Jeff Traylor, coach of UTSA, was considering revealing the identity of a perpetrator from a Power Five school who tried to convince two of Traylor’s players to leave UTSA by offering them NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals. The players had not yet entered the transfer portal. Traylor almost revealed the perpetrator’s identity, but ultimately chose to remain silent and protect their anonymity.
The narrative might be that coaches can leave whenever they want, so why can’t players do the same,” Traylor said. “But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying it’s not right for someone to try to persuade a player who hasn’t even entered the transfer portal yet.
A couple of weeks ago, the UTSA coach took to Twitter to ask the NCAA how to report Power Five schools attempting to recruit his players without permission. It is not known if he received a response from the NCAA. This tweet highlights the increasingly transactional nature of recruiting, where players are treated as commodities rather than student-athletes.
What was once considered cheating is now considered a normal part of the recruiting process. The lines between ethical behaviour and making scholarship offers are becoming increasingly blurred. Traylor’s allegations involve an NCAA violation known as “impermissible contact,” which is more commonly referred to as tampering. This practice has become so common that Traylor is not the only coach to complain about it. Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi has also made similar accusations, including after losing leading wide receiver Jordan Addison to USC. Addison was rumored to be transferring to USC before he even entered the transfer portal.
It may seem that most coaches would not publicly express their frustrations as Traylor and Narduzzi have, but we have seen high-profile coaches like Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher get into public disputes over player transfer freedom. Their public disagreement highlights the increasing importance of this issue and the willingness of coaches to speak out about it. As icons in the coaching world, they have the luxury of being able to express their opinions without significant consequences, aside from public ridicule.
Traylor, who has been a high school coach in Texas for 25 years, says that he just wants to bring the situation to light and doesn’t want to be “that guy seeking attention.” He stated, “I’d love to just give you the school, the name and let’s get this thing going, but I just don’t see how. That school knows now, so they’ve backed away from my kids.” Although this situation may be resolved for now, it is clear that these issues are not going away in the long term. The NCAA’s decision to cede its power to regulate recruiting on July 1, 2021, due to the proliferation of NIL laws in various states, has led to a free-for-all in the recruiting process.
Unscrupulous talent acquisition experts have filled the void left by coaches. The process has become so efficient that coaches are no longer necessary.
Even the most upstanding recruits and their families can be swayed by the potential riches from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). This is now a common part of the recruiting process. Some recruits may prioritize financial gain over playing time, academics, or the quality of campus life when they ask coaches about NIL opportunities. This is legal and has become a business in itself. Dominic Raiola, a legend at Nebraska and former NFL player, is now observing this culture firsthand as his son Dylan, a top-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2024, recently decommitted from Ohio State.
This is part of the reason why Traylor has not yet revealed his information. He is worried about not only exposing a colleague but also potentially causing problems in the recruiting process. UTSA is near the bottom of the recruiting hierarchy, and Traylor is concerned that even without NIL incentives, his best players could still be tempted to leave for larger programs. (Although, it should be noted that UTSA does have the No. 2 recruiting class among Group of Five programs and is ranked No. 54 overall in the 247Sports Composite.)
According to sources, NCAA officials have asked for help from coaches in both football and basketball to identify those making impermissible contact, but they receive little cooperation. There is a code of silence within the coaching profession, similar to the Mafia’s code of omerta. Therefore, much of the responsibility for addressing this issue falls on the coaches themselves, who choose not to speak out. However, the exploitation of his players may become so overwhelming that Traylor may consider future offers from Power Five programs. Traylor has not mentioned this publicly, but it is a natural progression in his successful head coaching career. Traylor has proven his coaching ability, leading the Roadrunners to back-to-back Conference USA titles and a 23-5 record over the last two seasons.
If the College Football Playoff included more teams, UTSA might have made it into the 2022 field. One head coach, who wished to remain anonymous, described the culture as follows: “If I revealed my source for this one instance of tampering, it would cause a huge stir, and I just don’t want to do it. I know it sounds cowardly of me.” In the past, coaches have made accusations without sufficient evidence and faced backlash. For example, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye was rumored to have received a $5 million NIL offer, but he denied this when asked by ESPN. Dominic Raiola commented on this situation, saying: “Offering a kid $5 million is a significant event, but [the topic] fades away in a couple of days.
There has been speculation that collective bargaining may become a part of the conversation around NIL rights. For example, a school may request a two-year commitment from a player in exchange for a cash stipend (presently, schools are not allowed to directly pay NIL benefits). However, federal law prohibits the capping of benefits, including cash, in this situation as it would be considered an antitrust violation. This assumes that there is still a student aspect to being a college athlete, although the line between amateurism and professionalism is becoming increasingly blurred. This has been an ongoing issue since 1988, when former Notre Dame star Ricky Watters altered his architecture major due to a conflict with football.
It is only a matter of time before a star player misses practice for a commercial shoot, or before their teammates call them out for prioritizing their personal brand over the team. TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston commented on this potential downside to NIL rights, saying: “The upside is for those who can actually handle it and focus on football. The downside is people get too caught up with it and don’t perform like they should.” On Tuesday, the NCAA Transformation Committee recommended several significant changes, including enhanced medical benefits for athletes, which have been long overdue. However, the committee also acknowledged the legal uncertainties surrounding NIL and employment status in their report, stating: “We simply need a clear, stable framework under which to address. Congress is the only entity that can grant that stability.
By stating that Congress is the only entity that can provide stability in the debate around compensation, the NCAA not only admitted its own inability to address the issue but also revealed its desperation. This reliance on Congress to solve the problem could potentially lead to federal oversight of college athletics.