Wichita State athletic director explains no NIL collective

Wichita State athletic director Darron Boatright, right, and new men's basketball coach Isaac Brown hold up a jersey with Brown's name on it after Brown was officially introduced as the new men's basketball coach at Wichita State on Monday.

Wichita State athletic director Darron Boatright, right, and new men’s basketball coach Isaac Brown hold up a jersey with Brown’s name on it after Brown was officially introduced as the new men’s basketball coach at Wichita State on Monday.

The Wichita Eagle

The ability of student-athletes at Wichita State to capitalize on Name, Image and Likeness opportunities has been a popular topic of conversation lately among the fan base.

For the second time in three years the Wichita State men’s basketball program is in the midst of significant turnover with a total of eight scholarship players entering the NCAA transfer portal this spring. Following a 48-hour span last week where the team lost budding star Ricky Council IV and starting point guard Craig Porter, fans immediately started searching for answers as to why the team was losing so many key players.

A common theme emerged in conversations The Eagle had with players, coaches and those around the program: the lack of NIL money-earning opportunities played a role in why prominent players such as Council, Porter, Dexter Dennis and Morris Udeze ultimately decided to transfer from Wichita State.

The Eagle recently spoke with Wichita State athletic director Darron Boatright, who has taken the brunt of the criticism from fans, to find out why WSU has seemingly been caught off guard and, as a result, left trailing in the race to establish NIL collectives and raise money to retain current players and attract new ones.

“Where we erred was focusing on educating our athletes about NIL and not just collecting cash and paying kids to come to Wichita State,” Boatright told The Eagle in an exclusive interview. “We were told all along this was not pay-for-play, but now it appears the NCAA has no problems with that, so why not?”

NIL collective take off, but not at WSU

There weren’t many guardrails put up by the NCAA when it adopted its initial NIL policy last summer, but it’s true the one rule it made sure to emphasize was that this would not turn into a pay-for-play scenario where NIL money could be used as a recruiting induction.

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Wichita State athletic director Darron Boatright signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him with the department through the 2023-24 school year. Bo Rader The Wichita Eagle

Schools were also told that while not against NCAA rules, it was discouraged to take a hands-on approach to facilitate NIL money-earning opportunities for their student-athletes. They were supposed to wait for an independent group from the university, which turned into what became known as NIL collectives, groups of boosters and businesses who pool money to create NIL deals for student-athletes.

Instead of being proactive in the NIL space, Boatright took a more conservative approach: choosing to educate student-athletes about how to obtain an NIL deal, rather than pushing for an NIL collective to be formed.

“We didn’t spend as much sweat equity on pay-for-play because it was our understanding, as it was a lot of people’s understanding, that NIL was not going to be an obvious recruiting advantage,” Boatright said. “We knew there was going to be some gray area and it was going to be about how comfortable you are operating in that gray area.

“Once football signing period came along, bam, collectives started popping up and student-athletes are getting promises of money to transfer prior to even enrolling in an institution. It has become straight up pay-for-play and the NCAA has absolutely done nothing to help prepare us for this.

“I firmly believe that the NCAA is so afraid of a split from the Power 4, 5, 6 conferences, whatever term you want to use. I think the NCAA is so concerned those institutions may split off that they are not regulating them at all.”

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Wichita State’s Ricky Council IV celebrates a three-pointer late in the second half against South Florida to help seal the win for the Shockers on Saturday at Koch Arena. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

For all of his gripes with the NCAA’s handling of the situation, Boatright acknowledged his naivety concerning how NIL money was going to be used in recruiting.

With no established NIL collective in place for the start of this college basketball recruiting cycle, the WSU men’s basketball program had to compete against programs bankrolled by millions of thousands of dollars in NIL money.

“We are swimming upstream while other schools have boats,” one staff member told The Eagle.

“It’s frustrating, but I own that because that’s the way it is,” Boatright said. “But if there are going to be no regulations, I can own that too.

“When you are part of a governing body that tells you, ‘This is not pay-for-play’ and to stay away from that, you trust the governing body. But that’s not where we are. Now we have to adjust and make sure we get competitively on the same playing field. It is very much frustrating that the things that they spent time on warning us about is exactly what is going on now.”

Boatright criticized for falling behind

The growing dissatisfaction among the fan base was on display this past weekend when a small, but passionate group of fans raised more than $2,700 in a 48-hour span for a “Save Shocker Sports” initiative. According to the group’s GoFundMe, the fundraiser will support marketing efforts like billboards and a website.

“We are a group of Shocker fans looking to draw attention to Mr. Boatright and the athletic department’s recent failures and lack of transparency,” the description reads on the group’s GoFundMe page. “Many WSU fans are canceling tickets, ceasing donations, and a general sense of apathy has formed in the fan base. It is time for a change, and university leadership has been content with mediocrity.”

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Wichita State coach Isaac Brown questions a call during the second half of their first round game against Tulsa at the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Fort Worth on Thursday. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

Given the rash of high-profile transfers out of the men’s basketball program, the lack of a Wichita State NIL collective is a popular concern among fans. Boatright confirmed to The Eagle that WSU’s first NIL collective is expected to be announced sometime early this week and another could be on the way. It is unclear if the NIL collectives will be able to operate quickly enough to make an impact during this recruiting cycle.

Boatright has also been under fire from fans since February when a Kansas Open Records Act request by The Eagle revealed WSU had given him a two-year contract extension through June 2024 that was never publicized by the university when signed in October 2020. The secretive nature of the extension, which also gave Boatright a 37.5% raise in salary at a time when the athletic department was strained in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, drew the ire of fans.

University president Rick Muma told The Eagle in March that WSU “embarked on a comprehensive market study and a review of comparable athletic director contracts from other universities to assist with negotiating the now-existing contract.” From that study, it was determined that the athletic director at WSU should be making $275,000.

The GoFundMe also expressed concerns about Boatright’s ability to lead the athletic department out of the hole that the pandemic has left it in, as WSU’s revenue fell from just more than $30 million to $21.2 million — a 30% decline, while expenses remained essentially the same .

“It’s been a tough budget over the past couple of years and it has been for a lot of schools,” Boatright said. “We have been able to manage because we’ve been good stewards of our finances over the past decade, but that hurts going into those savings and those reserves to make budget for the last couple of years. That’s bothersome. The athletic department has taken hits, no doubt about it, especially financially.

“I think what can get our fans excited is something new. Everyone likes something new. Well, (the NIL age) is something new. Let’s see how we can adapt and turn this into something positive for our institution.”

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Wichita State athletics beat reporter. Bringing you closer to the Shockers you love and inside the sports you love to watch.

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