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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    The "Other Side" of NIL

    Since July 1, 2021 Name, Image, and Likeness, also known as NIL, has been one of the biggest conversation pieces surrounding NCAA wrestling. 

    NIL is a way for student-athletes to use their name, image, and likeness to make a profit. The NCAA policy is athletes can engage in NIL activities if they follow the state laws where their current school is located, athletes not in NIL states can still participate in NIL activities without breaking NCAA rules, and athletes can seek professional service providers for their NIL activities. Student-athletes should be reporting their NIL activities to their current schools, too, to stay consistent with the rules. I reside in Pennsylvania and our NIL rules have been signed into law here. Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has permitted NIL in their high schools as well. Now, each school can oversee their NIL deals and have a right to object if they do not agree with them. Honestly, schools should be working with their compliance departments to make sure they aren’t breaking any rules. There are also NIL collectives where donors pool together their money to compensate athletes, which we are very aware of. 

    With all that being said, NIL sucks. NIL has completely changed the way coaches recruit and develop their athletes. I hate seeing wrestling come to this. Do not get me wrong, I am not against the wrestlers getting their cut of the action. They should be allowed to promote themselves and make money off of it, but it is a total slap in the face to smaller universities. 

    Nowadays, these small universities “suck” just because they cannot afford to pay for half their lineup and then some. I am convinced this will stop some wrestling fans from being fans. You are going to continuously see the same team and the same guys win time and time again. There will be no competition because no one has that kind of NIL money to pour into their athletes, which causes a lot of coaches to feel guilty. It’s like when you were a kid and you wanted to play with your siblings and you constantly lost and it just wasn't fun anymore. Fans will start tuning into the sports where the athletes get paid by their organizations instead of NIL. Smaller schools could build a solid squad pre-NIL. Now teams have to worry about their developed athletes straying off to the portal because they all of a sudden are being noticed by the other bigger schools. It now has turned into “Oh, you pay your National Qualifier/All-American that much? I can pay them way more than that.” It’s one giant “who sells the most gets the most prizes” competition. It is humorous to me that these kids weren’t noticed by any of these schools before or that these big schools didn’t believe in them then, and now that they add the title of National Qualifier or All-American, everyone wants you. So what, you don’t believe in the development you had at your smaller school and it’s not getting you your goals, but you'll magically reach every other goal at your new school? Get real. 

     The NCAA argued for years that NIL would ruin collegiate athletics. They might have been spot-on with that assumption. Collectives have been the main topic in NIL discussions because people have accused them of stealing recruits from college with promises of a higher payout. Student-athletes are entering the portal and being offered six figures to come to certain schools. This raises my concern about money in college athletics. Are we teaching student-athletes that money is the key to success? Are we teaching the future recruits of college wrestling that loyalty only means so much until you dangle a few hundred in front of their face? You can be loyal to a fault? Do relationships have any meaning in college wrestling?

     I hear all too often that it’s just business and you have to treat it as such. What do you know about business at 20 years old? Are you an employee now or are you a college athlete? I see kids committing to schools all the time, and it is no longer thinking about the things they will do for that university. Everyone now thinks about how long they will stay before getting offered a bag to leave. Coaches have to worry about if they can keep their athletes because of how good they are. Do you know how foolish it sounds to say now that coaches have to worry about recruiting and developing good wrestlers because as soon as someone notices, it is all over? It is overwhelming for the athletes, too. You beat someone no one expects you to beat and all of a sudden everyone is calling your phone and hyping you up or offering you to go somewhere else. That takes a small step towards mental health, but that is a different conversation. It is okay to say no. 

    I have never been a college athlete, never even played a sport growing up. I picked up different hobbies growing up, though. When I was in high school I was heavily into the journalism world, I even started college as a journalism major. Everyone…and I mean everyone told me there’s no money in journalism. I kept the course because I was passionate about my writing. I changed my major at least six or seven times after that, and not because I listened to everyone around me reminding me that journalism is a poor industry. I then went heavily into the education field. Everyone reminded me again that there is no money in education, I wasn’t in it for the money. I was in it strictly to help make a difference in the lives of the children I was around. Now I am in a deep dive in college athletics, obviously wrestling-related. I wear many different hats in the wrestling world. 

    When I first joined InterMat, everyone made it clear that this was our fun job because there’s just not enough money where everyone can make a living, so we get boring jobs to tie us down. I tell everyone and I will forever tell everyone, that wrestling does not pay your bills unless you are winning gold medals. The point of my backstory here is that money is not everything. It sure can help, but it is not everything. Your experiences, hardships, being the underdog, or being the top dog in a small program will mean more to you in the end. Some people will tell their kids stories of them transferring four or more times because of “better” opportunities, but be real. High-caliber transfers in the portal who are just All-American for the first time that season or ones who have done it multiple times are NOT leaving their universities for “better” opportunities. They’re leaving because someone’s millionaire donor hit up their high school or club coach from high school and offered them a bag to leave their school. 

    In the direction that NIL is going in, it has now become a threat to college wrestling and quality education. While it is intended to provide opportunities for the wrestlers, the implementation of NIL opens the floodgates to issues, from inequities among athletes to exploitation by agents and businesses. It shifts the focus from getting a valuable education to creating a system that prioritizes profit over the development of student-athletes. The long-term effects of NIL must be carefully considered, and solutions that preserve collegiate athletics' integrity while protecting student-athletes' welfare must be pursued.

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    Madison is spot on the NCAA created a monster and now they can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Gone are the days when the Clarions, Lock Havens and Bloomsburgs would have a NCAA champion. 

    John Sacchi

    former head coach at Rutgers

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