The Reality of NIL in CFB Recruiting Today

David Marsh Editorials

Dan Lanning and Oregon have been on an absolute tear these last few weeks. It has delightfully resulted in the tears of USC and Texas fans alike, and Lanning isn’t done yet. There is a very good chance that Oregon lands an additional five-star recruit or two this cycle. If Lanning keeps up the pace there is a good chance that this becomes the best Oregon class in history, and that is in part due to the fantastic NIL program run by Division Street. But that is not the sole reason for Oregon’s success.

Mr. FishDuck and I have been discussing the recruiting process as he took some time away from his fun at free spins Canada to review how CFB fans handle the recruiting process. Fan responses to landing or missing a recruit tend to fall into two camps…

In this day and age there are really two reactions fan bases have to recruiting.

Winning a Recruit: Fans tend to celebrate how great the player is and how much of a win it is, as they should. They also credit the coaching staff, the program’s successes, culture and tradition. All these factors do play an important part of recruiting. There is also a tendency to overlook the NIL factor in winning a recruiting battle, because after all the the NIL groups involved had the money at the end of the day — and the thought that a recruit would only pick your school for the money does put a damper on a major victory.

Losing a Recruit: There is a growing trend where a fan base will blame their loss of a recruit solely on NIL, because how could a recruit not like their coaching staff, culture and tradition? Then we start to see an ever-growing trend where a fan base will start saying how that recruit is greedy and only in it for the money, wouldn’t fit in with their glorious program, and they would be better off without them all together.

Of course these are only two examples of fan reactions, and it is always more fun being on the winning side. As Duck fans we have seen a lot of complaints about losing recruits from Husky, Trojan and now Longhorn fans, and though it is delightful to relish in their suffering, it has made me think about the nature of NIL today.

It’s important to remember that that every team in the Top 10 of any recruiting service has an NIL group paying top dollar for every recruit they land. There are cases in which a recruit commits to a school solely based on the money, and there are possible instances where NIL collectives are overpaying for recruits.

Dorian Brew shocked everyone when he committed to Oregon out of nowhere earlier this summer.
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Perhaps the best example was looking at Texas A&M in 2022, the first year of NIL, and reading all the rumors about how their NIL collective effectively bought one of the best classes in the country. Texas A&M hasn’t been ranked nearly as high in recruiting since 2022, most likely because their NIL collectives decided that it wasn’t worth the money to simply buy recruits.

We don’t know the numbers being thrown around these days and will probably never know, as these NIL contracts do not need to be public.

What we can assume at this point is that we are far enough into NIL influencing the recruiting landscape now to know that the market has somewhat stabilized. NIL collectives know what a player is worth and will offer accordingly and sometimes an athlete will get more because bidding wars are bound to happen for top recruits.

We shouldn’t think of teams buying players through NIL, but rather that NIL is the cost of entry into high-level recruiting.

Once the bidding stops and a recruit has effectively the same number being offered to him for choosing whatever institution, recruiting looks like it used to look. It’s based on relationships, culture fit, distance from home, facilities, school programs, networking and even uniforms. At the end of the day it’s still classical recruiting when the money side is resolved.

This is what happened with five-star recruit Dakorien Moore, who by all the accounts I’ve read had comparable NIL offers from both Oregon and Texas boosters. It just came down to Lanning and company and their recruiting ability — and the Ducks won.

I’ve seen a lot of Longhorn fans make the typical excuses that Oregon was overpaying and Texas didn’t want him anyway. But Texas did want him and Texas has a strong NIL program backing them, so it seems highly unlikely that they weren’t able to match Division Street’s number.

Elijah Rushing flipped his commitment to Oregon in December right before signing day.
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Last year there was a freak-out in the Oregon fan base when Elijah Rushing pledged his commitment to Arizona over the Ducks in what was a bit of a shock at the time. We can never know for sure but there seemed to be a sense that Arizona went all in to keep the highly-coveted in-state recruit home. There were angry tirades on various Oregon boards claiming that Division Street wasn’t willing to offer enough money to buy Rushing out. It actually looked a lot like the Texas and USC boards these days, with Oregon winning in truth.

But by the time signing day rolled around Rushing flipped to the Ducks.

Did Division Street increase their offer? Maybe.

Did Lanning and company just continue to recruit the young man and win him over to joining Oregon? Absolutely.

We don’t know the NIL numbers, but we can see the effects of traditional recruiting. If Rushing or Moore felt like Oregon was too far away from home or they just didn’t see themselves in an Oregon uniform, then they could get an NIL deal that would be good enough to stay closer to home.

NIL opens the door for programs to recruit top athletes, but it is not the thing that wins a recruiting battle. It is still about building relationships and selling the program.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo From X


Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in technology in SLC, Utah.

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