Big Rapids, Michigan – On the day Ohio State coach Ryan Day stood up to Columbus’ business leaders and so realistically ditched dollar numbers that he thought his football program would need to retain players in the future, Jim Harbaugh was in more familiar territory.
The Michigan soccer coach and several members of his team showed up to a soccer camp at Ferris State University Thursday, mingling with high school prospects and district coaches in order to find the next player.
But recruiting these days has become a high stakes game, and a game before the NCAA allowing players to profit from name, image, and likeness was a more linear decision. Less than a year later, the heyday of the culture wars in college football has something to do with “clusters,” groups of wealthy boosters who pool their money together in an organized fashion for players at their school.
The debate began publicly just a few weeks ago, when Alabama head coach Nick Saban accused Texas A&M of using its group to attract high-profile prospects before they set foot on campus. The accuracy of the claim remains unclear (A&M and its head coach, Jimbo Fisher, emphatically denied it, for the record), as well as the extent to which players receive lucrative, high-paying deals.
“I hear a lot (about it),” Harbo said Thursday at the enlistment track. “You hear a lot about it and talk about it. I just don’t know how real it is; how accurate it is. Is it accurate or not? Is it like a fish’s tale stories?”
“I hear a lot – I don’t know how much is real or accurate.”
Make no mistake, Harbaugh has been fully supportive of NIL’s rights to student-athletes, saying the player deserves to be compensated for selling his shirt, for example, or for signing a public autograph. The Michigan athletes, through the Valiant Management Group and several other offshore deals, were able to make money from both.
But much like Harbaugh’s skepticism about some of the higher dollar amounts, the effect of the broader NIL on employment appears to be in flux. Less than a year later, the NCAA has already issued guidelines saying it will begin cracking down on temptations being made to attend school, despite the fallout from such a move.
“I don’t know how much I really have an opinion on that,” Harbow said. “True or False, our philosophy comes to the University of Michigan – it will remain a transformative experience, not a transactional one.”
By all accounts, there is no known group of promoters in Michigan, which has led some to question whether the school might be left behind when it comes to recruiting high-ranking recruits. While we may not know the answer to that for a few more months, if not years, it’s a legitimate question in this age of the Wild West for college recruits.
“I have always been in favor of student-athletes being able to benefit from their name, image, and example,” Harbow said. “It makes sense, doesn’t it? We could say selling a T-shirt, for example. Who should have a share of the profit? I think the actual person of the T-shirt is and not just the foundation. I think we can all agree that this is a fair and right thing.” .
Sure, but the NIL scene went too far, some claim, with the risk of Michigan (and others) being left behind. As it currently stands, Wolverines have only six commitments for 2023, an enlistment class that ranks 25th nationally according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
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