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College, NCAA leaders reportedly set to take aim at NIL's pay-for-play recruiting evolution

Sports Illustrated reports college athletics leaders are grappling with the influx of booster involvement in ongoing "NIL' recruiting efforts

Condoleezza Rice has been a national political figure, as the United States’ Secretary of State, a trail-blazing member at Augusta National Golf Club and a member of perhaps college athletics’ most-scrutinized group of influencers – the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

So last week when Rice told an overflow-crowd at the University of Notre Dame that the current state of Name, Image & Likeness solicitation across the collegiate landscape – especially as it pertains to its ever-expanding impact in college football recruiting – has become “the Wild West,” it perhaps resonated a bit more than standard commentary.

Tuesday, Sports Illustrated’s ace reporter, Ross Dellenger, provided insight on the NCAA’s potential plan to interject itself into the NIL “Wild West” via task force of leaders throughout collegiate athletics

Presently, the NCAA already has bylaws that prohibit any institution’s boosters – those with direct ties and monetary involvement with the school – from involving themselves into the recruitment of a prospective student-athlete. This plan, per the SI report, is set to further drive home that point.

“The new directives will highlight existing NCAA bylaws that outlaw boosters from participating in recruiting, reminding member schools of guardrails that, while in place for years, have been bent and broken during the first 10 months of the NIL era, officials say. Under a long-held NCAA rule, boosters are a representative arm of an athletic department and are not supposed to associate with or persuade prospects,” SI reports.

The impact of NIL – and its perceived prevalence in a de facto monetized recruiting setting, such as The Athletic’s recent report that a 2023 prospect – sources with direct knowledge indicated its consensus five-star prospect and University of Tennessee commitment Nico Iamaleava – was set to receive between $6-8 million for his collegiate services has ratcheted up the drive for some form of governance.

Per the SI report, collegiate leaders have targeted the growing role of booster-led “collectives” across college athletics and particularly impactful in football recruiting. Schools ranging from Ohio State to Texas to South Carolina to Tennessee and Notre Dame, among myriad others, have launched collectives envisioned to directly impact and subsidize student-athletes.

Middle Tennessee State University, for example, recently amended its funding platform to enable donors to directly give to a student-athlete benevolence fund.

At Tennessee, the Spyre Sports Group has been heralded for its role in the Vols’ NIL successes of current student-athletes – from members of the top-ranked UT baseball team to quarterback Hendon Hooker and others – as well its impact in UT’s securing the commitment of Iamaleava, among others.

Spyre Sports is funded primarily from multiple high-level UT boosters whose names adorn multiple buildings upon the Rocky Top campus, as well as also having the direct benefit of legal representation from UT alumni. The group also is headed by multiple UT graduates.

“In recruiting, we have inducements created,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who’s served on NCAA committees ranging from the Committee on Infractions to Legislative Council to the CFP expansion committee, among others, earlier told SI. “Which was a concern all along.

“You’ve seen the stories. I don’t know that many have been actually verified. Now people have time and creativity and motivation to fully explore NIL and that is very uncomfortable in college athletics, but as long as it is compliant with state law, it seems those activities can take place.”

Speaking of state law, California has been a torchbearer in adopting legislation to empower student-athletes to earn from their personal brands, and Alabama early adopted a proactive NIL law – though the state later rescinded the bill. Just late last month, Tennessee adopted legislation that was signed by Gov. Bill Lee and provided a pathway for the state’s institutions of higher learnings to have direct involvement in the NIL arena.

As a Power-5 coach told FootballScoop, “We’re heading to an entirely different sport. It’s going to look like the NFL if something isn’t done. It’s going to be about 36 teams (with facilities and funding) and everybody else.”