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STUDENT ATHLETES

Can a Booster Offer Caleb Williams a Million-Dollar NIL Deal?

Former Eagle Charlie Batch says his company is willing to give Williams $1M. Would the NCAA allow this? Let’s take a look.

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams has had a fascinating freshman season. After sitting behind preseason Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler for the first three games, Williams replaced him mid-game, with the Sooners down 28-7 against heated rival Texas. Williams led a furious comeback victory, securing the starting job and going 8-2 the rest of the season. With former OU head coach Lincoln Riley leaving Norman for the USC job, Williams has a decision to make about his future in college football. He has entered the transfer portal, but has not ruled out a return to Oklahoma.

Naturally, a lot of schools will want him. But Eastern Michigan alum and former NFL quarterback Charlie Batch is being a little more outwardly aggressive than anyone else.

You read that right. A former football player publicly tweeted that a company — one for which Batch is an advisor and is made of EMU alumni — would give a player a million-dollar NIL deal if that player chooses his alma mater.

If this isn’t the first time such a thing has happened, it’s at least the highest-profile instance. We know that a coach can’t directly offer an NIL deal in exchange for a commitment, but this is a gray area.

Let’s explore what the rules say as they stand.

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What Is Not Allowed

We’ve already discussed the shortcomings of the NCAA’s NIL rules and explored the limitations around what players can accept. In short, we know that the following cannot happen:

  • Any sort of pay-for-play offer, as described above
  • Incentive-based deals (do X on the field, and you will receive Y)
  • Any deal contrary to state laws — this includes states that ban NIL deals in direct conflict with school sponsors (a player at an adidas school signing with Nike, for example) or states that ban deals with alcohol or gambling brands

After that…there are a whole lot of hypotheticals that haven’t quite worked themselves out.

Of course, as all of college sports history has shown, if a school can get around the rules, it will. After all, technically legal is the best kind of legal.

Here’s how college football coaches have characterized it:

Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher:

“There were a lot of NIL deals going on before all this was going on, they just weren’t legal. Nobody told nobody.” (on The Paul Finebaum Show)

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin:

“We have free agency in college football. The kids, a lot of times, go to where they get paid the most.”

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day:

“To say that I’m not, at the very least, concerned about what’s going on around the country right now, that would not be accurate.”

What Is Allowed

While there can be no direct earnings given to a player due to performance or potential performance, coaches can arrange for NIL deals to be negotiated between players and other companies.

Former TCU head coach Gary Patterson asked for boosters of the school to help with NIL deals in an attempt to keep potential recruits from going to the SEC. Patterson cited that in-between area where it is not certain if something illegal is happening.

“In taxes, do you do short form or do you do deductions? I can promise you there’s nobody in this room that does the short form,” Patterson said, per Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “That’s what I’m talking about in recruiting. Everybody lives in the gray area. Everybody in this room lives in the gray area. The bottom line to it is we’re going to have to live in the gray area if we want to keep up.”

It seems clear that Batch is doing for Eastern Michigan exactly what Patterson was calling for at TCU. Having it out in the open complicates things. The NCAA has no power to legislate what a private company can offer an individual. It can, however, regulate what athletes are allowed to accept. In this instance, GameAbove is directly affiliated with Eastern Michigan. How does that change things?

There will certainly be more similar stories like this one as the NIL system moves forward. Part of growth is navigating in unclear spaces, and the NCAA must continue to keep the players’ best interests and safety in mind while allowing them to explore the freedoms that come with the NIL era. This is just another instance of something the NCAA has yet to really encounter.

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