Clemson Football: New NIL Initiatives Allow Clemson To Be Innovative

Oct 2, 2021; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; General view of the stadium prior to the game against the Boston College Eagles ad the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2021; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; General view of the stadium prior to the game against the Boston College Eagles ad the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports /

It was recently announced that two separate initiatives have been started, both with the goal of boosting Clemson University’s presence in the world of Name, Image & Likeness, which could have a big impact on Clemson Football and other sports.

There have not been many details released to date, so fans will have to remain patient while the initiatives are launched and start to have more of a public face, but it is expected that they will give Clemson athletics the ability to stay competitive with other universities which have already made a huge splash with NIL deals for their scholarship athletes.

The Texas A&M Aggies won the 2022 recruiting championship in this most recent cycle. Some have declared it the best class of all-time. The rumors were thick that the Aggies had the support of boosters who were offering upwards of $30 million dollars in NIL deals to some of the recruits to entice them to attend Texas A&M. Head Coach Jimbo Fisher strongly denied those rumors, but the existence of NIL deals would explain why a program that has never recruited to that level before could pull it off over traditional recruiting powers like Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia.

More recently, The Athletic uncovered that an unnamed football recruit had inked an NIL deal worth $8 million. Soon after, Tennessee received a verbal commitment from five star quarterback Nico Iamaleava. It is widely speculated that Iamaleava is the recruit that scored the NIL deal.

When NIL started, the typical deals that were made public were akin to DJ Uiagalelei’s Bojangles & Dr. Pepper deals, with businesses eager to capitalize on the advertising power of brand-name athletes. The deals around Texas A&M and Tennessee appear to be put forth by collectives, presumably boosters of the teams who are interested in helping the schools attract top-end talent by offering them NIL deals. It is unknown what services the recruits will provide to the collectives, if they are required to perform any tasks in return for their NIL deals at all. Since the collectives are not affiliated with the universities directly, and are private businesses, they aren’t required to divulge exactly what their contracts entail. That may change one day, but for now, fans are left in the dark about how these collectives operate.

While we do not know many details about Clemson’s new NIL initiatives, we can assume that they will both be collectives. This is welcome news to many Clemson fans that have been concerned that the Tigers will fall behind in the NIL landscape. This does lead to a big question: Clemson’s culture is very family oriented. How will they incorporate giant NIL deals without disrupting the culture they have worked so hard to create?

DJU’s deals appeared to be quite sizable when they were announced, and many speculated how that might change the dynamic in the locker room between the quarterback and his teammates. I am trying to imagine what the reaction would be if Clemson were to bring in a recruit that had never played a down of college football but already had an $8 million NIL deal from one of the collectives. I am not sure how that would be received by the coaches and players. Perhaps over the course of time, everyone would adjust to the new normal, but we would be naïve to believe that NIL will remain the same and won’t evolve.

One thing we don’t know is exactly how much spending power these collectives have. As said before, it is rumored that A&M had $30 million for this class alone. Did they fire all their ammunition with one class, or can they muster up $30 million from their supporters for every class. Does Tennessee’s collective have anything else to offer any other recruits, or did they put all their eggs in one basket. If Iamaleava is a Heisman candidate in four years, but the team can only get to 9-3 and still lose to Alabama, Florida and Georgia, will the boosters who funded the collective’s contract feel like they got their money’s worth?

What is the future of NIL? Will it be mega-million dollar deals to a few athletes? Or will it continue to evolve? How will it evolve?

I look forward to seeing how Clemson’s collectives will influence Clemson’s recruiting, but my main hope is that they will be innovators who will push Clemson to the lead in the NIL arena, instead of just being fast followers. While big-time recruits will no doubt command large contracts for their services, I think Clemson should focus on a sustainable, repeatable model that can bring a consistent advantage. I have a hard time believing there are many fanbases that can fund collectives that can spend $30 million every single year on their draft class, but if the collectives can determine a sustainable number that can be repeated year over year, they can help the team consistently, instead of going after one huge class followed by 2-3 that have very little NIL support from the collective. Similarly, if all the money goes to one recruit every season, teams aren’t likely to see a big windfall from that from the perspective of team achievements. I think a functional & successful collective system will find a way to be competitive with the best recruits while also finding a way to spread the wealth around to bring in consistently successful classes.

This might be where Clemson’s current NIL environment with two collectives could give them an advantage. One could focus on the big names at quarterback and skill positions, keeping Clemson in the hunt for the difference makers. The other can be designed to focus on the big picture, understanding you need hog mollies and cornerbacks for a team to be successful too. They could also target separate sports: one could be focused entirely on football while the other focuses on basketball, baseball & the other sports.

We have no idea if these two collectives plan to work together to create synergies, but one would think that they would have to have some guidance on what recruits the Clemson coaching staff would want before they can create the NIL opportunities. Clemson is not permitted to be directly involved with NIL, but that doesn’t mean communication can’t happen. The university, the athletic department and the collectives should be able to find a way to all sail in the same direction with strong leadership.

If Clemson’s collectives can be successful with a diverse approach, it will also allow NIL to fit better into Clemson’s current culture, which has proven to be a recruiting advantage many times in the past. Fans also put a lot of stock into the family-oriented culture. If the collectives can find a way to make NIL be helpful to many athletes, instead of just a fortunate few, it will go a long way in maintaining the culture Coach Swinney has worked so hard to cultivate.

There are always drawbacks to a system with collectives. The funds that the collectives distribute doesn’t magically appear out of thin air. More than likely, those funds would have previously been donated directly to the athletic department. That means that funds previously directed towards coach salaries, infrastructure improvements and recruiting budgets will now be directed towards NIL. The university will be more reliant on revenues generated by television deals than they have been in the past decade, and we know the ACC is not competitive with conferences like the SEC and Big Ten in this regard. Just as with NIL, solutions can often be found if the responsible parties are motivated to be innovative. Clemson appears to have that motivation right now.