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Tennessee Football: The Vols’ next big challenge in managing NIL

There is a downside to Tennessee’s reputation as one of the top NIL schools in the country. The Vols have lost leverage in high school recruiting. I know, that sounds odd. College football coaches always had leverage over prospects in recruiting. They don’t now.

In the old days of pre-NIL, no one outside of recruiting offices really knew who was being offered a “commit-able” scholarship, who was considered a higher-rated prospect on a school’s board or, especially, who was getting paid to pick a certain school. Now, everyone knows. And everyone knows that Tennessee isn’t afraid to throw around some cash.

Per a source within Tennessee’s football program, recruiting transfers and high school prospects has become an all-out bidding war in some cases. Sure, playing for a great culture, playing in Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s offense and playing in front of 100,000 fans at a school with great facilities is nice, but so is an extra $100,000 to be a Vol instead of picking up a lessor payment from another school.

Tennessee has bragged about its NIL support and rightly so. The Vols have openly embraced the fact that they have boosters/advertisers ready to pay each and every player on their roster. However, the elite prospects, especially transfers, can come to Tennessee and make up whatever financial figure they may envision they are worth, claim to have that offer from another school and see if the Vols will match it or up the ante. Since there’s no way to prove that a player is being truthful, Tennessee and other schools have to deem whether the bid that has been submitted is actually real. Sometimes, they’re surely not.

In professional leagues, this isn’t a problem. Coaches in the NFL and other sports can confirm an offer has been made via free agency with an offer sheet. There’s no such thing in college. However, it may become more common for college coaches to ask to see an offer in writing so they don’t get burned and vastly overpay for a prospect with more business sense than athletic ability.

This makes talent evaluation all the more important. College coaches used to have to determine which prospects to offer a scholarship. Now, they have to determine how much – financially – that a prospect is worth. Quite frankly, that’s probably incredibly foreign to a longtime football coach like Tennessee’s Josh Heupel.

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So what is the best way to remedy the situation? Well, that would be the NCAA stepping in and policing NIL payments. If you have any faith in the NCAA properly policing anything, then I have some oceanside property in Powell that has just become available. I can get it at a great price. Let’s talk.

Don’t feel bad for Tennessee. It’s better to be a Vol in this NIL world than it is to be one of several other schools that can’t seemingly spell NIL. Florida comes to mind

Tennessee is in the next wave of the evolution of NIL, which is determining what a prospect is worth to its program. The simple fact of the matter is Tennessee is going to get burned by a prospect who has brought an inflated NIL promise to Heupel and staff. That’s just a part of doing NIL business, like playing stocks as a day trader. In fact, that has probably already happened to a number of schools, including Tennessee.

The key is for the Vols to limit those mistakes. Boosters and advertisers can live with overpaying a couple of prospects if there are dozens of players that prove an NIL deal was worth the financial investment. However, asking a coach to determine a player’s worth is about like asking a financial advisor to coach a football team. Neither is playing to the strengths of the individual.

Tennessee is ahead of the curve in NIL. The Vols are pioneers, exploring just what’s out there. The Vols are seemingly excelling in the NIL game, which seems like a vast new wilderness. However, even Lewis and Clark got lost from time to time. Limiting costly missteps is Tennessee’s next great challenge in recruiting. 

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