Paying college athletes, once a taboo, is a crazy maze now that the NCAA opened the door for name, image and likeness compensation deals.

But cheating is still cheating — even with the NCAA trying to provide guidelines on how to handle NIL contracts with student-athletes.

It is weird for long-time veteran coaches.

“It’s really strange because in essence, all the things that for 30-plus years we’ve been told were violations and would get you the death penalty are now legal,” commented offensive line coach Darrell Funk.

Writing for The Athletic, Stewart Mandel reported that a 5-star quarterback is believed to have been given an $8 million deal if he worked for “a collective” associated with a school.

That brings up the issue, who is telling a recruit if they come to their school they’ll get big money? It cannot be a coach — that is against the rules. It goes against the “pay-for-play” prohibition outlined by the NCAA.

Yet, I keep hearing stories of recruits who are being told if they sign at one school, they’ll get thousands of dollars, and then being told in a recruiting setting by another school that they’d match it.

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If the entity saying “we’ll match it” is a football coach, it is a violation, according to BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb and Funk.

A veteran offensive line coach who once coached at Michigan, Funk said he has not encountered that yet — that Lamb would be the right person to ask about it.

“But I think it is coming. I haven’t had it come up to where someone says, ‘Well, I love BYU. I love this and that but are you guys going to offer me a house on the lake and a million dollars?’ I haven’t got that one,” said Funk. 

“I think it goes without saying, sometimes when a kid goes silent on us and maybe it is a kid out of our region or footprint, so to speak, and I’ve been talking to them and NIL deals are involved with some really big schools and suddenly they have four NIL deals? It is not going to be what BYU could have said in that conversation. Does that make sense?”

And if a player asked Funk if BYU could match a NIL deal from another school?   

“I’d say, listen, that’s above my pay grade and I’ve got to find the answer,” said Funk. “I’d say they’re asking great questions and I’d better find out quick because sooner or later, it’s going to happen to coaches everywhere.”

Lamb said it’s clear that coaches cannot promise an NIL deal to a recruit if they sign with their school. Period.

“That’s the thing that I noticed that the coaches aren’t allowed to say,” said Lamb, who looks forward to more legislation to pilot the challenge.

If a player has a conversation with a coach about matching someone else’s pot of golf NIL deal, Lamb wants no part of it.

“And it’s not the world we want to live in and we don’t want to build that type of a team. If we can do anything it is to encourage our alumni and our fan base and those who would want to support the Y’s football in that way, to reach out as much as possible and make it a team-oriented thing, to benefit the team as a whole.”

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That is what happened with Built Bar, a Utah company that made a ground-breaking NIL deal with BYU’s entire football team including walk-on athletes in the summer of 2021.

“I think, amongst coaches in the profession, we always have to have a little bit of trust that the other guys are doing the right thing. I think you make your own individual decisions, how you want to operate, how you want to win. I know Kalani and on our staff, we share the same vision, which is, if you recruit guys illegally, then you’ve probably got to do something illegal to get them to play. And that’s just not the world we want to live in.

“So I’ve got to hope that a lot of these deals that you hear about out there are boosters operating outside the coaching staffs. There’s a lot of information out there. There’s a team of internet recruiters and evaluators who have the names and so theoretically if a booster wants to figure out who some of the top recruits are and make a deal for a school, I think that information is readily available. As of now, I guess there’s nothing to keep them from reaching out and making deals.”

Lamb said two changes with the NCAA that he believes have been tremendous for athletes is the NIL opportunities to mix with businesses and help build a future while helping them with expenses and the transfer portal — giving players more opportunities and choices.

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“It’s a great thing to see, for players to market themselves as individuals within a team. It works in professional sports and the business world. These guys can still represent them and our team.”

Lamb said he saw firsthand the impact of the NIL deal with Built Bar. What an emotional impact it had on players who were paying their own expenses through their own work or their family helping out just so they could go to school. “It made a big difference in their lives and in their approach to playing football. We are grateful for what it has brought to a lot of lives.”

Lamb said the NIL deal with Built Bar has also helped with the retention rate of their walk-on program. Players who may have moved on or transferred, have stayed. 

It may amount to saving an athlete like Tyler Allgeier from leaving because of finances.  Allgeier ended up with a scholarship and currently owns BYU’s single-season rushing record, a mark set in 2021.

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