Skip to main content

Sooner Caravan: Joe Castiglione, Brent Venables Say NIL is 'Not Gonna Be Pretty for a While'

Oklahoma's athletic director and head football coach spent part of Tuesday in Wichita describing ways to navigate an unprecedented era of college sports.

WICHITA, KS — Like the rest of the college football universe, Oklahoma coach Brent Venables was caught off guard last week when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher got into a war of words.

“I’m eatin’ my popcorn, watching that one,” Venables said Tuesday night.

It was one of many moments of levity during OU’s 90-minute Sooner Caravan stop in Venables’ home state. Toby Rowland emceed the event, introduced basketball coaches Jennie Baranczyk and Porter Moser and then brought athletic director Joe Castiglione to the stage.

The star of the show was the Sooners’ first-year football coach, who spent 42 minutes entertaining and enlightening a few hundred OU faithful in the B-29 “Doc” Hangar, Education and Visitors Center at Eisenhower National Airport.

But the most compelling commentary came from Castiglione, who fielded Rowland’s question about the challenge of navigating Name, Image and Likeness and other obstacles facing contemporary college athletics.

“I do think the future of college athletics is very bright,” Castiglione said. “ … It’s not gonna be pretty for a while. It’s a very bumpy period of time.”

Castiglione said even the best things in life come with a period of evolution and transition. That’s where college athletics is at. Weathering this transition appropriately will be paramount.

“We know there are some rough times ahead,” Castiglione said. “But we will tell you one thing: college athletics is still one of the greatest entities that’s ever been invented. It will not just survive. It will thrive. But it’s up to leaders to figure out the best path forward.”

Saban and Fisher made headlines last week when Saban, at a fundraiser event in Birmingham, said Texas A&M “bought every player” and the Aggies' coach, at a hastily arranged press conference the next day, called the Alabama coach a “narcissist” and said he wanted nothing to do with his former boss ever again.

The discussion centered around recruiting, NIL issues and booster-run “collectives” – many of which seem to be set up in a “pay for play” manner, which is still prohibited by NCAA rules.  The association no longer seems willing or able to enforce some of those rules due to wildly varying state laws and the willingness of some fan bases to test the boundaries before the boundaries are even set.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

As for Venables, he again called NIL “a great thing,” but said it shouldn’t necessarily be the motivation for recruits to come to campus.

“We want to facilitate the NIL space (as) something that’s equitable for everybody,” Venables said, “but the real marketplace will take place – the better you play, the better opportunity you have to make some extra money. Dillon Gabriel is already making some cash. That’s just the way it goes. That’s the real world. That’s reflective of that.”

Gabriel is the Sooners’ new quarterback, a transfer and two-year starter at Central Florida who has already been anointed the starter. He’s been selling his own merchandise and insiders say has numerous other deals in the works.

Venables also applauded OU being “one of 40-plus schools, give or take” who operate a co-branding program, by which both players and the university makes money off the sale of their jerseys.

“I don’t want them to lose their focus,” Venables said. “We already talked about young people having a hard time keeping focused anyway, keeping the main thing the main thing. Focus on education, focus on development, focus on winning games and having a great college experience.

“We don’t want them to grow up too fast, but we want to educate and we want to use the NIL space to educate. … Keep it in its proper place, let the great ones really maximize it and use it.

“There’s not a better brand in all of college football than Oklahoma.”

Castiglione echoed that sentiment and said college athletics must evolve with the times.

“Those that are involved in the leadership of those kinds of things have to see the future for what it is or will be, and then evolve and adapt and embrace,” he said.

“If we’ve learned anything in these last couple of years, when we had to face things that there was no blueprint for … it was to be nimble and be flexible and be able to pivot and adjust and keep the North Star in your focus. And our North Star has been and always will be student-athletes and what we can do to make their experience world class.

“If we focus on that and deal with all that, we will be in the right place – and certainly Oklahoma plans to be at the front trying to help lead the way.”