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The NCAA NIL Crackdown is a Solution Looking for a Problem

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
The NCAA wants to punish schools for boosters and collectives turning NIL into pay-for-play. Doing so is an absurd waste of time.

Never doubt the NCAA’s ability to pour its resources into something that will help nobody and accomplish nothing.

As Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated pointed out this week, college sports’ governing body is preparing to crack down on potential NIL violations by allowing its enforcement staff to use circumstantial evidence (like a news story) to “presume a school violated NCAA rules.” Meaning: If someone suspects your school of engaging in a pay-for-play scheme, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent.

The context here is important, as the announcement comes while schools, athletes, and the NCAA are all trying to deal with the anarchy of NIL collectives representing universities and running amok in pay-for-play situations. Look no further than the state of Florida, where former Gators football recruit Jaden Rashada asked out of his letter of intent when a reported $13 million deal with Gator Collective fell through. Head a few hours south to Coral Gables and that’s where Life Wallet CEO and Miami booster John Ruiz signed Kansas State basketball transfer Nijel Pack to an $800,000 NIL deal to get Pack to play for the Hurricanes this season.

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Because collectives (or in Miami’s case, rich boosters) operate independently from the university, athletic programs can plead ignorance. Not anymore.

Prepare for investigations. For notices of allegations. For, well, not the IARP, thank God.

The question I ask now is…why? What is the NCAA trying to accomplish here? What actual progress do they hope to make in cracking down on pay-for-play? And, ultimately, if the NCAA was able to wave a magic wand and eliminate pay-for-play, what would that accomplish other than taking even more money from the student-athletes who make the NCAA billions of dollars and receive no direct compensation in return?

NIL has only been around for about 18 months, and already, just about every fear people expressed over its implementation has been debunked.

It has not furthered the gap between the haves and have-nots in college sports. As Ruiz has shown, any school with a wealthy booster (and that’s most of them) can become relevant if they so choose. Though they made the Elite Eight in men’s basketball last year, the Hurricanes were still just 23-10 heading into March Madness. It was their first Elite Eight, hardly making them a national power. But that’s where Pack ended up, and Miami is currently 17-5.

The Miami women’s team has been to one Sweet 16 ever, and it was in 1992. Thanks to NIL, the Cavinder twins chose the Hurricanes, and Miami is on track to go back to the NCAA Tournament with Haley Cavinder as the leading scorer and home attendance up 43% from last year.

So-called college sports free agency has not ruined football or basketball. If anything, it’s added year-round intrigue. Rather than forgetting about college basketball in April and May, the portal heats up and NIL plays a major role in where the best players may be next year. It also allows basketball (and to a lesser extent football) programs to rebuild immediately. Who could have predicted a year ago that the LSU women would be a top-five team in the country? Then, Angel Reese decided to transfer. Providence was supposed to rebuild this year. Then, Bryce Hopkins decided to get out of the shadow of five-star talent at Kentucky. He signed with Roc Nation, joined the Friars, and is No. 20 in On3’s ranking of college basketball NIL valuations.

The NCAA has a solution but is looking for the problem. It claims it wants to “protect amateurism,” but amateurism has never truly existed in college sports — and all that phrase has done is serve as code for wanting to continue to make billions off the backs of their unpaid laborers. In an era where college conferences can shop their media rights to the highest bidder, bringing in tens of millions per school, per year, athletes now have the chance to profit themselves.

But all of my crying here will only fall on deaf ears. I know that. So let’s look ahead. How do you think this new policy will be enforced? There is a stunning lack of clarity around NIL rules, to begin with. Now, add a slew of circumstantial evidence and wild accusations to the mix. I have a hard time believing that the NCAA, an organization that has never once uniformly enforced any rule, will find any measure of consistency here. It’d be nearly impossible for anyone, let alone something as dysfunctional, antiquated, and destructive as the NCAA.

The NCAA, however, will do whatever is in its power to cling to the façade of amateurism. When applied to NIL, it’s an act that does nothing but prevents athletes (primarily football and basketball players, many from low-income backgrounds) from having a chance to help their families, help themselves, and just have more fun.

Rather than getting out of the way and letting it happen, the NCAA wants to further crack down on anything that serves the best interest of the student-athlete. As always.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.