When the NCAA adopted interim NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) legislation on June 30, 2021, did we really think college athletics wouldn’t turn into the Wild, Wild West?
Talk of million-dollar quarterbacks and sweetheart deals at high-profile schools immediately mushroomed across the college landscape.
That being said, student-athletes deserved the opportunity to profit from their persona beyond the tremendous opportunities a full-ride athletic scholarship provides.
Ask former Iowa basketball player Greg Brunner, who once calculated the hours he spent in games, travel, practice, the weight room, and off-season training during his career. He matched that against the dollars his scholarship provided. It was pennies on the dollar. He wasn’t complaining. He was just stating facts.
I tip my cap to Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon, one of those who worked hard to see NIL come to fruition. But in many cases, today’s me-first world has turned the NIL into a sordid game of outbidding an opponent for a player.
One example. Theo Akwuba, a 6-11 center at Louisiana, is a player Iowa pursued in the transfer portal. He averaged 9.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and two blocked shots a season ago, and would have given the Hawkeyes some experienced depth at that position.
And Iowa seemed like a good fit for Akwuba, a program, that had produced consensus all-Americans Luka Garza and Keegan Murray the previous two seasons and was coming off a 26-win season including the Big Ten Tournament title.
Akwuba narrowed his choices to Iowa and Mississippi, an SEC program that was 13-19 last season and won four league games. But the day before Akwuba made his decision public, Iowa already knew it had lost the bidding war. Akwuba picked the Rebels, making him one of eight newcomers joining the program in 2022-23. That doesn’t include assistant coach Brock Morris, who came from Louisiana.
Now bringing in an assistant with a recruit is not a new phenomenon. When Lute Olson signed Kenny Arnold out of Chicago Calumet in the late 1970s, his prep coach Johnie Butler also joined the Iowa staff. And when Tom Davis got Ray Thompson out of Argo High School in Summit, Ill., his coach Rick Moss landed at Iowa as a graduate assistant. Moss later became a full-time assistant.
But trying to outbid schools for players in the public eye is something new. Schools like Iowa are now hustling to put together NIL collectives to keep up with the business of recruiting. And after sitting on the sidelines and watching this all spin out of control, the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, has decided something needs to be done. Sorry, Charlie, the genie is already out of the bottle.
There is another side to the NIL story. A positive, do-good side that deserves to be applauded.
Iowa all-American center and first-round NFL draft pick Tyler Linderbaum sold sweatshirts and t-shirts in his likeness. He raised $30,000 and donated the money to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City.
Punter Tory Taylor sold t-shirts that read “Punting is Winning.” He donated $11,000 to Count the Kicks, a nonprofit organization that works to help babies.
Last week, Bohannon donated $26,000 to go toward pediatric cardiology at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital. The money came from shoes that Bohannon wore during a 2019 victory at Iowa State and famously signed, “To ISU: Thanks for the memz.” He raffled those shoes off for $10 a ticket.
There are many more examples, according to Iowa Magazine. When all-American guard Caitlin Clark signed an NIL deal with Hy-Vee, that company donated $1,000 to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Hawkeye forwards and twins Keegan and Kris Murray have donated money to the pediatric cancer unit at Stead Family Children’s Hospital and Special Olympics Iowa from funds they’ve received for their NIL deal with Dubuque-based Zoarc Athletics.
Also donating money to the hospital were quarterback Spencer Petras and recent NFL draft pick Dane Belton, through their NIL deal with Estela’s Fresh Mex restaurant; Garza, through an auction for his NFT (nonfungible token); former running back Tyler Goodson, through his sale of raffle tickets; and track and field athletes Gratt Reed and Peyton Haack from their sale of bottled water during tailgates before Iowa football games.
There are likely more examples of kindness that weren’t mentioned here. In an NIL world that’s all about the Benjamins, it’s nice to see Hawkeye athletes open their hearts and give back to noble causes.