt with this at some point. The salaries of software engineers / podcasters / Instagram clothing brand spokespersons are not published anywhere. So how do companies know what to pay? Their executives have spoken to enough applicants to get a basic idea of the market rate for someone doing a certain job with a certain degree of skill. But what about when those jobs were new? Paying companies had to understand that. “College football player” is not a new occupation, but “college football player authorized to be paid from outside sources” is less than a year old. This market will take several years to grow, regardless of the rules.
Maybe Saban will get his wish with an unofficial network similar to the one that lets us know contract details for every NFL player. The player’s agent discloses the total, if-everything-breaks-exactly-the-player’s-path. Next, the team discloses the guaranteed amount and the number of cancellable years at the end of the agreement. Do this enough times, and Spotrac can create a database.
But agreements between private companies and individuals are more likely to go undisclosed — even just among school compliance departments — in the way Saban hopes. Drinkwitz was asked about the idea of this kind of disclosure. “I don’t know if all your income is made public. I know mine is, and it’s not always necessarily fun,” Drinkwitz said. “I don’t know if that’s fair or appropriate for the student-athlete – although it would make more sense for us from a modeling point of view in terms of everyone knowing what’s going on. But for purposes from the NCAA and the SEC, we really need to focus on what is our central theme? What are we trying to do here? If it’s for the health and well-being of student-athletes and to protect students -athletes, then we have to make decisions in their best interest and not necessarily in our best interest.
Spoken like a man who knows that if he works to make the stars of all those TV shows happy, he might just be able to keep taking a private jet to the beach for a long time.
(Photo by Eliah Drinkwitz: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)