CU Competing in the Age of NIL: Can It Still Be Done The “Right Way”?

It was surprising to me how casually it was mentioned.

I was listening the other day to the Fox Radio broadcast “Two Pros and a Cup of Joe”, and the conversation between former players LaVar Arrington and Brady Quinn turned to NIL payouts for collegiate athletes. The question raised was whether a recruit who received “a bag” – cash or other benefits – in exchange for a commitment had an obligation to return those benefits if they later decommitted and signed with another school.

Arrington was discussing his recruitment as a high school athlete, which would have been back in 1996. He talked about how a school (not Penn State, where he ultimately signed) had offered him free rent, a job for his mother, and other benefits in exchange for a commitment to that school. Arrington didn’t tell the story for shock value – a revelation of how he was offered illegal benefits a quarter of a century ago – and he wasn’t called on it by either of his cohosts.

The conversation was centered solely on whether Arrington would have had a moral obligation to return the benefits had he taken the cash and then turned around and committed to Penn State. There was no question as to illegality of the offer from the other school … and no one asked him what Penn State offered him to play for Joe Paterno.

It was just accepted that there was nothing unusual about Arrington’s recruitment … and that was a quarter of a century ago.

Arrington’s comments were in line with what Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher casually admitted what has long been suspected: That college football players have been paid for years.

“NIL has been going on for a long time,” Fisher said. “It just hasn’t been above board. Now it is, and I think it does affect things. Because other people don’t have the advantages they used to have and how they did things and the way they did things.”

Read that comment again.

Not only is Fisher openly admitting illegal payments to players, but here is Fisher – former head coach at Florida State, current head coach at Texas A&M, a school where boosters just anted up a reported $25 million in prospective deals for NIL in order to land the nation’s No. 1 recruiting Class – actually complaining that having open payments to players under the new NIL allowances takes away the advantages of the cheaters.

That’s the world we live in.

That’s the world CU lives in … whether it likes it or not.

A world where Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards and his staff blatantly flaunted recruiting rules in 2020, but the head coach is still standing. Some of the ASU assistants have been let go, but to date Edwards has escaped scrutiny or punishment. Even if Edwards does finally pay the price for his illegal activities, there is no fear in Sun Devil land.

Why? Because Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson has not one, but two other NFL head coaches on the staff to take over for Edwards. Anderson, who was the agent for Herm Edwards, was also the agent for Marvin Lewis, who has been on the staff at ASU for the past several seasons as a “special advisor”, and for Brian Billick, who was just hired this past week to be an offensive analyst and advisor.

“I’ve known Brian for over 20 years and I am confident that his presence at ASU as an Offensive Analyst and contributions as an Advisor to Herm will add great value to our program,” said Anderson.

No remorse. No guilt. No accountability. Double down and hire another NFL head coach.

In an era when CU can’t afford to pay a competitive wage for its assistant coaches (see: CU cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin, who left CU for Oregon, taking CU’s best player, Christian Gonzalez, with him), Arizona State can afford to have not one, not two, but three former NFL head coaches on its staff.

Speaking of Oregon …

According to a report by Daniel Libit of Sportico, the NCAA is investigating the Oregon Ducks for its relationship to a third-party NIL program. Oregon is one of at least three schools that are currently being investigated for NIL infractions.

“UO has been at the national NIL vanguard, launching an on-campus program in October, dubbed Oregon Accelerator, which is designed to help athletes tap into promotional resources from the university’s business and journalism schools. That in-house initiative received financial backing from Barbara Blangiara, an Oregon alumnus and executive at Fox Sports.”

You think Oregon gives a flying leap about the NCAA investigating its NIL practices?

Neither do I.

In addition to “acquiring” Christian Gonzalez from Colorado, as well as other players like Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, Oregon has signed three four-star commitments for its Recruiting Class of 2022, and will sign a couple more on the second Signing Day (February 2nd).

What Oregon wants, Oregon pays for … er, gets.

And it’s not like Arizona State and Oregon are alone.

According to

  • UCLA has 54 athletes who have signed NIL deals;
  • Oregon also has 54;
  • Stanford has 52;
  • Cal has 51;
  • Arizona State has 45;
  • Arizona has 38;
  • Utah has 34;
  • USC has 32;
  • Washington has 27;
  • Oregon State has 27;
  • Colorado has 24;
  • Washington State has 23.

Any guesses how many current CU football players have NIL deals?


The website actually lists ten football players with deals, but that list includes Carson Wells (off to the NFL), Brenden Rice (off to USC), Jarek Broussard (off to Michigan State) and Dimitri Stanley (off to oblivion).

Moral of the story: If you want to recruit – or retain – talented players, you will have to pay them – period – and CU has not joined the party.

What has been CU’s reaction to the flood of money which has been paid to players since NIL went into effect on July 1st?

We’re working on it.

At first, CU was shocked – shocked! – to learn that schools were not playing by even the barest of rules when it came to NIL.

“I don’t think the NCAA is performing their role,” George said on January 6th. “To allow the NIL to get out of hand like it’s gotten is not acceptable and we as an industry have to embrace getting this back together so we have some guidelines that are consistent across our industry.

“There’s some things out there that I’m disappointed in that some schools are doing because I think some of it falls under inducements.”

On January 20th, CU launched its “Buffs NIL Exchange”. According to the press release announcing the program, “Buffs NIL Exchange, part of the groundbreaking Buffs with a Brand program, will be the central marketplace for all NIL information, education, opportunities, and reporting. Interested parties and businesses will now be able to register through an online portal and partner directly with CU student-athletes.”

“I’m thrilled we can offer the Buffs NIL Exchange as our NIL platform for all Buff supporters and current student-athletes,”  George said. “This platform will tremendously increase the NIL opportunities for our student-athletes while supporting local and national businesses. We are excited for our student-athletes to capitalize in this new landscape and look forward to having our supporters and businesses utilize this platform!”

More from the press release: The partnerships will open the door for all brand-focused activities, provided they meet legal requirements as set by the Colorado legislature and follow University of Colorado NIL protocols. Registration will be approved in advance by CU Athletics.

One could certainly raise the question as to why the “Buffs NIL Exchange” wasn’t up and going on July 1, 2021. After all, Rick George was a part of the NCAA working which was trying to get national NIL legislation – CU should have seen this day coming.

While unfortunate that CU is about seven months late coming to the party, Buff fans can at least be encouraged that CU athletics is now embracing finding NIL opportunities for its student athletes.

Of course, the “Buffs NIL Exchange” is only for existing Buffs. It does nothing for potential recruits, either out of high school or through the Transfer Portal.

So, while other programs are putting together multi-million dollar slush funds to lure players to their schools, CU is doing it the “right way”, but creating a well-regulated platform to assist its existing players to benefit from their Name, Image, and Likeness.

Quaint, but will it be enough?

Had CU had its NIL Exchange in place last summer, there might have been funds available to keep players like Christian Gonzalez, Brenden Rice, and Jarek Broussard from defecting.

We’ll never know.

What we do know is that CU is trying to do NIL the right way.

What we don’t know is whether that will be enough to keep CU competitive.

Boosters need to step up. It’s not all on CU. The athletic department can provide mechanisms to funnel funds to players, but that’s not going to be enough. The University of Colorado has hundreds of thousands of living alumni, and ten of thousands of fans who regularly attend CU games.

It’s going to take outside funds to pay existing players, potential recruits, and potential transfers.

Where are they?


9 Replies to “Can It Still Be Done The “Right Way”?”

  1. It’s clear the NCAA can do nothing to stop “boosters” (should be read “gamblers”) from throwing money at kids to attend their chosen university. So be it. They are going to find out the hard way that it’s a rabbit hole they don’t want to be in.

    Football is a complicated team sport. It takes smart coaches to produce good results on the field. Blocking schemes, stunts, blitz packages, nickel and dime packages. Your average player may be able to grasp his own small part of those things, but that’s about it. Without a coach to guide them, you’re left with a bunch of kids who all seem to think they are the most important player on the team. The reality is that the most important folks are the ones on the sidelines.

    People who mistakenly believe all that matters is the “stars” given to high school kids by amateurs at the recruiting services are deluding themselves. Those services make their money from “fans” willing to shell out money to them to make them feel good about their teams. Believe me, Nick Saban and Kirby Smart and other great coaches are not using those services to find their players.

    Colorado should not become one of those teams that starts paying their players. If they do, the Buffs will lose a sizeable part of their fan base. I also watch the NFL. If I am going to watch professionals play, the NFL is where I turn. I don’t watch or attend any of the nearly three dozen of the lesser pro and semi-pro leagues. If Colorado decides to make their football program a semi-professional team, most of us who love the college football of their alma mater will move on down the road.

    Fortunately for those of us who like NFL football, one of the most successful NFL franchises of the Super Bowl era is right down the road. NFL players are “real” professionals. They have contracts that pay them a lot of money. But the players also know there are rules they have to follow. They can be suspended, traded, and even released. They can’t be consorting with gamblers. They can’t be breaking laws. And they are tested for drug usage.

    Right now, some folks (particularly gamblers) want this Wild Wild West craziness to continue so they can take advantage of ignorant young athletes, and, in the process, manipulate the newly unregulated gambling industry. It’s all about the money. And most of these kids will soon be cautionary tales about fools and their money.

    Look at some of the players who have left CU in the portal. One in particular comes to mind. If a young man is not smart enough to NOT drive at night without headlights or a drivers license and get caught doing so numerous times, does anyone really think this guy will be able to hold his own in the Shark Tank with savvy businessmen and professional gamblers? Not a chance.

    A pretty large number of those who left via the portal are now without a chance to finish up earning a free college education. They are learning the hard way that adults have to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. I hope that Karl Dorrell helps them learn those lessons well, and let them know that their free ride at Colorado is no longer an option. No free housing, no free tuition, no free books, no free food, no free training, and no free coaching. Welcome to real world, men. Have nice life. If you want to be here now, you gotta pay your own way.

    Watch going forward in the era of NIL, the great coaches will still produce better teams. We’ve seen with Oregon that giving a school a BILLION dollars does not buy championships. Lots of money is being thrown around, but the better coaches will still win. Some schools have UNCONDITIONAL support from their fanbases, and deep pocketed boosters. It doesn’t mean they win. Look at Nebraska.

    And some schools are loaded with so-called five star talent and lots of money, and it doesn’t mean they win. Look at Texas and USC. It takes great coaching to make a great team.

    Fortunately for the Pac-12, USC now has the best coach in the conference to go along with a biggest collection of elite athletes. And great assistant coaches too to teach them. USC will be in the playoffs again soon. And the national view of the Pac-12 will be elevated once again. We will see what happens to Oregon with yet another SEC coach. They don’t seem to learn very well on that front.

    But, back to Colorado. Do it the right way. Or don’t do it at all.

    P.S. — Please DO NOT ruin Folsom Field by widening it for soccer. One of the reasons that Folsom is perhaps the best place to watch a college football game is because of how close we are to the field. We don’t want 30 yards of grass between the sidelines and the stands.

      1. “The reality is that the most important folks are the ones on the sidelines.”
        Havent heard from earache for a while. That ought to bring him out from under his rolodex.

  2. The problem is, the right way has not been defined by any organization that has any enforcement authority. It seems to me that the “right way” is defined by each university and it’s boosters. CU could at least forge forward with some creativity that redefines how they will live in this strange new reality. I’m just a humble season ticket holder, doing what I can, but paying an 18 year old my hard earned wages to play at CU isn’t on my list of where my money will be spent. My money is going to my wife’s and my retirement and my grandkids college funds.

  3. When I worked at IBM, all our competitors did shady things but we did not. I went to another leafing company and their competitors did under the table things, we did not. This isn’t new, but if you are taking the high road, which I support, you had better be good, because poor performance and staying noble makes you sleep well at night, but it probably is not a path to success. See doping at the Olympics, cycling, etc. Put another way, can anyone name the clean and noble athlete who came in 6th? I wish it weren’t so.

    1. Would gladly take AF record every year. Route for them loudly.

      Funny kinda, but all this nil crappola and the schools cheating under and over the table doesn’t bother me. It is what it is gonna be until some organization or the group of schools say stop it and they do.

      In other words it ain’t gonna stop, it has been going on forever and will continue to go on.

      You can either play or not play. I prefer CU not play.
      Okay play, but 100% legally and ethically and in a moral manner.

      Prefer a school where 3 stars and 2 stars can attend.
      Get a great education (because they want it)
      Get great coaching (Because CU has it)
      Mature as people and players.

      Yup that is what I want……………….and there will be a lot of games won.

      Get out of this frigging rat race.

      This is a university not a cheating crummy arsehole organization

      Go Buffs…………………………Don’t get lost

      Note: It’s cute see all the handwringing articles and posts concerning the punishment of AAU
      Waaaah it ain’t gonna happen……………… is happening
      Waaaah the coaches will get away with it…………..they aren’t
      Waaaah the HC is not gonna be looked at…………..he is being looked at

      The above was good for about 6 months of never ending whining and worrying …..It’s a life style don’t ya know………….Always waiting for the next one.

      Note 2: So implement nil correctly. Don’t bow to the prima donna players who are all about themselves (The Buffs had 20 leave thank God ..About 10 more please.) Get the team winners instead.

      Note 3: It’s a hard life Amy.

      Note 4: I worked at IBM as well. Sometimes right is in the eye of the doer.

      1. I agree with pretty much everything you said here VK. It is great to root for AF especially since they do it with athletes that have more important things in mind that trying to make the NFL. However, they are in a much less competitive league. Would you want to the Buffs to drop down to that conference so that they could achieve the same thing? I used to adamantly say no but am starting to think maybe that’s not so bad (look at Boise State). When the 12 game playoff starts, they would probably have a better chance than they have now to make it from the Mountain West.

        1. Go Bengals
          A-10’s Nice

          Stay in the PAC
          Make a bowl game every year (Means a winning record NOT 6-6)
          Upset a highly ranked team every year
          Win a division every 3 years
          Win the conference every 6 years
          Make the 12 team playoff every 6 years

          Lots of good players out there to come to CU for all the right reasons to make the above happened. Lots of 2 and 3 stars who have/been developed that are in the NFL.

          It’s always about the coaching and the coaching at CU over the last decade and a half has been less than midland. I see that changing right now.

          I am very optimistic.
          Not discouraged about those players leaving
          Not discouraged by the negative comments about the coaching staff, especially about the OC as well as HCKD ability to build this program
          Not discouraged by all the negative comments and articles about NIL as it affects The Mighty Buffs.

          I am encouraged by this Coaching staff
          I am encouraged by the 2022 recruiting class
          I am encouraged by the comments made by players staying on the team
          I am encouraged by the NIL progress that makes sense and above board.

          Go Buffs and see ya on the right side………………….Soon

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