On the way to work Thursday, I saw no fans using their favorite college sweatshirts to start bonfires in their driveways.
Around lunch, I checked Facebook Marketplace for a spike of listings in used tailgating gear for sale and found none.
Headed home, I looked for discarded bumper stickers of team logos. Not a one.
To be fair, when I filed this column there were still a few hours left in the first full day of student-athletes being able to benefit from their name, image and likeness, but I felt pretty confident in assuming the sun was going to come up Friday.
Poor rich Mark Emmert.
For years, the NCAA president, who makes a base salary of $2.7 million, and those who agreed with him tried to convince you the death of college sports would be imminent if your favorite college quarterback got more than a full-ride scholarship.
The NCAA attempted often and up until not very long ago to prove America’s interest in college sports was rooted not in its relationship with the old alma mater or the team you picked in your annual March Madness bracket but your knowledge that the point guard pulling up for the game-winning 3-pointer was not getting paid.
The NCAA was, of course, wrong — if it ever even really believed its phony argument during countless attempts to keep student-athletes from growing their slice of a college sports revenue pie that has ballooned over the years.
Thursday proved it, and so will every day moving forward that student-athletes can benefit from this so-called NIL advancement without college sports fandom suffering one bit.
That faulty logic wasn’t the only trope dismantled Thursday.
Jackson State football player Antwan Owens announced a partnership with 3 Kings Grooming, a hair product shop. So much for the argument that opening the name, image and likeness floodgates would only benefit the biggest names at the biggest schools.
Nebraska volleyball player Lexi Sun announced a partnership with an apparel company. She plans to donate part of her profits to a nonprofit sports psychology organization. So much for the argument that only men’s football and basketball players are going to be able to get in on the NIL action.
Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, who makes more than $8 million per year, still appears to be coaching. So much for the argument, made by Swinney himself, that he would hang up his whistle if student-athletes ever got paid.
Can we all agree now that this movement is going to be a good thing? At least more good than bad? For a while, it’s going to be a big thing. Some mistakes will be made. The process will take some time to figure out. And then it’s going to settle down and just be a normal thing, a thing we realized should have been around long before it was.
One, because it’s the right thing, the American thing.
And two, because if the NCAA would have been more forward-thinking and allowed this NIL advancement earlier, it might not be on the verge of seeing its amateurism model toppled entirely. If you read the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the NCAA’s attempt to limit educational benefits to student-athletes — something even dumber than the initial resistance shown toward letting student-athletes benefit from their name, image and likeness — then you know open season has started on amateurism. It’s why the NCAA finally fast-tracked this NIL acceptance.
Emmert and those he works for are backpedaling faster than a five-star corner. They realize now they should have started sooner. Instead of making NIL an olive branch, it could turn into The Alamo.
Time will tell.
For now, student-athletes are free to promote local restaurants, sell their own T-shirts, appear in advertisements and all of that stuff.
There’s a market for it.
Thursday proved it, but we already knew it.
It wasn’t too long ago that the student bookstore at Mizzou was selling No. 10 football jerseys like hotcakes. Chase Daniel’s name wasn’t on the back, and he got no cut of the sales. But everyone knew who wore that number. The days of cutting out the student-athletes are over. Good.
If you are one of the ones who hates this trend, one who bought the fire and brimstone rhetoric Emmert and others used to brainwash, let me offer some soothing words.
The money already was moving.
Student-athletes having value is not some new thing. And when value exists but it gets ignored, it doesn’t make that value go away. It just means the money gets hidden.
Student-athletes have been eating free meals for decades. They have been driving cars they did not buy for decades. They have been wearing free clothes, free jewelry and free shoes for decades.
And that’s when things go right, in the sense that it’s the student-athletes who receive the reward.
Too often, the student-athletes have been cut out of the equation altogether, with benefits going to middle men, runners, wannabe agents, family and coaches with bad intentions. See the ongoing saga of corruption in college hoops, in which adults were making money off of steering basketball players to certain schools. That’s the kind of stuff that happens when a student-athlete’s value is ignored.
Money made in the light is better than money hidden in the dark. Mizzou is one of the schools offering financial education along with its NIL program. Smart. Isn’t it more productive to teach student-athletes how to file their taxes than paying a compliance officer to investigate the running back who got a free burger at Booches? Those who want college sports to involve more education should be cheering this move.
Thursday only made me regret one thing: I’m already tired of watching people try to keep track of which student-athlete got what deal. Pretty soon, no one will care. That doesn’t mean people will stop caring about college sports.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix announced a partnership with a sweet tea company Thursday. Fans of rival Alabama are threatening to boycott the sugary Southern staple that is Milo’s.
I think the passion for college sports is going to be just fine.