College football is entering a world where, for the first time, universities will be permitted to promote the monetary benefits of their fan base and local economy as a recruiting tool. A few weeks ago, the NCAA announced its support for student-athletes being compensated for their name, image, and likeness (NIL). The student-athletes "would be permitted to identify themselves by sport and school, the use of conference and school logos, trademarks or other involvement would not be allowed."
NIL compensation could dramatically change the recruiting landscape across college football. Recently, Yahoo! Sports estimated that "Trevor Lawrence could make more than a half-million off of social media endorsements alone this season". For blue-blood programs like Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, etc., this legislation could potentially create an even larger divide between them and the rest of college football. For the other programs, it could create an opportunity for a school like BYU to close the recruiting gap between them and the mid to lower-level Power 5 schools. BYU football boasts a rich football tradition and passionate fanbase, but it doesn't belong to a P5 conference.
Over the past decade, P5 schools have asserted their recruiting dominance. For example, P5 schools signed more than 99% of the four and five-star recruits (247 composite) in 2020. Without a membership in a P5 conference, BYU is often left on the outside looking in for these high-profile recruits. More and more P5 schools are swooping in and landing the best prospects in the state of Utah.
Jasen Ah You, BYU's new executive of recruiting, says that NIL compensation "will definitely have an impact on [their] recruiting." Ah You said, "It's just one more thing we will have to compete against, especially P5 schools." However, Ah You believes BYU's passionate fan base and thriving local economy could make NIL compensation an advantage for BYU.
Neyland Stadium is more than 1,800 miles away from BYU's campus in Provo, Utah. Last September an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 BYU fans made the trip to watch BYU beat Tennessee in double overtime. (Deseret News) One longstanding Tennessee season-ticket holder said, "I've only seen Florida bring that many fans to Neyland Stadium."
BYU averaged over 59,000 fans at home football games last season during a 7-6 campaign—a mark that was the second-best average out west last season. BYU fans are passionate and powerful. For example, Fox Sports created a competition during the quarantine called the "Ultimate Fan Bracket: College Basketball Edition." BYU fans outvoted Missouri, Michigan State, Dayton, Tennessee and Indiana only to fall to North Carolina in the championship. In total, BYU received the most votes among the 64 schools in the bracket.
In the world of NIL compensation, social media impressions will be an indicator of the earning potential of a student-athlete. In a recent study of Instagram interactions, BYU fans ranked among the top 15 in the country:
Ah You believes that BYU fans "should make this a positive thing for [BYU]." Provo isn't a large market by any means, but BYU isn't competing against an NFL team in the state of Utah. BYU competes with in-state rival Utah for publicity.
The economy surrounding BYU is nicknamed the 'Silicon Slopes' after the California tech hub, the Silicon Valley. In 2018, USA Today named Provo the "best-performing economy among big U.S. cities." The same article credits BYU alumni with a large part of that economic performance: "Brigham Young University (BYU) provides a major pipeline of workers and start-ups. The university has spawned several tech ventures, including enterprise software firm Qualtrics, which is valued at $2.5 billion."
BYU football recently tweeted out a list of notable companies run by BYU Cougars. That list includes the likes of Dell Computers, the Utah Jazz and Qualtrics, among others.
Paired with passionate BYU fans, the Silicon Slopes could become a recruiting tool that helps BYU counter their non-P5 status in college football. Not to the degree where BYU is consistently recruiting a top-25 class, but it could help it compete with the mid to low-level P5 schools. Ah You said, "We have so many companies that would love to support our players."
Competing against the lower tier of P5 schools would be a step in the right direction for BYU. Over the last three years, BYU has seen a steep drop in its recruiting rankings. According to 247 Sports, BYU's last three recruiting classes have averaged 79th in the country, which is the program's worst three-year stretch since recruiting rankings began in 2000.
Regardless of the potential impact of NIL changes, Ah You reiterated the importance of what actually happens on the field. "We have to win games," he said. "I don't think companies will pay to endorse [our] athletes if we are not winning games."
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