Tennessee embodied exactly what NIL was supposed to be – some of the time. At other times, it looked like a lottery winner intent on spending money on the first, flashy thing that it could find. Either seemed workable, until last week.
Just a few days ago, if you believe the masses on social media, NIL exploded between two of Tennessee’s best football players just before the Vols were set to take another step towards the College Football Playoff.
Let’s look back at how this grew into an issue so fast:
NIL first became a big deal when the Vols reportedly promised $8-million to a quarterback prospect in order to get him to attend UT. Great, what could go wrong there? Then, the Vols took two of its players to Manhattan to mug in front of cameras in Times Square. Again, that all seems like a grand plan. It wasn’t. This wasn’t a private photo shoot. It was a social media marketing ploy for prospects that were considering the Vols. What about the Tennessee players that were already toiling on campus?
With NIL, Players can now get paid more than anyone ever dreamed possible and the Vols get some more publicity as a whole. Here’s one problem: Tennessee’s players didn’t get more money as a whole. The Vols got more money as individuals. It’s the exact thing that Alabama head coach Nick Saban warned college football administrators about NIL earlier this year. He was half right.
More prominent players deserve more money and, for the most part, they understand that. Less prominent players, however, still deserve something, right? Is there not a base package for a player at Tennessee no matter the position, no matter the sport? Does he have to be recognized at Dick’s Sporting Goods?
If a prospect can be promised $8-million, then can’t there be a baseball player that can draw a couple of grand a month? Well, apparently not. I know one baseball player that never got a call back from the Spyre Group, the firm that the Vols jumped in bed with faster than Usain Bolt on a cold winter’s night. As for the Lady Vols, they’re still trying to garner deals. I understand that the market needs to resolve the situation, but Tennessee needs to decide if it wants a real partner or just a business partner.
The Vols walked right up to the podium and married the Spyre Group this month. Through what was likely a “plant” question during a Tennessee press conference recently, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel expressed his appreciation for what the Spyre Group has done for the Vols. It was as if the group had become a part of administration.
Tennessee athletic director Danny White did much the same in a video dispersed on social media that was made shortly after the NCAA allowed schools to have closer ties with these hastily thrown together businesses that claim to have schools’ best interests as a part of their mission statement.
Well, if assisting an athletic department is part of a business plan, then that needs to be revisited – quickly. If players representing corporate advertisers are going to create this massive boost for the Vols, it needs to open more doors for players with less exposure or UT needs to consider other suitors. Does anyone eat at just one restaurant? Did Tennessee ever consider interviewing other media firms?
Now, back to what was rumored to have happened between Tennessee linebacker Jeremy Banks and quarterback Hendon Hooker, an altercation over an NIL deal that went Hooker’s way instead of Banks’.
If Banks was upset about an NIL deal gone wrong, well, that’s his fault. Remember, he ridiculed and threatened the police after he was arrested for minor charges in October 2019. Are you telling me that a corporation that wants to market itself through college football would take a risk on a player that already has a record? Um, they don’t. National superstars have lost sponsorship deals over less.
The NIL playing field is clear cut in that regard. Not so much in other instances. Here are some examples:
Think Banks was miffed last week over a possible NIL deal gone bad? What is a top-flight, quarterback supposed to do if he’s promised a ton of money and is third-string, which could happen next season?
What is that corporation going to do if that player doesn’t see the field for two seasons? What happens if they’re outperformed by a three-star prospect who wasn’t promised anything and can’t manage a deal on his own?
This all has the makings of a disaster and Tennessee, like far too many schools, is acting as if they’re carrying a limitless credit card in a store full of top prospects. Do you really think that other top prospects haven’t been promised compensation?
Now, I’m the first to say that the market should bear more for certain players than others. A starting quarterback is worth more than a backup left guard. That’s just common sense. However, if everyone isn’t getting at least a sliver of the pie, then it’s just a matter of time until there are some disgruntled players that just don’t feel as if they’re treated fairly. Hence, that’s what likely happened last week before the Columbia Collapse. I’m sure there were some that sided with Banks and some that sided with Hooker. That’s natural.
Here is what we know. Social media was so full of allegations about a conflict over an NIL disagreement between Banks and Hooker that an altercation, that could have turned physical, had to be broken up. Subsequently, Banks was left off the trip to South Carolina, which, understandably, had a poor effect on team chemistry, which was readily apparent in the shocking loss to South Carolina.
Banks took to social media to quell the rumors:
So who stopped him from “balling?” I would think the coaches. Why did they stop him from “balling” against South Carolina? I would think there’s a reason.
You have to love these responses by athletes on social media. There’s no admission of guilt. There’s just enough questioning of certain aspects of the story that are supposed to undermine the whole notion that anything even happened.
Well, Banks’ need to address the allegations doesn’t help his case. If there was nothing going on, then why did he address the issue and not, I don’t know, Hooker or anyone in UT’s administration. NIL or not, Banks’ absence affected the South Carolina game beyond his play.
Remember, all of those exotic blitz looks with stunts and twists up front. Those are harder to call when your most explosive linebacker is in Knoxville sulking over an NIL deal gone wrong.