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Oklahoma State Football

NIL is a Work in Progress, but OSU Thinks They Have It Right

April 5, 2022

STILLWATER – Looking for a real honest, orange-blooded American story of NIL in college athletics and here it is straight from the mouth of Cowboys offensive guard Cole Birmingham.

“I had a deal with a little meat company, the whole offensive line did with a few of the running backs,” Birmingham explained of an NIL from the 2021 season. “But that’s ended now, it’s good.”

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2021 Oklahoma State offensive line

The offensive line and running backs got paid some and got some meat from the company and they would take pictures together and those would be used to endorse the meat.  It was a deal that an offensive lineman could truly appreciate.

“It was a four-month thing, we did like a little contract, and it was fun,” the red-shirt junior added. “I haven’t been in touch with the company but if they wanted to bring it back, I would be for it. It was full-blooded American Wagyu beef. It was awesome, I loved it.”

That is a good NIL story, but there are so many going around the college sports landscape that aren’t so good these days.

The definition of the new key word when it comes to football recruiting, both in high school and with the transfer portal is collective. That is a very powerful word as it evokes the monetary arm of a college athletic program to fulfill the needs and wants of its’ student-athletes in NIL. Now if we could only find a new term for NIL. Name-Image-Likeness is really not in play when a collective like the “Horns with Heart” collective that will pay every UT scholarship offensive lineman $50,000 starting this year. That really isn’t NIL, but it is pay for play. BYU has the collective that is covering the tuition and expenses for walk-ons in football. Miami (Fla.) has the donor that is paying each player $6,000 to social media endorse his fitness club. As a result, Oklahoma State and other schools that saw NIL much more by its’ true definition have had to make changes and come up with a collective of their own.

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
Gundy very conscious of NIL.

"They all are on their own with the NIL. Originally, that's what NIL was intended for,” Gundy said on April 4 while meeting with the media after practice was postponed due to a flu outbreak. “There are parameters and rules in place that aren't being governed by anybody right now. So, I'll go back to what I said a month ago when I was asked this question, there's a speed limit sign that says 55, but nobody drives 55 and there's nobody getting a ticket. So, you really don't have to drive 55. That's actually what's in place right now, in my opinion.

“What direction it's going to go from now moving forward, who's going to police it, what the mandates will be, I'm not sure,” Gundy added while confirming that OSU is close to having a finalized collective that will pay each of the student-athletes money. “We're just living day to day with this. So, myself, Chad Weiberg, and Dr. (Kayse) Shrum and some others are coming together to come up with what we're creating and calling a model of consistency here. We're close here to finalizing our model of what our athletic department and our administration and myself feel like as best. We could be within a month, and the companies that we have and working with them to try to weed through all this. NIL that would allow us to do the things that we feel like are important to enhance the student-athletes opportunities when they're in school competing and get an education. But they're not going to be tied contractually to anything we're doing to keep them from doing a separate NIL deal.”

Gundy also said that as of now, the issues he and his staff have had with NIL have not been so much with the recruiting of and the contact with high school prospects, but with their own players and tampering to push them to the portal. We have reported that LSU definitely tampered with corner Jarrick Bernard-Converse.

"We've been confronted with NIL, namely players who were on our roster that aren't on our roster anymore,” Gundy answered. “(Those situations) more so than the upcoming barrage of high school players that will be involved or asking, for lack of a better term, what NIL opportunities that schools have. I foresee that starting this spring in recruiting and then picking up considerable momentum in the fall.”

Gundy feels there is still so much for the schools, the players, the companies or boosters involved to sort through. That includes the governing body, the entity that will take the bull by the horns and keep schools like Texas in check.

“So, I think once it gets finalized, whatever finalized is and how it starts to move forward, it'll be interesting to see how much of it is fact and how much of it's been fiction,” the head coach added about the reality of NIL.

Is there a concern about locker room unrest when it comes to NIL monies and who is getting how much and who is not getting much at all? Gundy hopes not, but said he certainly feels the way things are going it could be. Again, he points to NIL being name-image-likeness and not pay for play.  

"If NIL was handled the way it was intended to be handled, NIL wouldn't be a problem. It's no different than, I would say, free enterprise, capitalist, supply and demand,” Gundy explained.

"LeBron James makes a whole lot of money because LeBron James is a really good basketball player. And there's other guys that play in the NBA that don't make a fraction of the money he makes because they're not in as demand as he is. That's really what NIL was for, based on what an athlete's demand could be, not just maybe to perform at a high level, but for some reason that student-athlete, male or female, could enhance somebody else's company or business by being the face of that organization. As we move forward with this, if I get involved with distributing NIL, then we can have a chemistry problem.”

Honestly, players understand that concept. Going back to Birmingham and the offensive linemen and running backs and their deal.

“We don’t really talk about it much or let it affect anything,” said Birmingham. “It’s one of those things that you can do, but it doesn’t affect the offensive line as much as it does other positions. Not many people want to make deals with offensive line. It’s more of the skill guys, quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers.”

Pat Kinnison - Chief Photographer
Richardson, like many Cowboys, not dwelling on NIL.

“We don’t really talk about it in the locker room,” added running back Dominic Richardson. “It’s a lot about work in the locker room. A lot of people have signed with somebody, and they post on social media, but it is not like a competition deal. It’s just a good thing for us as athletes to have again.”

The goal universally is to have a system that provides athletes opportunities, but not overzealous schools unfair and outlandish recruiting and competitive advantages. Within a team the goal is to give athletes a chance to add to their personal income, make some money, and keep team chemistry intact.

The question asked by Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman to Gundy and each of the players. Can NIL ruin team chemistry?                                                                                    

“Somewhere it could be, but I feel like here we are past that,” Birmingham answered. “We are more of a family. Everybody here is really close and I don’t think it could have an effect. I think it could with a group that is not as close, but I don’t think here.”

We’ll see. NIL is just at the tip of its’ development. The mystery is will this go more like Oklahoma State envisions or more like Texas, LSU, and others are paying out?

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