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College football players set to make big bucks in NIL, but questions linger

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As The Notorious B.I.G. once said, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.”

The name, image and likeness (NIL) era arrived two months ago, enabling college athletes to profit for the first time after decades of making an exorbitant amount of money for their schools. 

Starting this weekend, as college football begins in earnest with a full slate of games, the impact of NIL kicks off as well, raising several questions. 

Will big-money deals create chemistry problems? Will players prioritize the individual over the team? Can performance directly result in financial windfalls? Will the stars making the most money face increased pressure? 

“The one danger here that also needs to fit into the calculations is overexposure at a time when a player’s football career hasn’t been established,” famed superagent Leigh Steinberg, whose company Steinberg Sports & Entertainment represents Oklahoma star quarterback Spencer Rattler, told The Post in a phone interview. “In other words, to be on billboards and commercials and all the rest of it, can put a lot of pressure on a young player, because it’s all about expectations.”

Take sophomore quarterbacks Bryce Young and D.J. Uiagalelei, for instance. Alabama coach Nick Saban recently said Young would earn seven figures this year, and that was before he threw a meaningful pass for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young
Vasha Hunt/AP

Uiagalelei, who had two starts under his belt as a freshman at Clemson, has signed marketing deals with Dr. Pepper and Bojangles restaurants. The two underclassmen were already facing immense pressure replacing national championship-winning quarterbacks Mac Jones (Alabama) and Trevor Lawrence (Clemson). Now throw the financial component in the mix.

“I would think the scrutiny if you’re getting paid to do something is going to be intensified, and if people know the extent to which you’re getting paid, that could even elevate the scrutiny even more,” ESPN analyst and former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said. “People used to give [star players] a hard time just because they were on scholarship. Now they’re going to get a hard time because they make more money than 99.9 percent of the population. 

“These guys are no longer being viewed as college players. They are no longer being viewed as kids, especially when they are, in some cases like Young and [other top quarterbacks], earning more than some guys who are even playing in the NFL.” 

Three players The Post spoke with — Ohio State receiver Chris Olave, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and West Virginia linebacker VanDarius Cowan  — don’t expect jealousy to be an issue at their respective schools, in part because they are purposely avoiding discussing specific deals among themselves. But sometimes it can be hard to ignore.

Ohio State freshman quarterback Quinn Evers, who reclassified to move up a year and may spend most of the season on the sidelines, has signed a $1.4 million deal with GT Sports Marketing, according to ESPN. Saban has told his players to get used to teammates making more money than them, because it will happen if they make the NFL. A handful of programs have team-wide NIL deals, easing potential tension.

Michael Penix Jr.
Michael Penix Jr.
Darron Cummings/AP

“It’s a huge opportunity for all our guys,” Olave said. 

Dusty Dvoracek, a former defensive lineman who played for Oklahoma and was a third-round pick of the Bears in 2006, believes this issue is overblown. Star players always have garnered the most attention. When he played in the NFL, he wasn’t concerned with how much money his teammate made. His focus was on what he needed to do to improve his own situation, and Dvoracek knew many players who felt the same way.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was already a millionaire, after receiving a $4.6 million signing bonus from the A’s as a first-round MLB draft pick, when he led Oklahoma to a national championship and won the Heisman Trophy in 2018. 

“Those guys that are making all the money, those guys are putting in a lot of work,” Penix said. “In game-time situations, those guys are the ones really standing out. As long as you continue to work hard, really focus on yourself, focus on your game, that stuff will come.” 

Miami starting quarterback D'Eriq King
Miami starting quarterback D’Eriq King
Lynne Sladky/AP

The stakes could be raised for players across the board. A big win could result in an immediate financial windfall. Sports agent Dusty Stanfield of Inspiration Athlete Marketing, who is working with up to 15 college athletes, said it could be “substantial.” He expects one of his clients, Miami quarterback D’Eriq King, to earn seven figures based on deals he has already accrued.

A strong stretch might land a significant sponsorship deal. Luis Pardillo, the CEO and founder of Dreamfield.co, an Orlando-based company that helps pair college athletes with businesses, suggested a breakout star might be charging $200 at the season’s outset for a social media post. By the end of the year, that same post could be worth $2,000. 

“You can look at it as in the pros, an athlete going into a free-agency period. Their performance impacts their next contract,” Pardillo said. “[For college athletes], their performance can impact their NIL value.” 

Ultimately, though, on-field production will be essential. It will be harder for players to earn money if they aren’t starring on game days. Companies don’t want to partner with players who don’t perform. The best teams and their premier players are bound to profit. North Carolina coach Mack Brown tells his players, “If you’re not balling, you ain’t branded.” 

“It is a requirement for these coaches to keep their players focused on the task at hand and be mindful of the fact that name, image and likeness is great, but the best way to monetize off of yourself is to go play really good football,” Dvoracek said. “At the end of the day, that should win the day.” 

Should is the key word. Nobody knows what to expect. This is all new. The NIL era is here. 

“College football,” Olave, the Ohio State receiver, said, “is changing.”



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