Settlement in federal case against NCAA could impact the policies of Clemson Football

The landscape of college athletics is about to change again to include revenue sharing with athletes. Will Clemson Football be able to continue its recruiting policies and still remain competitive?
Clemson fans run on the field for meet me at the paw after the Spring football game in Clemson, S.C.
Clemson fans run on the field for meet me at the paw after the Spring football game in Clemson, S.C. / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Clemson Football has taken a very different approach to NIL, specifically how it incorporates it into recruiting. While this philosophy has yielded a better player retention rate than most peer programs, it remains to be seen if the Tigers can return to a level where they are competing for national championships.

While the NCAA has always maintained that there are restrictions on the way programs can use NIL to recruit players, they have done little to enforce those rules. The prevailing opinion has been that the organization has preferred to avoid legal entanglements that could further erode its business model, which does not share revenues with the student-athletes.

That might change soon due to a lawsuit that has been brought against the NCAA. The case, House vs. NCAA, is a two-part anti-trust class action lawsuit claiming the NCAA’s policies to restrict how athletes acquire NIL deals are a violation of federal law.

One part of the case involves former athletes who contend they lost as much as a combined $1 billion due to illegal interference from the NCAA. The other part involves current athletes who are asking the courts to ensure the NCAA does not continue to violate federal laws that could interfere with their ability to maximize their worth in the NIL market.

You can read more details about this potential settlement from ESPN’s Pete Thamel. Thamel notes that there are a lot of questions that would need to be answered. It appears that there would be a cap placed on how much revenue could be shared with student-athletes. It is unknown if ‘revenue sharing’ would officially be classified as NIL. How Title IX could impact the structure is unknown.

Several details to work out for certain, but this is the kind of catalyst that many have been predicting for years, and it appears that it could be happening sooner rather than later.

I have thought that 2024 would be a pivotal season for Clemson Football and head coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney has been adamant that the Tigers do not want to bring NIL into their recruiting model. He has stated several times that he does not want the relationship between the program and the player to be transactional.

"And so the good news is there's a lot of great players out there and it's not that they don't want to do NIL absolutely, but our NIL is for retention, not recruiting. That's how we've used it. And that's been our approach. And so, there's some kids that are just making a decision just on that and that is fine. It's not to judge people for what they think they want to do, but then there's kids over here that that's important, but that’s not what they're really making their decision on. And that's the kids that come to Clemson."

Dabo Swinney

Clemson’s philosophy of using NIL for retention and not acquisition has made it nearly impossible to recruit the kind of transfers that the program prefers, but it hasn’t prevented the Tigers from continuing to find success in high school recruiting. If this new revenue/NIL sharing model becomes a reality, it could change things drastically for Clemson.

Right now, there are several programs out there that have strong NIL resources, and several of them (like Tennessee, Miami, and Texas A&M) have flexed those resources in high school recruiting. The reality is that most programs do not have deep pockets for NIL, and instead must continue to rely on traditional methods of recruiting that are supplemented but not driven by NIL. This reality, along with continued strong recruiting from the staff, has kept Clemson from falling too far behind the big spenders.

If schools are now allowed to contribute as much as $20 million in revenue sharing (which is the ‘cap’ that Thamel mentions), suddenly schools that had limited NIL resources, such as South Carolina, NC State, or Virginia Tech, can fill up their NIL resources to a level they have never been able to achieve previously.

Thamel points out that $20 million is a cap, and that no school would be required to spend that much. It is also presumed that schools would still have the right to decide how they wanted to spend that $20 million. Clemson could still choose to dedicate those resources toward retention instead of acquisition.

The question becomes whether Clemson could continue to build its roster with quality high school recruits when so many more schools will have significantly more financial resources to put behind acquiring prospects. I fear that the Tigers would be lost in the shuffle. Even if they could continue to land those players who are built differently and literally do not care about money or need money to support their families, would that be enough in a new era when the playing field will be level for schools that don't have NIL collectives with deep pockets?

I still believe this season could be a turning point for the current policies of the program, but even if Swinney proves his vision for the program in the NIL era can achieve at the highest level, the landscape is getting ready to change once again. Time will tell if Clemson Football will adapt its recruiting to that change or continue to resist it when the cost of that resistance could be the ability to compete with their peers.