Shatel: NIL is a boon for Nebraska football — even if many old school fans don't like it |  Soccer

Shatel: NIL is a boon for Nebraska football — even if many old school fans don’t like it | Soccer

It didn’t take long for the word to get around.

A Nebraska football booster club was forming in west Omaha, according to a source familiar with the group. That in itself was not necessarily news.

There are several groups in Omaha that support the head coaches of various Husker, Creighton and UNO sports.

But this new group was different from the others, where boosters pay to get a private audience with the head coach and the money goes to the coaching staff.

This Nebraska football group will meet once a month next season. The head coach, assistants and starting players will make appearances.

But all the money will go to the players.

This group is formed to support name, image and likeness. And it comes with a hefty membership fee: $5,000.

The price of doing business in college sports just went up.

This is the part where I point out that many fans are being turned off by the new Wild West, where college athletes and recruits in every sport are getting their share. They say they’re done.

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But I should also note that the aforementioned group had an initial blast of 75 members. And still growing.

That’s $375,000 up front to the players. And members are encouraged to give more, with the chance for more perks.

Now, consider that five or six more of those Nebraska football groups are expected to pop up around Lincoln and Omaha. And the folks involved in this say it could grow up to 11 soon.

These groups, or “pods,” are a smaller slice of an overall pie that keeps growing — the giant collective worth millions that goes out to current players, transfers and future stars.

And therein lies the great dilemma of the old school college football fan, bemoaning the death of the game he loves.

If you don’t take care of the players, some other school will.

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I’m from an era where every game started at 1 pm, conferences had eight teams and New Year’s Day was the center of the universe.

But I also remember times when we sports writers patrolled the players’ parking lot, looking for brand new BMWs with the sticker still in place.

Now, those new cars are all nice and legal.

There is no more cheating, in the traditional NCAA sense. Of course, there’s no more traditional NCAA, either.

I’m in favor of NIL. I want Chucky Hepburn to sell some “Chucky Special” T-shirts. I like the fact that it’s equal opportunity, across all sports, where a Nebraska volleyball player can make as much as or more than a quarterback.

The NIL concept works because each athlete has a brand and market value. And the market decides.

But, college football being college football, some folks took the ball and ran and just kept running.

The NIL became a vehicle for recruiting. For winning.

The Athletic recently reported that a five-star football recruit received a contract with a collective (representing a school) that could be worth more than $8 million.

Blake Lawrence, the former Husker linebacker and CEO of Opendorse, predicted that the top NIL collectives would spend $10 million per year on athletes. With the majority of that booster money going to attract recruits and transfers.

I was glad to see that Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright, a smart old-schooler, said he thought the NIL market would correct itself, or balance out, in the next three or four years. I agree.

Of course, Wright then stunned everyone by retiring last week. As one Philadelphia columnist wrote, Wright didn’t want to wait four years for the correction.

The Wild, Wild West is driving away coaches. And many more will follow.

There needs to be leadership. Moderation. An NIL cap? For recruits, yes.

Sorry. The NCAA, once a feared powerful body, is now afraid of antitrust laws. It has washed its hands of NIL.

That’s fitting. Because the people who run major college sports are the networks and boosters. And boosters and schools would just find a way around any NIL rule you put in their way.

I’d like to think there will be a market correction. That boosters will see the lunacy of writing six-figure checks for kids who may never pan out or who transfer after one year looking for more.

But there will be other players. And as long as boosters have money, and there are shiny new recruits to fall in love with, the two shall forever meet.

The interesting thing to me is what those boosters will do when their athletic director calls on them at the country club.

If you have $100,000 in the budget for your school every year, how much of that now goes to the players? And how much goes to the school?

If you’re Nebraska and the Big Ten is about to make you richer, it’s not as big of a deal.

For schools without big TV contracts or football money pouring in, it could be a dangerous fork in the road to navigate.

The feeling here is that the great facilities race will be put on pause. Heck, recruits in the future will care more about NIL, not some fancy locker.

And smart ADs will know where the money needs to go.

The other day I was talking to a former Nebraska football player. And we were pondering what the likes of Tommie Frazier, or the offensive linemen of the ’80s or ’90s, would have raked in NIL money.

It’s hard to even fathom.

This player launched into a rant about college football turning into pro football, team camaraderie torn apart, how future players would play for money and not love of the game.

It was raw, emotional and honest. And I know many Husker fans who would compete.

But here comes the dilemma part for some hardcores.

The NIL is going to be a boon for Nebraska football. An ace in the hole.

Big Red football is the No. 1 sports franchise in the state — a state filled with thousands of fans who have money and like to spend it on their favorite team.

And this is a geographically challenged program that has found that recruiting has become more taxing through the years.

NIL money can bridge a lot of gaps in luring good football players — recruits or experienced transfers — to Lincoln. It can make a lot of magic. And it’s all nice and legal.

That’s why there is a Nebraska Huskers Marketplace, a sort of clearinghouse for NIL to reach Husker athletes.

And why there’s an Athletes Branding and Marketing collective in Lincoln serving as a powerful engine.

And why hundreds of Husker fans are volunteering their checkbooks to take up the fight — with many more lining up.

The same reason NIL isn’t ever going away, and boosters aren’t going to back off. It’s as old as the oldest school.

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