What if some of the have-nots in college sports rose up and really did some blood-letting with crazy NIL deals surfacing across the land, using all resources, connections, alumni, businesses and supporters?
Could they possibly rise to rival the elite, the dozen blue bloods that dominate college football?
One pundit, Chad Withrow of Outkick.com, recently postulated that yes, there could be a reckoning, a rising if you will, and the Tennessee-based writer put soon-to-be Big 12 member BYU right at the top of his list.
Withrow made a list of the college programs that, if they really, really wanted to tap into resources and connections, could bark at the tail of Big Dogs like Alabama and Ohio State.
I’m not sure if that’s reality, but it’s interesting to read his speculations.
Withrow makes an incorrect assumption that a reported a $100 billion portfolio of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could benefit BYU sports.
Those investments are earmarked for a different church purpose around the world that involve missions, temples, education and humanitarian work, according to recent remarks by Elder David A. Bednar to a group of media in Washington, D.C.
Also, Withrow asserts JetBlue and Marriott Corp., could elevate BYU athletes, which is out of the mainstream of current active booster funding like Qualtrics, NuSkin, doTerra, IHC, and Built Bar.
JetBlue’s founder David Neeleman has more reported ties to the University of Utah, although his nephew Zach Wilson is a former BYU quarterback currently with the New York Jets.
Here is the list of the programs Withrow believes could use NIL in a way few others could, and literally leap up as dominating programs on this new horizon:
- Vanderbilt, an athletic program that has won a national title in baseball but has struggled otherwise in the SEC. Vandy does have the biggest endowment in the SEC. If the powers that be tap into the resources for NIL, it would be a home run.
- UNLV is a program that hasn’t seen great success in football since Randall Cunningham or in basketball since the days of Jerry Tarkanian, but the casino money, the big rollers, the fame and money floating around that town? If applied, it could blow up NIL deals.
- BYU, a program that has won a national title in football and is headed to the Big 12. Citing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ financial success and ties to big businesses like Marriott, JetBlue and others, the NIL opportunities are tremendous for taking advantage of what NIL is made for.
- Syracuse, a school located in one of the largest marketing markets and population bases in the world. NIL deals could explode with the exposure that could be triggered if motivated by a wealthy alumnus.
- Stanford, already one of the most successful athletic programs in the country, has tons of ties to Silicon Valley high tech. If motivated, those donors could blow up NIL for the Cardinal.
Withrow admits he has a bias, being located in Nashville near Vanderbilt, but he says if you add it up, it makes sense, and he told ESPN 960 host Ben Criddle this past week he could see BYU rise to No. 1 if the right people in the right places got serious about it.
Here is his insight into BYU’s potential for NIL:
“Mormon money is a real thing. According to a 2020 report, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints amassed a fortune of over $100 billion in assets. Yes. That’s billions with a B. BYU is “founded, supported, and guided” by the Church, according to their website. That’s a lot of potential support in the NIL space.
“It’s not like BYU isn’t already an incredibly successful program. They won a national championship in 1984 and are set to join the Big 12 in 2023. They know what it takes to win and are willing to invest to do so. There’s not much stopping them from contending for national championships again.
“Mormons make up only 1.4% of the US population, but have a remarkable business portfolio. Jet Blue Airways, Marriott international, an insurance company, cattle ranches, radio stations, a large mall, and a Polynesian theme park are all examples of how broad the church’s influence goes.
“This is where some of you start thinking, ‘How are you going to build a powerhouse program in 2022 based off of recruiting from only 1.4% of the population?’ It can happen because you don’t have to limit recruiting to a singular group. Not every football player at Notre Dame is Catholic. Not every athlete at BYU is Mormon. This is not a sales pitch for the Mormon church. This is me looking through the lens of program potential in an NIL world. And when I do that, I think I may have BYU too low on my list.”
An interesting thesis.
In reality, BYU’s sports budget is on its own and survives on donations directly earmarked to the athletic department. It has financial engines like broadcast rights fees, camps, ticket sales and concessions.
There are plenty of Utah and Utah State fans who are members of the LDS faith who’d never want their church donations put in a BYU athletic budget.
But, those nuances aside, you could make the case that there are plenty of NIL deals that some big-time BYU boosters could tie into for athletics that would really take advantage of endorsements, the use of an athlete’s name, image and likeness, and it could be a well of coin.
So far in the NIL circus, BYU has tried to keep things from getting out of whack and has watched as those connected to opposing programs have thrown around some big numbers to recruits they are pursuing.
Is BYU ready to wade into that pool?
It’s primarily a question of how serious the thirst of those outside the program is to invest money in NIL deals.
Right now BYU, Utah and Utah State have been taking note of what’s being done with NIL. They have been in recon mode the past year to see how recruits react and what deals are offered.
A lot of it seems like pay-for-play, which is forbidden, but now they have seen the lay of the land and can react to what extent is possible within rules.
I think Withrow does have a point that NIL deals associated with BYU might have a potential for a greater rate of return (ROI) because of marketing, associations, and exposure through the faith and other avenues.
The early Built Bar deal is an example that kind of stunned folks around the country — NIL deals for every football player including walk-ons. It is too early to get a feel for what trajectory that is taking as we head into a heated summer of recruiting. I do know that there are folks associated with BYU who are doing some research to find out.
They’ve already witnessed a winter and spring of some frenzied NIL pitches — and have come up amazed at the numbers being thrown around.
Vandy, BYU, Stanford, and UNLV getting some kind of superior bark in NIL and recruiting?
Could happen. But a lot of folks would need to gain an appetite for swimming with lots of sharks that have been dominating the waters for decades and know how to chum.