Dean Clough

December 13, 2023

Portico Darwin: It's Not Just Texas A&M


3 Minute Read

Greetings from heavenly Hoboken.  The seemingly forever flight here from SF gave me plenty of time to dig deeper into the college sports and money thing.  It's worse than I thought.

If you'll recall, I recently bemoaned the wrongful elevation of sports within the greater world of large public universities.  In that post, I cited Texas A&M and their payment of $75 million to their head football coach to stop working and just go away.  I inferred it is the universities and their boosters that are to blame for these misplaced priorities. 

I was right, but also wrong, because while it was briefly mentioned, I wrongly downplayed the role of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL).  That is apparent from a frankly shocking article by Connor Letourneau that appeared recently in our fine local paper, The San Francisco Chronicle.   

NIL is the Frankenstein monster concocted to compensate the college players who generate hundreds of millions of dollars in financial activity for their respective "institutions of learning," yet until recently, were not allowed to participate.  Now, good and better athletes not only are participating, but NIL combined with the transfer portal has flipped things upside down.
Or ruined collegiate athletics, depending upon your perspective. 

From the article, here is some background.

In June 2021, just two months after the NCAA began permitting college athletes to transfer once without sitting a season, news broke that those same athletes could now monetize their name, image, and likeness. The result in college basketball (and college football) was what amounts to free agency.

To keep pace, (college sports) programs rely on donor groups known as “collectives” that help lure recruits with booster-funded name, image, and likeness deals.  NIL contracts, which often only ask for minor obligations of the athlete like the occasional in-person appearance, social media Q&A, or photoshoot, have reportedly ranged from the high four figures per year in salary to the low seven figures.

Players rarely disclose specifics about their NIL deals, but industry experts believe top transfers command contracts worth between $150,000 and $400,000 per year.  A couple of the nation’s most sought-after transfers might earn around $1 million.

(But the) have-nots face a conundrum:  It can take a while, sometimes decades, for a program to foster the kind of donor base required to contend in NIL.  As teams with deep-pocketed collectives grow stronger, schools with less booster support must try to somehow, some way, compete on the fly.
“For teams left out of the NIL arms race, there’s no easy solution,” said Meredith Geisler, an NIL expert and professor of sports management at George Washington University. “It’s not like these schools haven’t been trying to raise as much money as possible for years. If it’s not there, it’s not there.”

The article uses the basketball programs at 5 Bay Area universities, each a bastion here, to illustrate the impact of NIL.  The universities are:

  • Cal
  • Santa Clara
  • USF
  • St. Mary's
  • Stanford
  • San Jose State

What I found interesting is this:  it's not what you think.  It starts with those collectives, and by extension, the funding of them by rich fans (A.K.A. "boosters").  A well-funded collective can attract the best players by offering the most NIL money.  

But while a school may be über-rich - like Stanford - that doesn't necessarily translate to collectives throwing money at recruits.  Likewise, schools that you'd expect to be above this, like Cal and USF, instead are rebuilding via their ability to make bigger NIL offers.

Here are some takeaways from the article about each school.  


Kick-Ass Collective:  Yes
Key Article Quotes
With the help of the California Legends Collective, Cal overhauled its basketball team's roster this past offseason with a top-10 transfer class.

This past spring, Cal’s NIL potential was central to (their) recruiting pitch in the transfer portal, where 1,832 players had flocked to improve their circumstances — both athletically and financially.  Within six weeks of his introductory news conference, Madsen boasted a five-member transfer class that Sports Illustrated ranked ninth nationally.

Santa Clara

Kick-Ass Collective:  Yes (!)
Key Article Quotes
NIL also allowed smaller programs . . . to reload through the transfer portal.

With only 13 scholarships to fill, second-tier West Coast Conference programs such as Santa Clara and USF are believed to have some transfers earning between $50,000 and $75,000 per year in NIL money.


Kick-Ass Collective:  Yes
Key Article Quotes
See above, plus:
Jonathan Mogbo, a 6-foot-8 forward who started 28 games for Missouri State last season, met with the Dons’ collective, The Hilltop Club, during his official visit to USF.  Though he said he mainly chose the Dons to showcase his versatility in a free-flowing offense, he conceded that NIL also “had a big role.”

St. Mary's

Kick-Ass Collective:  N/A
Key Article Quotes
Division I coaches have had to decide where they stand.  Some, like St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, have largely ignored the transfer portal to concentrate on an increasingly undervalued commodity:  high school players.

It’s no coincidence that the Gaels have signed three of the best high school recruiting classes in Bennett’s 22-year tenure since the transfer portal craze started.  With so many other programs cycling through one- or two-year rentals, St. Mary’s has excelled the old-fashioned way: bringing in 18-year-old freshmen, and then developing them over several years.

“I guess we’ve zigged when others have zagged,” Bennett said. “Of course, I’m not going to pretend we have this thing figured out. I’m not sure anyone does.”


Kick-Ass Collective:  Hard No
Key Article Quotes
Intent to keep academics at the center of their recruiting pitch, the Cardinal remain the nation’s only big-conference school yet to acknowledge a collective. 

San Jose State

Kick-Ass Collective:  No
Key Article Quotes
San Jose State men’s basketball coach Tim Miles has come to dread the question that’s front of mind for many Division I recruits: How much NIL money is there?

“The moment I hear those words,” Miles said, “I know we have no chance.”

The Spartans have wanted to compete in NIL for years, only for meager booster interest to prevent their Blue & Gold Unlimited collective from gaining much traction.  This made it borderline impossible for Miles to build off San Jose State’s first 20-win season since 1981.  With Blue & Gold Unlimited unable to offer recruits any NIL money this past spring and summer, Miles endured rejection after rejection. 

The article illustrates how college sports (in this case, basketball) are being ruined by capitalism.  As practiced by the universities, boosters, players, and media companies, big-time college basketball and football are now professional leagues in all but name only.

That is never more apparent than during college football's upcoming bowl season.  Call me a dinosaur, but this is something that was objectively better back in my day.

Although at least there's the Pop-Tarts Bowl - it's on ESPN on 12/28 this year.


A reader that prefers to remain anonymous offered additional evidence of the misplaced priorities at our universities.

Hi Portico,

Taylor Swift has become such a legend that universities are offering courses about her. 

Harvard to offer class on Taylor Swift
Northeastern to offer class on Taylor Swift

What's next?  A Pop-Tarts Bowl?  Oh.

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


Dinosaur?  Featuring "School," here is the aptly named Crime of The Century by Supertramp.

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