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Tennessee Vol C Cooper Mays forced to live on $300 a month

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There won’t ever be any college football players quite like Tennessee center Cooper Mays again. That’s good news for college football.

Simply because of timing, Mays is part of an extinct breed of players that were never paid what they were worth under the guise of an amateur system that was about as advanced as the days of gladiators. For those that want to dismiss NIL just because it isn’t the old fashioned way of doing things or that things are far from perfect, remember one thing: NIL has made college football far better because its workforce is no longer disgruntled, as it should have been for nearly 100 years.

Imagine if you saw all the revenue generated by Tennessee football and you were just fortunate enough for a small stipend, would you feel cheated? I’ve seen countless players that were even though they had the best intentions.

“I’ve had months in my college career where I was living off of $300 bucks,” Mays said during this week’s Vol Report, “and making it work, not asking anybody for money and stuff…I was playing Alabama, not even able to afford a DoorDash meal during the week. So, it’s pretty crazy to look back on it, to see how different life is. And it’s helped me tremendously. I’ve been super blessed and taken care of really well.”

Mays is proof that NIL works, but there have surely been incidents in which a high school prospect relaxes a bit with some serious cash in the bank. I also fear that there will be cases in which a player finds that money has ties, such as taxes, that can be complicated. That’s why Mays is just fine with his collegiate upbringing, which began in 2020. NIL began in July 2021, but Mays wasn’t really able to take advantage of the new format until people saw just how valuable he was in the Vols’ loss to Florida last season.

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Mays is now getting paid – as he should. Other players are as well. However, they might not have the same perspective as a player who has survived pre-NIL demands, like Mays.

“I think the biggest thing is I’ve lived off of $300 a month and figuring out how to make it work…It’s also hard when you see these kids, a lot of kids coming out of high school making crazy money and you just kind of think about it and you’re like, ‘“Dang, they never really had to struggle at all, you know what I’m saying?” Mays said with a smile.

Joking or not, Mays brings up a great point. If an elite high school prospect, like quarterback Nico Iamaleava, is worth $2-million per year, what is a consistent starter worth? If an impact player with James Pearce’s obvious skill set is worth $1-million per year, which Off The Hook has been told is the case, what is a mid-level contributor worth?

That’s not to say that Mays is mid-level whatsoever. However, he is the poster child for all that is right with NIL. He came to Tennessee with very little, played very hard and earned his endorsement checks. Plus, he didn’t have to deal with the resentment that rightly plagued so many players before NIL came into existence.

There’s no way to truly quantify this, but college football players just seem happier and more content nowadays since they don’t have to worry about covering a Door Dash order before taking on the Crimson Tide. Have you noticed that fewer players seem to be getting in trouble nationwide? Life is easier when you’re not disgruntled.

There will always be those that don’t like NIL because it ripped away the amateur status of college football, that don’t like players getting rich before they’re deemed worthy. Well, I can’t talk you out of that thinking, but I can assure you that at least one Volunteer appreciates the evolution of the sport.

“You know, the lessons learned from from having to struggle and then now being comfortable, I’ve just been super blessed,” Mays said. “You know, God’s been really good to me. So that’s kind of the summary of it for now.”

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