Why NCAA changes won't only benefit top-tier schools like Alabama

·4 min read

But some Alabama booster will just buy all the recruits … the smaller schools don’t stand a chance … college athletics is forever ruined...

That’s the wailing you are hearing now that the NCAA will allow players to profit off their name, image and likeness.

The theory: Some crazy Bama backer will promise a top recruit piles of cash to endorse the company he or she owns, not because there is any bottom-line value, but to help the Crimson Tide win. So you get Tua Tagovailoa (or insert name of anonymous four-star offensive tackle) as the official spokesman of Houndstooth Business Consulting.

No one else will stand a chance, or so they cry with fear.

First off, that’s not how it’s going to work (other schools don't have boosters?). Second, Alabama (and a few other football programs) already get “all” the recruits, so what’s the difference?

Let’s say you’re a three- or four-star quarterback coming out of high school. You have an offer to go to Alabama and battle a depth chart that can go six deep. You aren’t the prime recruit, just another guy in a 25-man class. No guarantees of success in Tuscaloosa.

Or you can sign with Boise State, where you are considered the priority recruit and have a better chance at starting early. You could then become the star of a winning program that is the only major sports entity in a near million-person metropolitan region, let alone the whole state of Idaho.

If making money is a major factor in your college decision, then the smart play is Boise State.

It’s a smaller pond if you consider conference affiliation or playoff appearances. And yes, you might become Tua Tagovailoa. When it comes to a more likely path to money though, you just want to be the biggest fish possible in whatever pool of water allows you to swim.

Previously, Alabama wins that recruiting battle nearly 100 percent of the time. Now? Might be 50-50.

Everyone would like to be in business in the biggest city — let’s say an accounting firm in Manhattan. Yet, the market can’t support an endless supply of accounting firms. Better to be the biggest firm in Albany then an also-ran in New York City.

Boise State Broncos players run onto the field before a game against New Mexico on Nov. 16, 2019. (Douglas Stringer/Getty Images)
Boise State Broncos players run onto the field before a game against New Mexico on Nov. 16, 2019. (Douglas Stringer/Getty Images)

Alabama isn’t the only school where football matters. There are businesses in Boise, too. Or Ames or Lubbock or Memphis or Boulder.

Right now, outside of the success of the coach (a factor that wouldn’t change), the chief predictor of recruiting strength is conference affiliation. In general, SEC schools don’t lose recruits to Mountain West schools. Further, Alabama generally doesn’t lose recruits to lower-tier SEC schools.

Alabama can show its strength to recruits by pooling its money and spending it on better coachers, bigger stadiums and more opulent facilities. Part of its current $92 million overhaul of Bryant-Denny Stadium is the construction of a tunnel so recruits and players can go directly from the Walk of Champions to the locker room, rather than the slightly circuitous current route.

When seeking a job offer, compensation is often the most important consideration. Prior to this, college sports salaries were capped (at least officially) at room, tuition and board. That meant things like how close to the office (or the tunnel to the locker room) mattered.

That will change. Money still talks, it just talks directly to different people now.

How about transfers? Can't a Big Ten team now just pluck a good young player off of a MAC roster?

Well, they can now. In the future, it might be tougher. What if you can make more staying in Bowling Green? It may not stop transfers, but it is one card that MAC schools will now hold. And transfers can work both ways.

This will also be a major factor for schools where a sport other than football is the most popular.

A Gonzaga, Wichita State or Villanova is going to prioritize basketball players more than a football-obsessed school and thus offer more opportunities for players of that sport. Why go to a football-obsessed SEC school? Minnesota Duluth would mean more to a hockey player than Michigan. And so on.

Yes there are unknowns, especially with the influence of shoe-and-apparel companies. However, considering we just had two federal corruption trials involving that and college hoops, how much worse could it be? At least now, an Adidas deal for an Adidas recruit to an Adidas school is above the table. Plus no one will go to prison.

Mostly though, a new era will arrive that greatly increases the competitive balance in recruiting, which should translate to a more competitively balanced product.

A lot of people are reading this wrong.

The only thing college sports have to fear, is fear itself.

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