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- ENOUGH with the rich coaches complaining about NIL
ENOUGH with the rich coaches complaining about NIL
Fixing college football's broken labor market shouldn't fall on fans
Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed a restful and fulfilling Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve certainly appreciated the chance to unplug for a moment and spend more time with my family.
But even after taking a few days to build Treasured Family Memories, an unfolding college football story has managed to smash through my Serious Professional Journalistic Impartiality and make me legitimately angry.
No, not Ryan Day’s playcalling.
This one starts with UConn.
Last week, before their season finale against UMass, UConn head football coach Jim Mora didn’t just ask UConn fans to contribute to the program’s NIL efforts to help recruiting…but said that fans who fail to do so can’t complain. Via On3":
After surprisingly cracking .500 and making a bowl game last season, UConn finished the season at 3-9. They’re ranked 127th in F+ and 122nd in SP+, both good for near the very bottom of the country. They lost games to FIU, Georgia State, and Utah State. I don’t know exactly what the UConn football payroll was for 2023, but I am confident it was more than Florida International.
But this wasn’t just one coach saying something stupid. It’s a variation of a complaint I’ve seen multiple times this year. Take Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, after his squad was blasted to smithereens by Georgia:
And here’s NC State head coach Dave Doeren:
NC State coach Dave Doeren calls for fans to donate to @SavageWolvesNIL@packofwolvesnil. Asks for 5,000 fans to donate $1,000 apiece so we can "recruit, retain and develop." Calls coming week "maybe the worst week in college football" with portal opening.
— Brian Murphy (@murphsturph)
Nov 26, 2023
I get why the coaches are doing this. But it’s ridiculous, and I think reporters, and fans, should call them out over it.
Dave Doeren makes over 5 million dollars a year from NC State, according to the copy of his contract that we have in our FOIA Directory. NC State spends over $2 million a year on the salaries of NC State’s two coordinators. NC State has a General Manager who makes $200,000 and a Chief of Staff who makes over $180,000, according to our FOIA Directory.
These individuals are all employed by NC State, along with dozens of other coaches, analysts, and administrators. The school pays them lots of money because they understand that a winning football program is critical for the marketing efforts of the university and the financial health of the athletic department.
The school can afford those massive salaries because the department earned over $21 million dollars from selling tickets to athletic events, with nearly $13 million of that coming from football tickets. They reported nearly another $23 million from broadcasting rights of football games, more than $5 million from the College Football Playoff, $2.6 million from selling hot dots and parking spots at football games, and more. All in all, NC State, at least on their FRS Report, claimed over $53 million in athletic department revenue just assigned to the football program.
The bulk of that money came either directly from fans (tickets, concessions, donations, student fees), or indirectly (media rights revenues).
So why should fans, who do not make five million dollars and who have now already contributed tens of millions of dollars, have to shoulder the responsibility of shelling out even more money?
Coaches aren’t wrong to treat NIL as important. It is, especially for the next few weeks. But it’s not the only tool in their toolbox
I get that the NCAA says that NIL deals can’t be used as recruiting inducements, and some collectives are willing to go through the public song and dance about how they’re actually marketing companies and they aren’t involved in recruiting decisions.
But everybody, outside of a few gullible marketing professors I guess, understands that at the P5 football level, “NIL” means “collective-operated pay-for-work payments.” It’s a shadow salary, funneled through charities so rich donors can still get tax breaks. And if there’s any confusion, just listen to virtually every coach talk about how important NIL is for recruiting and retention as soon as the transfer portal opens.
Of course, money matters in recruiting, just like money mattered when you picked what college you attended, and it mattered when you decided where to live or what job to take. But it isn’t the only factor. Smart recruiting analysts and coaches have told me that generally, recruiting athletes out of the transfer portal is more transactional than out of high school, but athletes still care about playing time, their path to the pros, winning, location, relationships, and everything else that has always mattered.
I don’t know what every collective dropped on their payroll this season. But I do know enough about what enough teams spent to feel very confident in saying that recruiting isn’t just about NIL. The game is still about talent evaluation, talent development, and culture building. Any coach who wants to whine about how roster management is only about who drops the biggest bag…is probably not a coach who is as good at the other stuff as he thinks he is.
Right now, coaches and schools can’t directly pay those NIL salaries. The money technically has to come from outside sources. But that doesn’t mean we should pretend that is normal or okay.
The rules don’t allow schools to earmark athletic department money for NIL collectives, or to explicitly share TV or ticket revenue with athletes. To make sure athletes are paid without actually, you know, paying them, they have to rely on collectives to do it.
That’s a big improvement for P5 football players, who will earn tens of thousands of dollars (and a few will earn much more than that) from collectives. But it’s lousy organizational management, and it’s even more lousy for cash-strapped fans.
Let’s remember why these coaches and administrators are making so much money in the first place.
I believe Dave Doeren is a good football coach! So is Mike Stoops, and so is Jim Mora.
But Doeren makes five million, Stoops makes $9 million, and Mora $1.5 million not just because they’re good football coaches, but because they coach in a system that requires schools to spend their tens of millions of athletic revenues…but without directly paying any of the athletes. In a world where college football teams paid their players in Real American Currency, and not in Muscle Milk and Sleep Pods and 400 Quality Control Assistants, none of these guys would be making the kind of money they make. There would be no college offensive coordinators making $2 million when their counterparts in the NFL often aren’t making that kind of money.
A few coaches, like Jim Harbaugh, James Franklin, and Nick Saban have repeatedly pointed this out and have advocated for athletes to directly share in athletic department revenue. Coaches, of course, aren’t the people who will ultimately make the decisions that would move college sports in that direction, but they have a louder public megaphone than most university presidents and regents. What they say matters.
So that’s one way that a big-time college football coach can use their megaphone, especially since every beat writer is going to ask them about NIL once the transfer portal opens and the coaching carousel spins on and on. Remind the world that a system that asks fans to directly pay even more money, while the coach still makes five million dollars, only exists because schools can’t do the sensible thing, and share the money.
The other ethical thing would be to speak to the corporate and business community in the area. We all know what P5 college football NIL deals actually are, but some NIL deals are about actual marketability or actual business outcomes. There’s nothing wrong with a coach reminding businesses of the interesting, accomplished, and influential athletes they have on campus, athletes who could help businesses reach their advertising goals. There’s nothing wrong with playing up how their program helps build athlete marketability or gives them pathways to entrepreneurship.
Nobody has really cracked the code of building multiple, brand-based NIL activations that are so successful that brands re-up and are prepared to evangelize the experience on business grounds. Whoever does that gets to ditch the finicky boosters and gains a massive advantage.
What sucks is having another rich guy complain that he can’t do his rich guy job unless a bunch of less rich guys spend even more money
The regular fan already has to open his wallet again and again. His TV experience has become worse, as conference realignment and new media deals are requiring him to pay for multiple streaming platforms to watch all of the games, games that are increasingly optimized for TV windows where he doesn’t live.
If he decides to go to the game, he’s going to pay for tickets, parking, hot dogs, maybe a mandatory athletic department donation, and more. It’s not a cheap experience, from Ohio State to Kent State.
I simply do not have any sympathy for any coach or AD who expects that regular fan to also be the person who fixes the labor acquisition problem, by paying for another subscription he doesn’t want or need, because the school doesn’t want to deal with the legal complications of addressing that problem themselves.
That’s your problem. You deal with it. That’s what the money is for.
Until that’s addressed, we’re left with this bizarre world, where a school like Indiana can afford to spend $15 million of donor money to buy out a football coach, and then spend millions more to hire a new one…and then will need to turn around and hit up an already dejected and demoralized football fanbase for more money to pay the players.
The economics of big time college football are so messed up that Indiana...INDIANA...has the money to pay a dude 20 million not to coach, but "Indiana" probably doesn't have the 3ish million needed to pay for a quality enough roster to win 7 games
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownEP)
Nov 26, 2023
It’s bad management. It’s bad optics. It’s a bad business. It may be the road this world continues down for another year or two…but I’m not going to pretend it’s okay.
I don’t think anybody has to make a financial contribution to the “disguise talent acquisition fees for UConn Football as charity” fund to bitch about the Huskies.
You want to limit governance to only those who pay into the pot? Quit coaching and go into running a public corporation.
Otherwise, stop complaining and do your Rich People Jobs.
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