NIL philosophies reveal yet another Ohio State-Michigan divide
The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry runs so deep that it now delves into philosophy—something college football fans and even Michigan and Ohio online sports bettors should recognize.
Comments from Buckeyes coach Ryan Day and Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh last week show that the programs seem to inhabit different solar systems when it comes to the subject of Name, Image and Likeness in roster-building.
Day, who is usually recruiting players, was instead recruiting members of the Columbus business community last Thursday. He placed some of the burden on them to keep Ohio State’s program humming.
Day estimated that the total cost to stave off potential roster poachers will probably come to $13 million per season. He was quoted in a Cleveland.com story as saying quarterbacks will demand $2 million per year in NIL compensation, while the market for edge rushers and offensive tackles will be about $1 million.
“One phone call, and they’re out the door,” Day told an audience being pitched to take part in Ohio State’s NIL collective. “We cannot let that happen at Ohio State. I’m not trying to sound the alarm, I’m just trying to be transparent about what we’re dealing with.”
There’s plenty of evidence already on the table. Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jordan Addison’s departure from Pitt to USC set off all kinds of sketchy alarm bells. If the NCAA is unable to police roster poaching, the issue will only grow deeper.
At The School Up North, Harbaugh delivered a decidedly different take on the subject.
On the same day that Day was speaking to Columbus business leaders, Harbaugh was at a football camp at Ferris State.
“Right or wrong, our philosophy is coming to the University of Michigan is going to be a transformational experience rather than a transactional experience,” Harbaugh said.
The timing here is everything.
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Harbaugh wasn’t responding to Day. He was voicing his own opinion at virtually the same time. And his answer revealed an interesting existential difference between the coaches.
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Ryan Day: Realism with a flaw
From an Ohio State perspective, Harbaugh’s comment surely comes across as typical Michigan Man snobbery. It probably also comes as a great delight. Day seems to be laying the groundwork for another decade of dominance over his biggest rival.
This is a case of realism vs. idealism. And Ryan Day is keepin’ it real.
But as Ohio native Dave Chappelle so aptly reminded us, keepin’ it real can go wrong. And Day’s estimate of the cost of doing business in college football is concerning.
The problem isn’t players getting paid. The issue is how long the pipeline can keep running before the well runs dry.
Pro sports teams can afford exorbitant salaries because they’re the ones profiting off players’ services. Those salaries are rewards for keeping the money churning in to owners.
NIL deals have no such financial guarantee for the party paying the money.
Applebee’s isn’t making money off an NIL deal with a player who endorses Bourbon Street Steak. Unless, of course, it wins the bet that thousands of fans will order the same thing because their favorite player did. (Why Applebee’s? Because it’s a real example of an NIL deal that’s happened.)
At some point, you’d assume NIL donors would start wondering what it is they are getting out of these investments. Though perhaps if they are rich enough, it will work out the same as traditional boosters over the decades. This will all be disposable income in pursuit of wins.
Jim Harbaugh: Principled, but endangered
From a Michigan perspective, Harbaugh’s comments are an example of what separates the Wolverines from the unprincipled meatheads to their south.
“At Michigan, we never have to lower ourselves to Ohio State’s level,” someone with patches on their sport coat will note.
But they are going to find that philosophy isn’t sustainable. The big boys are already playing in the mud. If you want to stay a big boy, you’ll be forced to enter the pit.
The University of Chicago figured this out decades ago. A founding Big Ten member, Chicago dropped out in the 1940s when college sports got too uncouth.
There’s no chance Michigan gets that high-minded about the enterprise. The Wolverines will need to adapt.
Harbaugh certainly doesn’t seem to be there yet. He emphasized that he’s ardently pro-NIL, noting that players should have been able to cash in on jersey sales long ago. But he is quite obviously not on board with using NIL as a recruiting tactic.
“I hear a lot about it. It’s talked a lot about,” Harbaugh said. “I just don’t know how much is real, accurate, it’s like — is it accurate or not, or a fish-tale story?”
Ideally, Harbaugh’s vision of a world where NIL is used strictly as a reward for what players have already done instead of an inducement would mesh with reality. But it’s clear the NCAA has already lost the ability to control the room.
Attending Michigan will still be a privilege. But if he isn’t as prepared to adapt as Day, he’ll quickly learn these aren’t fish stories.
Day will be reeling in the muskies, and Harbaugh will be stuck with bluegills.