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Expectations, NIL, and the Darkest Timeline

We have no idea where this sport is headed

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 21 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days
A lot of hype for 4-4

Our trip through the rest of the SEC West makes its final stop in College Station. I’ve put this one off because there is so much going on at A&M, that they might be the most fascinating team in the country, and that’s before we get to what is happening on the field.

Last year was the Aggies’ tenth year in the SEC. I know, right? It seems like they joined yesterday, but we are getting to the point where A&M in the SEC looks normal, while we prepare for a fresh batch of New Guys.

In those ten seasons, A&M has finished a game within .500 eight times. The two exceptions was the first year, the Johnny Football season. The other was the 2020 COVID year, which we should all take with a gigantic grain of salt.

Last year, A&M went 4-4 in the conference, and that’s with an outlier win against Alabama. Additionally, they beat a fairly poor Colorado team by just seven points. You can look at the Bama win and think this was a team on the verge, or you can look at those four losses and see a pedestrian middle-of-the-pack SEC team.

Then that team lost its starting quarterback, top running back, two of its top three receivers, and virtually the entirety of its front seven on defense.

OK, stop there. Remove the name from the jersey. Say you knew nothing about this team and nothing which happened in the offseason. If you looked at a 4-4 team with those kind of personnel losses, where do you think they would be getting picked in the preseason polls?

Texas A&M is a consensus pick to finish second in the SEC West and in the top ten nationally.

Can that happen? Sure, we’re about to get into that other stuff which is fueling their hype machine. It’s not impossible to make that big of a step up In results despite losing so much production. But to predict it?

It seems the media is doing the Aggies a massive disservice here. If A&M were to improve, incorporate all of those newcomers in seamlessly, but still drop a few close games and see reversal of that Bama result to go 9-3 overall… it would be widely seen as a disappointment. Yet that would be a step forward.

If this team doesn’t significantly overachieve, its going to get shredded online for being underachievers. Again.

And the reason for it is, of course, that recruiting class. Texas A&M broke the Alabama hammerlock on the top class in the country, and even brought in the unofficial Best Class in History. Which, as we all know, always yields immediate on-field results.

If you’re an A&M fan, you likely think this class is the herald of a new era in recruiting. I will admit, I am far more skeptical. This class, which is a great one, is more the result of Texas A&M being the first program to realize the NIL system can work as a money laundering cartel.

I want to be clear here, I’m not calling them cheaters. Heck, I’m not even angry at A&M, though I am angry at the state of affairs in college football. But that bill does not get sent to College Station. They simply correctly evaluated the playing field before anyone else did, and took advantage as the early adopters.

Now that A&M provided the example, and the NCAA proved it would do nothing about it, everyone else is following suit. That advantage of getting there first might evaporate, as all of the other programs fully weaponize their own NIL collectives.

I realize I have long advocated paying the players. This is a billion dollar industry, and the fact the labor was not properly compensated was unconscionable. I still believe that. But of all of the ways to pay the players, we may have found the worst possible one. All we have done is replaced one unregulated black market with another one.

The only reason these NIL collective pass NCAA muster is because they are supposedly not inducements to attend a particular school, nor are they pay for play. But that is a lie and we all know it. Which makes the system, by its very nature, untenable. You build something on an unstable foundation, eventually, that foundation will crumble.

And while proponents of pay-for-play have been largely cheering NIL, I must part company with them. This is not expressly NOT pay for play. Which is the problem. Boosters are paying kids to attend their schools and everything is all gravy right now because nothing has gone wrong yet.

But some of these recruits are not going to pan out. It’s just the nature of the beast. And when they do, who do you think is going to be left holding the bag, the rich boosters, the programs, or the kids? I know where I got my money.

A&M signed eight 5-star recruits, which is truly remarkable. But of those, four are defensive linemen. Two are wide receivers. So, for such a highly regarded class, that’s a lot of concentration at just two positions. Chances are good, there’s going to be an odd man out. And when they transfer, well, then the excrement hits the air conditioning.

What happens when the first guy from the class decides to transfer, and the collective wants its money back? Or won’t release their image rights, controlling it in perpetuity? What’s in those contracts? No one knows.

We are moving into a brave new world and frankly, none of us knows where this is headed. Recruiting has always been a dirty business full of under the table payoffs, but it has never been so brazen and frankly, the dollar figures have never been so large.

Texas A&M is the test case for college football for how this whole thing is going to work, particularly when it doesn’t work for some players. But it might be asking a little much to ask for it all to work right away. In fact, putting such a high bar for immediate success might end of being a bigger curse than just fan mockery.

After all, any player can transfer out with absolutely no wait to play at their new school. And if these players were promised championships and instead go 4-4 again… is Texas A&M just developing players for the 2023-24 Alabama teams?

What happens when Alabama’s NIL collective coupled with unlimited transfers gets fully weaponized? Do we all become their farm programs? Has Texas A&M opened up a Pandora’s Box? And who will be the ones to take full advantage?