College football powers that be are quickly reminded that money doesn’t necessarily buy wins in the sport

If name, image, and likeness advantages were directly tied to wins, Miami might just about clinch its ticket to the college football playoffs. Texas A&M would be close, at least according to Nick Saban’s offseason estimate. Texas was really coming back.

But reality is reality, performance on the field still counts for something. In these strange days of esports pushing boundaries — and sometimes going beyond them — toward pay-for-play, we may have forgotten a key ingredient.

Money can buy players, but not necessarily profits.

Armed with an $80 million coach (Mario Cristobal) and a billionaire NIL supporter (John Ruiz), Miami still turned over eight times in a depressing home loss to Duke. With its own multi-million dollar trainer (Jimbo Fisher), Texas A&M fell below .500 for the first time in five years. And with the best of seemingly everything, Texas is still struggling in areas where it shouldn’t be 13 years after its last appearance at the Championship. The Longhorns committed 14 penalties in Oklahoma state on Saturday.

“I go back when I leave the building,” Cowboys defense coordinator Derek Mason told The Oklahoman after the game. “I don’t see Ferraris and Lamborghinis. I see Ford F-150. I see Chevys. I see worker stuff.

Sixteen months into the NILE era, football has remained the main attraction. To date, no one has confronted Alabama quarterback Bryce Young for any of his incompleteness despite his $2 million NIL rating. A Heisman Trophy and a national championship sort of balance things out.

On Saturdays, fans don’t gather to argue about the size of the bursary checks. Only a small percentage of players receive a significant NIL. All of them will play for Good Ol’ State U. Angry Warning: There’s still some innocence left.

Those who are trumpeting the new age of NIL and financial freedom may have forgotten a key piece of the math: these are 18-22 year olds whose bodies, brains and talents are still being formed. This brings with it a significant degree of unpredictability. You decide what happens on the pitch.

It’s another reason to mock the general direction of NIL as either a savior or Satan. NILE is easy Part of the game. Players have been making money the NCAA-legal way for years. It’s up to those managing the game to find out. Again, it’s football that still matters most.

Despite its all-in philosophy after years of insignificance, Miami is 3-4 for the third time in four years, with a loss to Middle Tennessee already on the agenda. His eight turnovers on Saturday were the most by a Power Five team in 13 years. Texas A&M is also 3-4 with a Week 2 loss to Appalachian State, despite his coach’s one-time 10-year contract and the all-time No. 1 recruiting class following this offseason. The last time Aggies dipped below .500 was in 2017. (Texas A&M’s troubles continued Tuesday when three freshmen from this monster No. 1 recruitment class were suspended.)

Texas has one of the wealthiest athletic departments in the country. A NIL collective formed last year paid each of its offensive linemen grantees $50,000…apparently just to be Texas offensive linemen. That meant little as the Longhorns committed eight pre-snap penalties and four pass interference violations to lose the game to Oklahoma State.

“We’ve had a great return on investment from our standpoint,” said Ruiz, the Miami billionaire booster-turned-face for NIL extravaganza. “We have benefited from it from a business point of view.”

How is it from a football point of view? It was more telling that backup quarterback Jake Garcia was responsible for five of the eight turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) than that he has a two-year, $145,000 NIL contract with Ruiz. The canes were still being pounded.

“I knew we had to rebuild a lot because, honestly, I had seen a lot of the players visually and they were undersized linemen,” added Ruiz. “Just a complete makeover. I think Mario did a really good job bringing in the transfer kids, [but] it’s asking a lot.”

That won’t stop the expansion of Ruiz’s NIL opportunities, which include refer players its LifeWallet and Cigarette Racing Team businesses.

“We still have a competitive advantage over everyone else,” he said.

Just don’t ask about football – not yet.

We’re in an awkward gray area that has never been experienced in college. Players have been compensated for years. A Power Five athletic director told CBS Sports that some of his school’s football players make the equivalent of $54,000 a year. After taxes, that’s $42,000 free and clear for these athletes when you count scholarship checks, an off-campus housing allowance, attendance expenses, state Pell grants, and Alston benefits.

Not quite professionals, but certainly not amateurs either. When NIL is added, coaches are also tasked with balancing an uneven locker room (in terms of income) with the old college attempt.

“You can find good football players who really love playing football,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes told CBS Sports. “That’s the most important. Sometimes when it’s just money or just things, sometimes that becomes more important than the other things.”

The other things in Fort Worth, Texas mean is an undefeated top 10 finish, a spot atop the Big 12 rankings and an open path to a berth in the College Football Playoffs. Google “NIL” and “TCU” and you’ll get the usual number of hits, but it’s not a place that builds its identity with enticements.

Dykes is the son of legendary Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, who grew up coaching baseball. He was the first coach since 1984 to win 10 games at SMU. Then he went across town to have a better chance of winning at everything. Dykes made 14 trades to TCU and got lucky at quarterback.

When starter Chandler Morris went down early this season, backup Max Duggan came on to lead the Big 12 in touchdown passes (19). Right now, Dykes finds himself as the best coach in Texas with the best program in Texas.

“In a weird way that college football is now, you’re going to see places that have rewards, that have an emphasis on culture, and that recruit people who love football,” Dykes said, referring to Mason’s observation of the parking lot . “Everyone likes a nice car, but that means a lot more to some people than to other people.”

The kids figured it out for themselves. UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson rented a boat with food and took his teammates on a preseason cruise in the Pacific Ocean. Former Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett had a NIL deal with a local restaurant that allowed him to feed his offensive line last season. Numerous players have donated their earnings to other causes and entered the realm of philanthropy.

Tennessee athletics benefits from NIL giants Sprye Sports Group, but QB Hendon Hooker arrived in Knoxville five months before NIL started. He took the long road to stardom after being recruited by trainer Josh Heupel, who brought Joe Milton to Michigan. Hooker is now leading the Heisman Trophy race (according to some) because of the work he’s done. The quarterback has his ZERO opportunities, including writing a Christian book for children with his brother. But there was more free cigars 11 days ago at Neyland Stadium as free cars.

Elsewhere, the humble Wake Forest is ranked in the top 10 for the first time in consecutive seasons. Tulane is ranked as the best group-of-five program after more than halfway through the season for the first time since 1998.

“It’s hard to find something that hasn’t been discovered for so long,” said Illinois coach Bret Bielema.

The Illini found it. Under Bielema they are 6-1 and 17th with an inside lead to the Big Ten West title. It was a school and a coach that needed each other. Illinois had been wandering in the wilderness for a while.

After leading Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls from 2006-2012 and winning the Big Ten in the process, Bielema wanted to test himself. He left the success and relative comfort of Madison, Wisconsin for Arkansas. Five years later, he was fired for the first time in his life after going 29-34 with the Razorbacks.

“What I learned in that moment was that when those in power want to make a decision, sometimes things are out of your control,” Bielema said.

After three years in the NFL with the New England Patriots, he got another chance at another Big Ten school.

“I said [AD Josh Whitman] during the interview: ‘I know you’re just getting to know me, but you’re getting the best version of me ever,'” Bieliema said.

Born in Illinois and after playing and training in Iowa and Wisconsin, Bielema qualifies as a conference commissioner if he goes to another Big Ten school. An Iowa tattoo he got as a defenseman with the Hawkeyes was recently mistaken for an Illini logo by one of his players.

“We took a somewhat two-handed approach to this tattoo. Now it has a little more to do with Illinois,” Bielema said. “I did it when I was 19. I didn’t know I was going to be a head coach at Illinois.”

What’s even more impressive in these days of ZERO earnings is one of the best accomplishments of last year’s 5-7 tournament that started in Illinois. Three players signed by this team made it to NFL camps as free agents. All three made up the 53-man squad. Zero dollars: minimal.

“I don’t know if I’ve had that in all my years as a coach,” said Bielema. “Having three in a year. I think it was because of what we trained and developed. … There are many people with so little extra time who could take their game to another level if they are in the right environment.”


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