I recently sat down with Jay Graham to obtain his thoughts on NIL at the collegiate level. Graham is well-known to East Tennessee and the Vol Nation fanbase as a former Running Back (“RB”) at the University of Tennessee. After playing for 6 seasons as an NFL RB (playing for the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers), he served as RB Coach at Florida State when they won the 2013 National Championship. He also served as the Special Teams Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach at Alabama under Nick Saban. Graham also served as a trusted and well-respected Recruiter and RB Coach at the University of Tennessee. He now serves as Director of Football and Middle School Football Head Coach at Concord Christian School in Knoxville and works with D1 Training in Hardin Valley. The following is a part of our discussion:
EMB: What are your thoughts about Name, Image & Likeness (“NIL”) and its impact on college football players?
JG: Overall, NIL is a really good thing which provides needed resources that allow student-athletes to earn financial support they need to face everyday living costs, expenses, and challenges. As a former college football coach and recruiter, I recruited a lot of kids and met countless parents. Home visits, meeting with young athletes and their families/friends, telling stories, and spending time getting to know each other are what I cherish the most from that time in my life. Having that said, I would rather forget the conditions, adversity, and circumstances for many of those athletes and their families. I witnessed too many potentially great football players fail to make it to the collegiate level simply because they could not overcome socioeconomic challenges, life circumstances, or other adversity.
EMB: Do you have concerns about NIL?
JG: Yes, but I think the good outweighs the bad. I am concerned about:
- Student-athletes getting taken advantage of.;
- The money Collectives across the country have made off the backs of college athletes via NIL.;
- Athletes not understanding basic financial obligations, like bills and taxes, or how to set a budget.;
- The selective way NIL is going to a small number of student-athletes across the country. We have seen a similar impact on UT football, basketball, and baseball players. I don’t think the fan bases at a lot of Power 5 schools understand the way NIL is actually being dispersed at that level. I also think NIL is a new concept and a lot of fans just want to understand it.;
- The NIL Collective contracts college student-athletes are signing and the rights they are giving up are of huge concern. I learned a lot about life from playing in the NFL and the fact that there are often bad actors surrounding prominent or famous athletes. And at this time, there is no real advocate in the NIL system for the athletes in contract negotiation and execution, which is maybe the most important part of NIL. It is very scary for young athletes and many of them don’t even know it.; and
- I thought local communities would support NIL more directly by this point, although I think this will change. NIL is a new concept for all of us and a lot of fans just want to understand it and make sure it’s legit. But I think with time, you’ll see a national increase in communities supporting NIL locally with direct deals. By example, it’s much cheaper to market your product using a UT athlete – compared to a lot of expensive marketing options these days. There has been a noticeable trend in companies deploying marketing strategies which use the advent and power of social media to more cost-effectively reach their customer bases.
EMB: In your opinion, what does the future look like for NIL?
JG: It looks like NIL will continue to rapidly grow. I really don’t see it slowing down.
During the past 20 – 25 years, we have seen incredible growth in the college football game. During that time, we also saw concomitant growth in revenue to Universities, Power 5 Conferences like the Southeastern Conference (“SEC”), and the NCAA caused by a deluge of billion-dollar TV Contracts and Big Business eager to advertise. The seemingly endless revenue stream has changed the face of college football with impressive buildings, opulent facilities, new stadiums (or stadium additions), and coaching contracts with staggering guaranteed amounts and mind-blowing buyouts.
And the athletes don’t deserve any part of that money? Come on! I think they do. Determining what that amount is seems to be a focus of the NIL debate today. I think NIL is a good thing fundamentally, because it connects the pathway between athletes and companies or people to provide means to project young people forward in life. The big Universities will continue to generate revenue and build big stadiums; now with NIL, we can help our athletes build their brand, find confidence, and teach them about important things they will face in life.