Skip to main content

We have our first contract holdout of the NIL era

A Miami booster has -- quite publicly -- funded the school's NIL efforts. Now one of their top basketball players wants his own deal or he's leaving.

The NIL era is nearly a year old, and so far schools generally break into three groups. The first group includes school like Wake Forest and Washington, who use NIL to enhance branding opportunities for current athletes but will absolutely not use it to recruit. “It’s not to try to lure the best quarterback or lure the No. 1 outside linebacker through some sort of mega-deal,” Drew Vandamore, the point person of Wake Forest's NIL collective, told The Athletic. This, one can argue, is the way NIL was originally intended to be used. 

The second group includes schools like Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Florida. These schools publicize how much their collectives have raised and attempt to provide something akin to a salary to their entire football locker room. At these schools, it's understood that NIL is part of the recruiting package with the both sides exchanging a signature for cash. This is a warping of the way NIL was originally envisioned, yet an inevitable consequence for anyone with a lick of common sense.

Several investors in (Texas A&M's Collective) told The Athletic that while several members of the 2022 class did secure deals, the total numbers on the deals are in the low single-digit millions.

And then there is a third group, which consists solely of Miami. 

Miami was one of the schools many observers believed could become the big winners of the NIL era. The Hurricanes fell behind in recruiting once TV money exploded in college sports, as regional powers like Alabama, Georgia and Clemson poured hundreds of millions of dollars into facilities and coaching staffs that The U simply couldn't match. NIL was expected to be an equalizer for Miami, with a donor base eager to spend to keep local talent home.

The U was one of the first programs to jump in the pool. On July 6, 2021, less than a week after the new NIL rules went live, a local businessman offered each Hurricane $500 a month to promote his chain of MMA training gyms. His effort was called Bring Back The U.

"The NIL legislation is an amazing opportunity for businesses and fans to directly impact the lives of these players and the national reputation of our team," Dan Lambert said. "I originally planned to just enter into deals with a few players and then it hit me that there is a way bigger play here. With the right contacts, effort and financial commitment, we can reach every player and get this city firmly behind this team where it should be. We can BRING BACK THE U."

But that was just the beginning.

John Ruiz, a Miami billionaire, is essentially bankrolling The U's NIL efforts by paying athletes to promote his companies, Life Wallet and Cigarette Racing. That's what NIL was supposed to be, right? A billionaire paying athletes to promote his company that builds cigarette boats, a vessel most commonly associated with drug smuggling? What's more pure than that? What's more Miami than that?

Ruiz isn't just bankrolling Miami's NIL efforts, though. He's publishing how much he's paying athletes to transfer to Miami.

Here's a photo of basketball transfer Norchad Omier meeting with Ruiz on a recruiting visit. Omier later transferred to Miami.

Ruiz may not be doing anything functionally different than the boosters at Florida, Texas, A&M or others are doing, but he's certainly more brazen about it. I mean, look at this!

There's no doubt Ruiz's efforts have worked. All but one football transfer to officially visit Miami has committed to Mario Cristobal's program. Miami also got the Cavinder twins, basketball players Haley and Hanna who were All-Mountain West players at Fresno State and who happen to have 5 million social media followers between them.

Ruiz has struck deals with 68 Canes to promote his companies, and the number could hit triple digits soon.

“We set a budget of about $10 million when I started for the year, but we’re not stuck at $10 million,” he told the Miami Herald

But Ruiz is, so far, essentially the only booster publicizing the financials of individual deals, for a reason: It's only a matter of time until someone gets jealous.

That's exactly what's playing out right now with The U's men's basketball team. From ESPN:

Miami Hurricanes guard Isaiah Wong will enter the transfer portal on Friday if his name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation isn't increased, his NIL agent, Adam Papas of NEXT Sports Agency, told ESPN on Thursday.

"If Isaiah and his family don't feel that the NIL number meets their expectations they will be entering the transfer portal tomorrow, while maintaining his eligibility in the NBA draft and going through the draft process," Papas said.

Wong, a two-time all-ACC player and the second-leading scorer on a Hurricanes team that reached the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight, declared for the draft earlier this week.

Papas was the agent who negotiated Pack's $800,000 deal with Ruiz, and it's likely Wong would want more. Wong stands to be Miami's leading returning scorer at 15.2 points per game. Assuming he returns.  

"Isaiah would like to stay at Miami," Papas said. "He had a great season leading his team to the Elite Eight. He has seen what incoming Miami Hurricane basketball players are getting in NIL and would like his NIL to reflect that he was a team leader of an Elite Eight team."

Let's say Wong gets his deal. How long until QB Tyler Van Dyke wants more than Wong? And then Robby Washington, the top rated commit in Miami's 2023 class, wants a deal that matches Van Dyke's?

Ruiz and the Miami athletics department have been careful to erect a brick wall between the two of them. From the Miami Herald:

He said that UM never calls encouraging him to offer NIL deals to any particular recruits or players in the portal. Ruiz said he and his sons — who both attended UM, as did his daughter — monitor recruiting and portal news closely, on all social media platforms, and internally discuss the possibilities so they’re prepared. 

He said nobody from UM has called to thank him, nor is he expecting that, but “I know the university is thankful. They are very thankful. I have spoken to [athletic director] Dan Radakovich because I’ve run into him. [With the coaches], on purpose, I try to keep a distance, though I know them all fairly well.” 

UM declined to comment on the record for this story, but a source in the administration said: “John is a great supporter and great businessman and in this case, his decision to partner with young people to promote his product launch is unique.”

One has to imagine, though, that UM basketball coach Jim Larrañaga would like a word with Ruiz, and soon. 

As the Wong saga plays out, it's important to keep this in mind.

Where does this end? Does Wong transfer and submarine Miami's 2023 basketball team? Does he return, only to see see the Canes crater in a season-long fit of jealousy? Does Ruiz spend himself into bankruptcy trying to in an endless effort to top his last deal? 

I don't know, and neither does anyone else. But this case study will be a fascinating lesson for everyone monitoring the NIL market and its effects on college athletics.