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A 4th string QB is about to make a million bucks in NIL money. What does that mean for the market?

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By now, the latest episode of Going For Two has dropped, and you should be able to access it in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you happen to download your podcasts.

We conclude our State of the Conference series by checking in with our friend, Group of 5 beat writer for The Athletic, Chris Vannini.

In this podcast, we discuss:

  • Whether fans believe in the concept of a shared G5 identity, or if that's just an administrative moniker

  • Whether G5 is going to be an outdated term in the near future anyway

  • Which new coaches he's most excited to see at this level

  • What fans, coaches and admins at G5 institutions are thinking about an era of potentially increased consolidation and breakaway threats

  • Who the most important athletic directors and presidents are at this level

  • and more:

Going For Two is our free podcast, covering the sort of stories and conversations that don't neatly fit into Extra Points newsletters, featuring myself and Bryan Fischer. It publishes every Wednesday morning. If you enjoy the show, please tell your friends, and maybe leave a nice review, so other folks can find it.

When I think about the NIL marketplace, I'm typically most interested in the dealmaking process for non-P5 football players. After all, the majority of college athletes do not play quarterback for Ohio State, and don't have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of social media followers. Most of those athletes have a few thousand followers on Instagram, and want to spend a few hours a week on NIL deals. How they find deals, what those deals are worth, and what that experience is like for athlete, school and brand is of major interest to this newsletter.

But you know what? Some athletes DO play quarterback for Ohio State. And it turns out, that could be worth a LOT of money. Or at least it is for one athlete.

On Tuesday, ESPN reported that Buckeye quarterback Quinn Ewers signed a $1.4 million dollar NIL deal with GT Sports Marketing. The three-year contract with GT Sports Marketing is for autographs. Earlier this offseason, Ewers announced a deal with Holy Kombucha, which will pay him both cash and equity. He'll almost assuredly secure other NIL deals, if he wants them, this season.

The $1.4 million is an eye-popping number, but hey, that's spread out over three seasons, and Ewers will almost assuredly need to give a chunk of that deal to his agents. But still, depending on the value of that Kombucha equity, there's a good chance Ewers clears a million bucks in NIL money this season.

That's especially remarkable because I didn't say Ewers was a starting quarterback for Ohio State. He's not. He's the fourth string quarterback, one who was just in high school a few weeks ago, and one that is unlikely to play at all this season.

Of course, Ewers isn't your typical fourth string quarterback.

Ewers wasn't just the top QB recruit in the class of 2022, a consensus five-star from every rating service. When he reclassified a few weeks ago to get to campus a year early, so he could actually take advantage of NIL deals (Texas state law prohibits HS athletes from earning NIL money, along with Illinois and Mississippi), he immensely became the top ranked recruit, regardless of position, in the class of 2021.

Ewers has a 247 Sports Composite Ranking of 1.000, the highest possible ranking. According to the 247 Sports All Time Recruit rankings, just five other recruits have recorded that high a ranking, and the only other quarterback to do it was Vince Young, who turned out to be pretty good. For comparison's sake, Trevor Lawrence was a 0.9999.

He's already got over 105K followers on Instagram, one of the largest accounts of any college athlete. So Ewers isn't a typical case. He's one of the biggest recruits, from the biggest stage, playing the biggest position, at perhaps the single biggest brand, in all college football.

Still...isn't this a lot of money for somebody who isn't going to play? Isn't this pretty risky?

That's a good question.

Recruiting rankings absolutely correlate with team success, but they're not perfect by any means, especially at quarterback. After all, a team can only play one QB, and injuries, immaturity, poor coaching, and a slew of other factors could derail the career of even the  most promising prospect.

Let's take the 2018 class, for example. Your top three QBs? Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and JT Daniels. Lawrence and Fields had exceptional college careers and became first round draft picks. Daniels went to USC, got injured, transferred to Georgia, and looked very promising near the end of last season. He'll be on the short list of top college QBs heading into this year.

The next five-star on that list? Dorian Thompson-Robinson of UCLA, who has had a decidedly up and down college career so far. Justin Rodgers, the next five star, went to TCU, transferred to UNLV and might not even start there.

Take a look at the 2016 class. How many of those top ten QBs had a strong career at their first school. Two?

Even among the absolute elite of the elite, success is no guarantee. The top three QB recruits ever, Young, Lawrence and Fields, all had outstanding college careers. The 4th? Brock Berlin, of Florida and Miami. Other elite-elite QB prospects included guys like Shea Patterson, Ben Olson, Kyle Wright and Russell Shepard.

If history is any guide here, Ewers is very likely to be a productive college QB, if he can stay healthy. But there's certainly no guarantee it happens at Ohio State (the Buckeye QB room already has another five-star and two other high four-star recruits). Taking a redshirt season now is fine and good, but if companies are willing to pay you $750,000 now, are you going to be willing to be patient and wait for playing time? Will the brands? And how will the actual starting QB for the Buckeyes, CJ Stroud, react, if he doesn't make Ewers-money this season despite, you know, actually playing the games?

The NIL market for a very-high level P5 QB appears to be set at or near a million bucks. Will that be sustained?

I think it's difficult to argue that an elite QB isn't worth seven figures to a championship-contending team, given the revenues at stake should a team win a national title...but the athletic department isn't paying the athlete. Brands are, and we're told that brands are trying to get returns on their investments in NIL deals.

Will marketing companies be gun shy about dropping seven figures on autograph deals if a few prospects don't pan out? Are these deals not actually as lucrative as the headlines made them appear? Will the market expand into other industries, pushing contracts up? Will more agents try to get more involved in the college space?

I'm not totally sure for now. I am reasonably confident the bottom and middle of the NIL market will rise as more pricing inefficiencies are settled and more athletes and brands enter the marketplace. I don't know what will happen at the top.

All I know is that's a lot of money for an athlete who probably won't throw a pass this season, and is not guaranteed to throw passes for a championship contending team in 2022. But hey, it's not my money.

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A 4th string QB is about to make a million bucks in NIL money. What does that mean for the market?

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