Kristy Hurts did not know much about football, though her son, Khurtiss Perry, was always a special talent. He steamrolled players in pee-wee. The kid who was not a running back but got handoffs in high school because it took a few bodies to bring him down. Perry’s ability gave birth to opportunity in a way Hurts or Perry’s grandmother, Brenda Benton, never would have expected.
One day, Perry sat down with Hurts and Benton to detail the next steps of his recruitment. He had offers from every major SEC program, his four-star status eventually leading Perry to Alabama’s 2022 class. Though there was something new he had to explain, an acronym Hurts and many others did not know, but would soon learn: NIL, or Name, Image and Likeness.
The melting pot of Perry’s personality, pass-rushing skills and more than eight thousand Instagram followers put a monetary value on his prospect status. One site estimated Perry could earn $ 15,000 in deals. He was entering a world of not just player empowerment, but player compensation, too.
“We’m excited and we think it’s a good idea for (players) to be able to make money, I guess,” Benton said. “Being so young and coming from high school and college, to be able to make this much money, is scary but exciting you know? We just think he would know with his foundation. ”
College recruiting and NIL contracts had been on a collision course since June’s NCAA v. Alston case. The multi-car pileup came in sound bites last week. Alabama head coach Nick Saban accused Texas A&M of buying the best recruiting class in modern history. Aggies leader Jimbo Fisher responded in nuclear fashion, vaguely defending the honor of 17-year-olds.
But when the sport’s heavyweights are trading blows, where does that leave the kids they’re fighting over? Who, if anyone, is educating Perry and others on the complexities of college football’s changing economy?
Experts in NIL raised concerns to AL.com about an “education gap” facing high schoolers. With shifting guidance from the NCAA, booster-driven collectives making recruiting pitches and a plethora of companies offering assistance, the ever-shifting landscape of NIL has left players to sift through the wreckage. Some prospects have spurned deals to focus on their game. Others have opted to maximize their marketability. Nearly everyone agrees players should be paid, but officials are still trying to figure out how to prepare them.
“When a collective or whoever approaches them and says, ‘Hey, I want to give you this money in return for this commitment to this school,’ Yeah, (kids) are going to jump at that regardless of the rules, especially if they do not know what the rules are. They’ve just heard guys can get paid now, ”Missouri-based college sports attorney and former William & Mary basketball player Mit Winter said. “… .The rules are different in states. Each school has its own NIL rules and policies. There is a lot to keep track of, even for someone like me, or other people in the space who try to do that on a daily basis. ”
Perry enrolled early in Tuscaloosa, leaving Hurts and Benton to accept a Lineman of the Year award on his behalf at a banquet in Montgomery. Unbeknownst to them, a few blocks away, the state legislature worked to make it easier for Alabama schools to operate in NIL. Rep. Kyle South led the charge on the state’s bill allowing players to profit in 2020 but moved to repeal the measure a year later. He cited a common concern facing many states after the NCAA punted on widespread regulation: States like Alabama offered more limitations than needed, giving Texas and others an advantage.
The National College Players Association deemed Alabama’s original bill one of the three most restrictive in the nation, tied with Mississippi and Illinois. (The NCPA has not rated the new statute.) Under the old system, lawmakers could’ve capped the potential earnings a player received and banned schools from facilitating deals. Now, university compliance offices are allowed to operate as a pseudo-career services department, setting up interviews between sponsors and athletes.
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Three months after the repeal, the Crimson Tide announced a partnership with High Tide Athletics, a collective co-founded by Birmingham attorney Larry Morris. It’s not a coincidence, Winter said, that Alabama’s first collective came after the repeal. HTT, managed by Alabama’s former director of trademark licensing Cole Price, touts itself as a “third party who works closely with UA compliance.”
In 2022, schools aren’t the only brands being considered. Teenagers are being framed through their marketability. On3 Sports, a national recruiting site, launched its “NIL Valuation” service powered by a proprietary algorithm. It measures a school’s history, player info and social media to compute what a kid could get per social media post. Jimmy Stein, a recruiting coordinator for QB Country and Alabama analyst for On3, said it’s not meant to provide a definitive value.
As a player goes through his recruitment, the algorithm is designed to track any changes in a school’s NIL profile like success, work with outside sponsors or a prospect’s visibility. But the dollar amounts assigned aren’t binding and the formula, like any new resource, is imperfect. Instead, it’s another piece of content for fans and kids alike to track, like star ratings or visits.
The values vary by position and quality of recruit. Arch Manning, blue-chip quarterback and 2023′s top player, has a total valuation of $ 3.1 million, for example. Some players see themselves as more. Payton Kirkland, a four-star offensive tackle from Orlando, Florida, disagrees with his $ 334 per-post metric.
The 6-foot-7, 315-pounder has the “it-factor” needed to stand out, he argued and he’ll continue to prove it. Inspired by “I AM ATHLETE,” – a podcast hosted by NFL veterans Chad Johnson and Brandon Marshall featuring personal discussions with athletes and celebrities – Kirkland started “The Pedigrees” with 2023 Duke basketball-commit Sean Stewart. The show, set to debut this summer, is produced by Kirkland’s mom, Veronica.
“I’m a business. This is a business, ”Kirkland said,“ we are all in it now and you have to handle it like a businessman. ”
Players like Kirkland appear to be the exception, however. Multiple companies have sprouted in the near 12 months since Alston to teach players and coaches whatever they can. Icon Source started in 2018 as a middle-man enterprise between professional athletes and companies looking for sponsors. It quickly expanded to NIL, partnering with Alabama State and a few other programs. The Icon Suite is an online portal offered to schools to help with legal technicalities and facilitate deals.
Connected through UAB and head football coach Bill Clark, the Alabama Football Coaches Association partnered with Eccker Sports. The company provides an online video course, among other explainers, on NIL regulations. Eccker is currently working on a NIL guide for players and parents. Tim Prukop co-founded the business last April and currently has deals in place with four state high school associations. In Louisiana, he said, principals and football coaches are mandated to take the course.
Prukop has faced some resistance. Speaking to a group of Texas coaches, Prukop said one challenged the need for high school instructors to understand the rapidly changing space. Prukop asked the coach a question: Who do you expect them to go to for guidance?
New Florence head coach Kenny Morson is facing the same conundrum. In his first few months, he had to manage a changing staff while learning the locker room. He has a five-star current Alabama commit Jahlil Hurley and has had experience coaching elite talent like Rolando McClain at Decatur High. He’s tried to guide Hurley through his recruitment, but, like so many others, he’s unsure of where NIL is headed and what Hurley is walking into.
“I’ll be honest with you, I do not think I understand it well enough to give (a player) the feedback he needs,” Florence head coach Kenny Morson said, “I’d be scared I would know just enough to be dangerous. ”
Nick Alvarez is a reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or email him at NAlvarez@al.com.