When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his state’s NIL bill in June 2020, he said, “Florida is leading on this, and if you’re a blue-chip high school recruit out there trying to figure out where to go I think any of our Florida schools is a great landing spot.”
Contrary to expectations, however, Sportico’s analysis finds no evidence that Florida’s schools had a better recruiting cycle than usual in the year following the state’s new legislation allowing college athletes to profit off their NIL.
Florida is one of seven states—along with Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico and Kentucky—with an NIL law that will go into effect on July 1, 2021. After the NCAA’s recent decision to waive its enforcement of amateurism rules and leave matters up to individual schools and states, the NIL tidal wave is now imminent. Still, the Sunshine State was a trendsetter by moving up the 2023 date set by California’s Fair Pay to Play Act.
Many bought into the idea that being ahead of the game in granting college athletes NIL rights would give a state a recruiting advantage. “We’re seeing this as a necessity,” C. Scott Bounds, a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives who oversaw the state’s NIL bill through the legislative process, told Sports Illustrated. “We don’t want to lose a competitive edge in recruiting.”
To test this notion, we analyzed Florida’s Division I schools’ 2021 recruiting classes in football and men’s basketball, the two sports that generate the most revenue and whose athletes have the biggest exposure. Most 2021 prospects committed after Florida’s NIL bill was signed but before the six other aforementioned states signed theirs, allowing us to see if the legislation affected athletes’ decisions.
In football, Florida and Miami had recruiting classes in line with recent standards, and Florida State had its lowest national recruiting rank in over a decade, according to 247 Sports. If anything, 2021 was a down year for Florida’s three Power Five conference schools.
The non-Power Five FBS schools also experienced no recruiting boost. From 2017 to 2020, FIU, UCF, USF and FAU combined for 76 three-star recruits on average, and they attracted exactly 76 such recruits last year. Similarly, three FCS football programs—Jacksonville State, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman—combined for three three-star recruits in 2021 after netting an average of four per year over the previous four years.
Basketball’s recruiting classes told a similar story. FIU, Jacksonville State and Florida Gulf Coast had combined to bring in two three-star recruits per year between 2016 and 2020, but recruited none in 2021. Among the larger programs, the only outlier was Florida State’s sixth-best class in the nation, which includes five-star recruit Matthew Cleveland along with 7’1’’ center John Butler and 7’3’’ center Naheem McLoud. It’s likely, though, that the Seminoles’ ranking was more a function of their reaching three straight Sweet 16s after reaching just one in the previous quarter century.
While NIL opportunities may have factored into some athletes’ decisions, no player has publicly claimed to have chosen a Florida school specifically for the chance to earn money.
It is possible that the amounts at stake simply weren’t large enough to sway athletes. ESPN estimated that athletes in revenue-generating sports with roughly 25,000 social media followers could make anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 per year from their NIL. That’s a significant sum, but, as Sportico’s Eben Novy-Williams reported, the most likely money-making scenario for lower-end athletes might be a comped meal at a restaurant or $30 for an event appearance, rather than a four- or five-figure endorsement check.
There also may be too much uncertainty surrounding NIL legislation for high school athletes to be using it as a basis for deciding where to play. Just last week, Kentucky became the first state to sign an executive order for NIL compensation. The landscape is changing so rapidly that even those working for the schools are unsure how to approach it. “Nobody even knows what questions to ask at this point,” Seminoles senior associate athletic director Jim Curry said while addressing the department’s staff.
To mitigate this uncertainty, some Florida schools—Miami, Florida State and South Florida—have partnered with INFLCR, a platform to help college athletic departments and their athletes build brands and prepare for opportunities to monetize them. The Seminoles’ NIL program, called “APEX,” includes for-credit classes on NIL legislation in addition to the resources provided by INFLCR.
Such programs designed to help Florida’s athletes profit were clearly not enough to convince more players than usual to spend their college careers in the Sunshine State.
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