Transformational, not transactional. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh expects this experience from his student athletes at the University of Michigan.
Harbaugh shared his perspective on the NIL at a football camp hosted by Ferris State over the summer.
“Our philosophy is that attending the University of Michigan will be a transformational experience rather than a transactional experience,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve always been in favor of student athletes being able to capitalize on their name, image and likeness. It just makes sense… I think we can all agree that’s fair and right.”
Though Harbaugh makes it clear that he supports student-athletes who capitalize on their name, image and likeness, his emphasis on a “transformational” experience suggests he’s not quite ready to be in the same pool with the Jimbo Fishers and Nick Sabans to play college football world.
Just 64 miles down the road, the East Lansing football program looks set and ready to play football with NIL. In recent weeks, Michigan State Football head coach Mel Tucker has been photographed showing recruits around campus in Ferraris, Bentleys and Lamborghinis. Tucker has also joined in the fun herself, posing with various rental cars and wearing a gold chain with a dog charm.
While it might look a bit ridiculous to the folks who still have that “purity of the game” when it comes to collegiate athletics, the reality is that this is the stuff that sells in today’s game. That’s why Michigan State currently has a top-15 recruit class in 2023, including signings of eight four-star athletes (two more than in 2022).
Drive approximately 200 miles south of Ann Arbor and you are in Columbus, home of yet another football program that fully embraces the world of NIL. Ohio State Football head coach Ryan Day recently said more than $13 million would be needed to maintain the stability of Ohio State’s roster.
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Day said the Buckeyes gathered information by speaking to recruits and their families and getting a sense of what other schools might be discussing with NIL deals. He said he believes top-flight quarterbacks currently need $2 million in NIL funds. Bigger offensive tackles and edge rushers cost about $1 million.
If you don’t manage that, other teams may have a chance to take key players from your roster. Day told the assembled potential NIL donors that any player on the team could go into the transfer portal at the end of this season and then make calls from other schools that might have NIL offers. Players may feel they need to take this money to help their families.
Given that Ohio State has always recruited at an elite level, it’s hard to gauge just how much impact Day’s forward-thinking NIL philosophy has on the recruiting path — but it’s a safe bet it doesn’t hurt. While it’s early days, the Buckeyes currently have the No. 2 recruit class for 2023 — including a pair of five-star wideouts who signed within the last week.
Which brings us back to Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan. After a season that included a win over Ohio State, a Big Ten championship and a place in the college football playoffs, Michigan’s recruiting class currently sits 39th overall, according to 247 Sports. As it stands, Michigan has the pledges of just two four-star athletes in the 2023 class as we near July.
While it would be unfair to put all the blame for Michigan’s sluggish recruiting on its NIL philosophy, it would also be disingenuous to say that it doesn’t matter at all. Michigan’s two biggest competitors are opening themselves up to the world of NIL for better or worse, and the recruiting results are hard to ignore. Michigan, on the other hand, seems to take more of a slow and steady approach, focusing more on the overall collegiate experience than the bottom line number.
The question now is: Can Harbaugh’s “transformations-over-transactions” philosophy work in college football today? While the answer isn’t entirely clear as of this writing, the final recruitment rankings for 2023 could give an indication of where the journey is headed.