What former Utah AD Chris Hill said about a landmark NCAA settlement that clears the way for schools to directly pay players

Dr. Chris Hill talks about his tenure at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Hill will retire as athletic director.
Dr. Chris Hill talks about his tenure at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Hill will retire as athletic director. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Former University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill was the catalyst for some of the biggest moments in school history.

Since his retirement in spring of 2018, though, college sports has changed quite a bit.

First, there was the landmark 2021 Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for NCAA athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness — suddenly able to legally be paid for things like sponsorships, endorsements and jersey sales.

From the moment that case was decided, it seemed inevitable that players would eventually be directly paid by colleges.

On Thursday, the NCAA agreed to settle three lawsuits, including House vs. NCAA, and agreed to pay nearly $2.8 billion to athletes from 2016 to 2021 to cover back damages for the athletes being unable to earn money from their name, image and likeness. Power conferences, like the Big 12, will have about $664 million of distributions withheld from the NCAA over 10 years to help pay the back damages, per Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger.

The part of the settlement that has the potential to change college sports forever is a proposed revenue-sharing model. While there are a lot of details that need to be ironed out before fall of 2025, when it can go into effect, schools can directly pay their athletes up to $22 million per year, according to Dellenger. Other reports have that number at $20 million or $21 million.

NIL, and eventually schools being able to pay players directly, has been the direction that college sports were always headed.

“Well, I think it was bubbling for a long time, and in a lot of ways it was disappointing that people had to let all the lawsuits make them make action,” Hill told the Deseret News. “But I guess that’s the way the world is. So it’s changed quite a bit, different than when I was involved for a long time. But again, I guess I’m a realist and that’s where it’s going. And for me, it’s nice that I was able to retire before COVID.”

‘Some semblance of order’

Over his 31-year stint on the job, Hill helped engineer the school’s move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 Conference and helped the football program skyrocket to new heights, including two undefeated football seasons and BCS bowl wins, and the hiring of successful coaches Ron McBride, Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham.

He hired men’s basketball coach Rick Majerus, who took the Utes to the national championship game in 1998. Skiing and gymnastics won 10 national championships during Hill’s tenure, and he spearheaded 17 new facilities or upgrades to facilities.

Since the NIL ruling that was handed down three years after Hill’s retirement, everyone in college sports has been bracing for this day, and while it may be painful for athletic departments in the near future, it does provide some closure and clarity.

“For me, it’s been troubling that it’s been in limbo for so long and everybody kind of knows where it was going in terms of players being paid in whatever avenues,” said Hill, who resides in Salt Lake City and is enjoying retirement with his wife, Kathy. “And for one, I am glad that we can move on and maybe get some semblance of order to the various aspects of this compensation for athletes.”

Again, there are so many details to be hashed out and frameworks to be put in place, but the big question facing athletic directors across the nation is how they will find the extra funds to participate in revenue sharing, which could exceed $20 million per year.

There will have to be a huge uptick in fundraising at universities.

“I think what happens is it’s got to be from all sources, from television, from donors, from advertising, all those things that need to go through the university to help make this happen,” Hill said.

What about non-revenue sports?

Revenue from football and men’s basketball has subsidized non-revenue sports for decades. Now that athletic departments could be in need of tens of millions of dollars by fall of 2025 to directly pay players, is sponsoring those sports going to reevaluated by some schools? Will salaries be cut or staff positions removed? Questions also abound about how Title IX, which the settlement did not address, factors into payments to athletes.

“Well, it’s going to be very, very tough,” Hill said. “And I guess you’re going to have to decide as a university, do we want to get this done? Do we value all those other (non-revenue) sports? And how can we make sure they happen? Utah’s in a better position in one of the big conferences.

“How to generate more money, and at the same time, how to maybe take a look at, are we running this in the most efficient manner we can? And a lot depends on what the bottom-line dollars are to go on. But I do think if it’s a university, they’re going to want to make sure that they have those (non-revenue) sports. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to run an athletic department, and especially with the men and women both needing to be treated equitably.”

With a sea of questions still to be answered, one thing is for certain — Thursday’s settlement means college sports have changed forever.