If College Players Could Make Money Off of Endorsements, What Would They Endorse?

This week's mailbag looks at what the lanscape could look like if NCAA players were allowed endorsements, plus 2019's top defensive linemen.
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There is a bill in the pipeline, and you have questions…

From Dan: “Players should be able to make money off their name”

Well, cool, but take it a step further, what products/businesses are the most endorsable (outside of athletic gear/apparel) on both a local and national level by both CFB stars and contributors?

This question from Dan Rubenstein—one half of the best college football podcast on earth—is really intriguing. I still think it’s a long shot, but let’s say the bill drafted by U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) became law and the NCAA was forced to lift its rules against athletes making money off their name, image and likeness rights. Outside of organized autograph signings for money—which probably would become really common—what types of companies would hire college athletes to pitch their products? Dan said we should exclude shoe/apparel companies, and I’m fine with that. Those companies, when they aren’t currently paying under the table to steer basketball recruits in certain directions, are paying millions over the table for football and basketball players to wear their gear.

But what about the rest of American commerce?

First, we have to figure out what players would move the meter enough to justify a national advertising campaign. That list is incredibly short. The highest Q score of any college athlete at the moment belongs to Duke basketball player Zion Williamson, and no one else is even in the same zip code. Williamson raised the profile of an entire sport. There hasn’t been a college basketball player like this in decades. (LeBron James would have been like this had he been forced to go to college.) The only football players of recent vintage who compare are Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. They were more phenomena than people as college athletes, and companies would have fallen all over themselves to hire them as pitchmen.

But, as you can see by that short list of names, that’s rare. The only two college football players at the moment who have the name and face recognition to command a national ad campaign are Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Tagovailoa probably would be courted by a variety of companies, and his ideal match would be something like the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which could use Tagovailoa to promote tourism for his home state. Lawrence, who didn’t become the starter at Clemson until late September, would be the subject of a bidding war between Pert Plus and Pantene.

Locally, you’d see a lot of players getting paid much smaller amounts. Stars on football teams in SEC and Big Ten markets would be signing the aforementioned autographs, and local stores and restaurants might slide players a few bucks to appear in local TV and radio spots. Car dealerships might work trades instead of paying cash. Let’s say this had been within NCAA rules when Tebow was playing. To get an awkward commercial that features him saying “I got my new Ridgeline at Honda of Gainesville,” the dealership might only need to offer a free lease for the remainder of the college career. When the player returns to the car at the end of the lease, the dealership could then sell the vehicle. It would be a very small cash outlay for the dealership that would support the local team and a key player.

The point I think Dan was trying to get me to make with this question is the dollar figures would not be nearly as big as most people think they would. Even very good players would still be in the five-figure range. Only a select few would command big money. In that way, the money would be similar to the amounts of cash that change hands under the table in college football, only the money would go to the player instead of some shady middleman who may or may not pass along the money to the player.

From Jack in Tuscaloosa (via text): With so many defensive lineman either graduating or entering the draft early, who do you project as the top linemen for 2019?

The list of elite defensive linemen isn’t nearly as long as it was going into the 2018 season, so this is probably a little bit more normal year. But there are still some impressive linemen:

DE Chase Young, Ohio State: Nick Bosa’s injury forced Young to be Ohio State’s primary pass rushing threat earlier than expected, but Young was up to the task. He led the Buckeyes with 14.5 tackles for loss, and he’ll go into this season as one of the Big Ten’s most feared edge rushers.

DE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa: But Young isn’t the only elite rusher in the Big Ten. Epenesa led the Big Ten in sacks with 12.5 last season despite only being a rotation player.

DT Derrick Brown, Auburn: If Auburn in 2019 bears any resemblance to Clemson in 2018, it’s on the defensive line. Brown, Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson all could be high draft picks, and they could make life very difficult for SEC quarterbacks. The best of the bunch to this point has been Brown, a 6’ 5”, 325-pounder who plays a role similar to the one Dexter Lawrence played at Clemson.

DE Raekwon Davis, Alabama: The 6’ 7”, 309-pound Davis is a freakishly proportioned 3–4 defensive end. His role in Alabama’s defense doesn’t allow for big tackle for loss numbers, but his value to that defense—or any defense—goes beyond stats. We’ll see who is helping Davis this year. We didn’t know much about Quinnen Williams at this point last year, and Alabama has a large store of former blue-chip recruits waiting in the wings.

DT Rashard Lawrence, LSU: The 317-pound Lawrence can play all along the line depending on down, distance and personnel package. He’ll look to build on a dominant Fiesta Bowl performance on the deepest defensive line LSU has had in years.