OK, we have our first villain of the NIL era.
We heard the coaches complain that it would ruin the sport, that the transfer portal opening combined with NIL rights would turn the NCAA into a de facto pro league with free agency and we said, Oh, you’re just mad that the kids are getting paid, that won’t really happen. Even if it does happen, it won’t be as bad as you’re saying.
Well, we may not have been totally wrong in saying that, but it does turn out that the detractors were making some fair points. Yesterday, Miami Hurricanes guard Isaiah Wong told the country (through a statement from his agent) that he would enter the transfer portal if his NIL “compensation” wasn’t raised.
With a state-by-state regulation of laws, it can be difficult to follow, but Florida does not allow schools to be directly involved. The law specifically reads:
“A postsecondary educational institution, an entity whose purpose includes supporting or benefitting the institution or its athletic programs, or an officer, director, or employee of such institution or entity may not compensate or cause compensation to be directed to a current or prospective intercollegiate athlete for her or his name, image, or likeness.”
So it’s not exactly clear how Wong thought The U. was going to do anything about his situation without, you know, breaking the law. While Wong understandably sees other players getting great deals and sponsorships through NIL and wants his own income to reflect his performance in the 2022 Elite Eight, the transfer threat isn’t exactly directed toward anyone in particular.
If anyone, the statement appears to be directed toward billionaire John Ruiz, who has signed NIL deals with over 100 Miami student-athletes — including Wong. A transfer coming in from Kansas State is getting more in a Ruiz-sponsored deal than Wong’s contract grants him, and Wong is upset about that, though Ruiz told ESPN he’s unwilling to renegotiate. (Then why put the numbers out there, Ruiz?)
To be honest, this entire situation is less of a reflection on Wong and more on the NCAA’s and U.S. government’s sheer incompetence in navigating regulations on NIL. Rather than building a solid structure and a base set of national rules, they essentially threw a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds in head first into an industry that has been foaming at the mouth to throw their millions at college athletes. Now, Wong and Miami are stuck in a situation where it appears that Wong believes this is a pay-to-play structure and not a free-market deal with a non-affiliated individual.
NIL deals have widely been used as temptations and recruiting tools for incoming commits. Even the players you think of right now who have had success in the field — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Caleb Williams — had offers pouring in before they had played a down of college football. It’s about name recognition and looks and, unfortunately but realistically, a whole lot of things other than talent and leadership. But that’s how it was always going to work — especially with the total lack of regulations coming from the crumbling structure that is the NCAA.