Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
I hope you're all having a wonderful, restful and healthy holiday season.
Last week, I went back and revisited how accurate my 2021 college sports industry predictions were. I had a few big whiffs (I thought we'd get a college sports bill passed in 2021, and I had no idea Texas and Oklahoma were going to leave the Big 12 this quickly), but got a lot of the trends mostly right.
Or at least, right enough to make me think it's worth taking another stab at this whole predictions thing. Here are some Extra Points 2022 predictions. These are just predictions, perhaps educated guesses, but not reported developments. I always tell folks, if I really had a crystal ball that could predict the future, Extra Points subscriptions would be much more expensive.
NIL related predictions
- Group licensing will rapidly grow in 2022, not just for power conference programs, but for many mid, and even low-majors. As regulatory and logistical concerns get ironed out, programs will realize that embracing group-license solutions is a relatively low-lift way to boost their merch sales and provide financial value to athletes. By mid 2022, there will be enough group license scale for EA Sports to announce they will include the likeness of athletes in their next college football video game, which will come out in 2023.
- Speaking of video games, the next major project to include current athlete likeness won't be EA Sports College Basketball or another AAA title. I think you'll see a mobile-first game product, one that could potentially be released before NCAA Football next summer.
- We'll see the first major NIL lawsuits in 2022. With firms that don't typically spend much on influencer marketing dropping five and six figures on deals, athletes who aren't reading the fine print, and insufficient data for all parties, mistakes are bound to happen. Maybe a company goes out of business before they can pay off an NIL deal. Maybe an athlete sues if they aren't paid what they thought they were owed. Not sure of the specifics, but I bet we see depositions in 2022.
- The regulatory body that will take the biggest step in examining specific NIL deals in 2022 won't be the NCAA, or even a state government. My money is on the IRS. I'd watch not just how the IRS looks at deals from the athlete side, but whether it agrees that some of these "charitable" NIL group-deals are, in fact, actually charitable.
Hey, speaking of the IRS, here are some political predictions:
- NCAA leadership badly wants a federal bill to establish uniform NIL guidelines and sort of legal shield against constant antitrust lawsuits. For a minute, it looked like they were going to get one. There is legitimate bipartisan interest in college sports reform and in broad support of athlete NIL rights. Both houses held hearings and multiple politicians have proposed bills.
- But momentum stalled for a number of reasons, and I believe that the odds of any actual bill getting passed in 2022 are slim to none. In the short term, the top priority for congressional Democrats is going to be salvaging something out of the wreckage of Build Back Better. With Democrats highly likely to lose both the House and the Senate, their leverage in pushing for a more ambitious college sports reform bill (one that might address collective bargaining, athlete health care, etc) is shot as well. With a contentious election season beginning and with so many bigger issues on the priority list, if a college sports bill isn't passed by say, early February, I don't think it's happening in 2022. It might not ever happen.
- The federal body that many school leaders are most concerned with right now isn't the House or the Senate, but the National Labor Relations Board, one that essentially invited athletes to unionize. The legal framework that protects the current amateurism status quo is probably going to fall in the near future, but I don't think it will happen in 2022. I also don't think we'll see an FBS program seriously attempt unionization in 2022, although I'm sure it will happen again eventually.
- State governments were very interested in NIL and college sports in 2021, and if the feds can't or won't take a larger role, states will continue to fill it. I'd expect several southern states to join Florida in amending their current NIL laws to become even more permissive, such as allowing high school athletes to take advantage of NIL, or to allow schools to assist athletes in brokering deals.
Here are some conference realignment predictions:
- I continue to believe that the rest of this realignment wave will be at the FCS and I-AAA (D1, no football) level. We still have multiple conferences actively looking for other programs (OVC, ASUN, Southland, WAC), leagues that would like to tighten their geographic and institutional fit, and programs that are weighting reclassification (from FCS to FBS, and from D-II to D-I), concerned that if they don't act in early 2022, they may miss their window for years to come.
- Chicago State accepts an invitation to join the MEAC as a provisional member before this summer. That will buy both parties some time while they figure out what their strategic position will be in a few seasons.
- I think we'll see at least two new D-II programs announce they are reclassifying to D-I, and perhaps as many as five.
- Right now, the "most interesting mid-major" is UT-Arlington, a program that could potentially join the MVC, WAC or perhaps another league. In 2022, my educated guess is that the "most interesting" mid-major with multiple realignment options will be the College of Charleston.
- This is a guess. Not a report, message board friends, just a guess. My guess is that after both the NCAA and D-I constitutions are drawn up, Conference USA will add Eastern Kentucky to get to ten programs.
Here are some college sports predictions that don't easily fit into any of those other buckets:
- The Big Ten will sign a new tier one media rights deal, and it will be notable for two reasons. One, it's going to be for a huge amount of money, even if that amount of money isn't quite as huge as schools thought they might get...something in the 60ishM/year range for five-ish years. Two, it isn't going to be with ESPN. Big Ten rights will get interest from all sorts of bodies, but my educated guess is that the rights will be won by Fox and CBS, an entity that badly wants back into the college football game.
- There are well over a dozen NIL marketplaces right now, and I don't think that's in any way sustainable. This industry is going to contract and consolidate, and I bet we'll see some of the first mergers happen in 2022.
- I couldn't begin to tell you what the next D-I constitution will look like yet, and honestly, most of the people I've talked to don't know either. But I do feel confident in predicting the next NCAA constitution will be accepted with minimal complaint next month.
And finally, because I need to step out on a limb again...
Alabama is gonna be pretty good at football next season.
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