12th Man in Jeopardy? How Texas A&M Will Be Affected by New NCAA NIL Ruling

“I think it’s absolutely against college football," Texas A&M Aggies coach Mike Elko said of the 85-man roster cap set to be imposed in the aftermath of the NCAA NIL settlement. “I think that’s something that is really bad for the sport.”
Former Texas A&M Aggies coach Jackie Sherrill stands outside Kyle Field with the 12th Man Kickoff Team.
Former Texas A&M Aggies coach Jackie Sherrill stands outside Kyle Field with the 12th Man Kickoff Team. / Photo provided by Texas A&M Athletics
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Jackie Sherrill's legacy is already long-cemented in Texas A&M Aggies history, but its lasting effects — and the pride that comes with it in Aggieland — could be in jeopardy.

Reading that isn't something that Sherrill, nor any of past or present Aggie had ever hoped to see. In an ideal world, the simple beauty that made up Texas A&M's No. 1 tradition, The 12th Man, wouldn't ever be touched.

It couldn't be.

Unfortunately, that's proven to not be the case. After the NCAA reached a settlement with Arizona State swimmer Grant House four years after the suit was filed — a motion that's set to improve athletes' college experiences tenfold with name, image and likeness implications — there was, inevitably, fallout.

Initially, the NCAA's settlement being approved by the Power 5 conferences was an overwhelmingly positive thing. In a way, it still is. But Texas A&M, as it usually is, is in a different position. One of the lesser-considered impacts is likely to impact it more than any other school in the country.

Here's what that means.

House v. NCAA: The Basics

With the House v. NCAA settlement, athletes are now able to receive direct compensation from their universities for their labor.

It's a simple idea: players can benefit from royalties coming from their name, image and likeness on anything related to NCAA football video games and commercials and they can sign NIL deals with outside parties with no penalty. That wasn't possible before.

In other words, being a collegiate athlete will likely begin to pay the bills.

And for players over the last 10 years who didn't get that same luxury, they'll be receiving some nice surprises in check format very soon. That likely includes former Aggies like Myles Garrett, Alex Caruso, and even Kellen Mond.

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) in action during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime.
Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) in action during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA's willingness to settle prevented it from having to shell out more than $4 billion to every athlete ever inconvenienced by being unable to profit from their name or their work. It admitted its mistakes and has given athletes the ability to treat their time making money for their respective conferences and the association as a true job.

But how will the money be distributed?

Well, each year, schools from every conference will set aside $20 million dollars to distribute to their players, courtesy of the conference. For the SEC, that's almost pocket change. It'll make that and more, so in a way it seems to be a win-win. Athletes get money, and the conference still profits.

That's easier said than done for a mega conference like the SEC, but the disparity in earnings from schools in smaller conferences is another battle that will likely continue to be fought. It's the reason that Texas and Oklahoma wanted to come to the SEC, and why the Pac-12 no longer exists.

It's a brutal business. Between the transfer portal and now the athletes' right to pay, college athletics will look wildly different from what it once was. Yet, it's not even that part of it that puts the Aggies' traditions in danger. It's actually one of the miniscule details. The minutiae.

An 85-Man Roster Cap

NOV. 18 — As Sam Mathews stood in place awaiting a kickoff during his Aggies' rout of the Abilene Christian Wildcats late in the regular season, he was in a unique position.

Mathews' jersey number was obvious. He proudly wore No. 12 in honor of "The 12th Man." As the tale goes, E. King Gill was a spectator in the crowd in College Station during a home game in 1922. He was a former football player, but no longer suited up for the Aggies after leaving the team.

But, this particular afternoon, those same Aggies were depleted. Numerous injuries were threatning to put the game in forfeit territory for Texas A&M, and Gill was asked to suit up on the off chance that he'd be needed. So, he did.

Gill stood proudly on the sideline as the Aggies' 12th Man. He never played, but that wasn't the point.

He was ready.

Mathews was, too — only 102 years later. The circumstances looked vastly different, but he was the coveted walk-on player designated No. 12 by Texas A&M. Before him, it was a graduate named Connor Choate. Before Choate, it was Braden White and so forth.

That one player achieved a special status as a walk-on, but if you go back far enough, you reach Jackie Sherrill. And that was the year he had 11 walk-ons cover kickoffs for the entire season.

The 12th Man Kickoff Team lines up with their rally towels in hand prior to a kickoff.
The 12th Man Kickoff Team lines up with their rally towels in hand prior to a kickoff. / Photo provided by Texas A&M Athletics.

Sherrill made history with his 12th Man Kickoff Team. He gave numerous Aggies a chance to proudly support their school in a way unique to them, and they were eternally grateful for it.

"Coach Sherrill made his mark on [so many] lives," former 12th Man Kickoff Team member Brian Carpenter said of Sherrill. "There is nothing that any of us can do to truly give back to him as much as he has given to each of us, but all of us would die trying if asked.

"We are all in debt to him."

With the House v. NCAA settlement, an 85-man roster cap is likely to be imposed. Texas A&M hasn't utilized an entire walk-on kickoff team the way that Sherrill did in years, but it certainly is used to having many more than 85 players — many of them walk-ons.

That's part of why current Aggies coach Mike Elko was up in arms upon learning that news in the aftermath of the settlement.

“I’m strongly against it,” he said. "I think it’s absolutely against college football, what it stands for and what it’s about. I think that would be a major problem, especially, when you look at the legacies of Texas A&M kids that are going to get the opportunity to play football at Texas A&M potentially taken away from them.

“That’s something’s really bad for the sport.”

He's right. Taking away walk-ons in favor of profit — or rather, in the wake of profit — in turn takes away history. It takes away chances for Texas A&M students to support their Fightin' Texas Aggies.

Sherrill might not be the coach for the Aggies anymore, but since he and R.C. Slocum left, the school has done nothing but honor them, just as it honors all of its traditions that make it what it is.

Now, that core piece of history and tradition is in danger.

So, yes. Texas A&M players, along with every other collegiate athlete across the country, will begin to get paid for their labor.

But for the Aggies, is that worth it?

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem up to them.

None of this really was.


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Matt Guzman

MATT GUZMAN

Matt Guzman is a sports journalist and storyteller from Austin, Texas. He serves as a credentialed reporter and site manager for San Antonio Spurs On SI and a staff writer for multiple collegiate sites in the same network. In the world of professional sports, he is a firm believer that athletes are people, too, and intends to tell stories of players and teams’ true, behind-the-scenes character that otherwise would not be seen through strong narrative writing, hooking ledes and passionate words.