Will the NIL landscape open a ‘Pandora’s box’ for the future of SEC recruiting?

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A first national championship in 41 football seasons would surely create a whole new world on the recruiting trail.

Not as much as you might think, according to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who concluded the 2022 cycle with the traditional national signing day on Wednesday and is already on track with the 2023 and 2024 outlook. Georgia’s 18 against Alabama in last month’s championship game in Indianapolis resulted in the program’s first national crown since its magic run in 1980.

“Certainly during the time we were on the road there was a lot of congratulations and pats on the back and all those things,” Smart said Wednesday afternoon during a Zoom call. “I think that maybe brings you into the conversation with more National kids, but we were already in the conversation with most of the National kids. It may validate some of the things that you’re working towards, but I don’t think that will close the deal.

“I don’t think winning the national championship changes the needle in terms of a kid’s decision. Kids today worry about other things than just winning the national championship. Ten years ago , it was probably more important than today. They put their weight in other categories.”

Like name, image and likeness.

This cycle was the first since NIL offerings became available to student-athletes, who discovered power like never before and earning potential based on their past production or by simply having built a personal brand through social media. These NIL opportunities have been accompanied by little, if any, regulation, leaving the sport to worry that only a handful of schools with the deepest pockets will compete for future championships.

Last December, the non-profit organization Horns With Heart in Austin, Texas announced a sponsorship program for 2022 called “The Pancake Factory” that will award $50,000 to every Texas offensive lineman benefiting from a scholarship to participate in charitable activities. The entity is willing to spend up to $800,000 for 16 linemen.

Still, $800,000 pales in comparison to accusations that Texas A&M boosters have a $30 million fund for NIL deals once their signers sign up. Jimbo Fisher signed the No. 1 class in the nation, with the Aggies snagging 17 players ranked in the top 100 of the 247Sports.com composite rankings, but Fisher was defiant on Wednesday that his last 29 additions are not coming to College Station due to a financial pot problem.

“There’s no $30 million fund,” Fisher said at a news conference. “There’s no $5 million fund. It’s rubbish, and it’s insulting to the guys we’ve recruited. There’s no better university in this country, and that’s It’s insulting. It’s funny, because when Nick Saban said his quarterback got an $800,000 NIL contract, that was wonderful, but now it’s not wonderful anymore.

“We don’t have that. We don’t have all these big deals going on at our house that we know of, but it’s funny when you do. Hypocrisy is a joke. It’s an absolute joke.”

AP Photo of Sam Craft/Alabama football coach Nick Saban, left, and his Texas A&M counterpart Jimbo Fisher shake hands before their teams meet in an Oct. 9 SEC West foes showdown in College Station, Texas.

Texas A&M, which added five-star defensive lineman Shemar Stewart from Opa Locka, Fla., on Wednesday, ended an 11-year streak from Alabama or Georgia by finishing with the No. 1 signing class. Saban’s Crimson Tide and Smart’s Bulldogs finished second and third in this year’s cycle, and Saban was asked about the impact of NIL on Wednesday.

“I hope we find a system in the future where – I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but I don’t think players should be making decisions about where they go to school by how much money they’re gonna make in name and image and likeness,” he said. “Hopefully it doesn’t get to the point where name, image deals and likenesses are created for high school players to get them to go to a particular institution.

“Then you would be opening a whole new Pandora’s box when it comes to recruiting.”

Alabama’s only addition on Wednesday was Danny Lewis, a three-star tight end from New Iberia, Louisiana. Lewis’ big fame on the recruiting runway was a video of him dancing with new LSU coach Brian Kelly, which has been viewed nearly nine million times.

Georgia lost Murfreesboro Oakland running back Jordan James, who did what was expected and returned and signed with Oregon, but the Bulldogs added wide receiver Dillon Bell from Houston, inside linebacker EJ Lightsey from Fitzgerald, Georgia defensive lineman Christen Miller of Ellenwood, Georgia, running back Andrew Paul of Dallas and outside linebacker Darris Smith of Baxley, Georgia.

The Bulldogs finished with six straight top-four classes and were No. 1 in the 2018 and 2020 cycles, but Smart admits it’s a very different world he has to navigate.

“You used to sell championships and facilities and certainly development, but now development has taken a step back, which it shouldn’t,” Smart said. “Academics and what we can do for you in life after football is on the back burner for a lot of people. You’re explaining to kids that we can’t put in NIL deals and can’t promise that but what people do is validate their NIL by showing what their current list does.

“When you sell the development of a Jordan Davis and what he became, that’s a lot nicer to sell than what he did in NIL.”

A traditional signing day that lacked fanfare due to most decisions made by elite prospects in December was unique in that coaches don’t know where the NIL landscape will be in a year’s time. What is absolutely certain is that Fisher no longer wants to live in a recruiting world where only Alabama and Georgia dominate.

“If you don’t like us coming, get used to it,” Fisher said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

STACK THE DRY

How Southeastern Conference football programs fared in the 2022 recruiting cycle (national rankings included):

1.Texas A&M (1)

2. Alabama (2)

3. Georgia (3)

4. USL (12)

5. Kentucky (13)

6.Missouri (14)

7. Tennessee (16)

8. Auburn (18)

9. Florida (19)

10. Ole Miss (23)

11. South Carolina (26)

12. Mississippi State (27)

13. Arkansas (28)

14. Vanderbilt (31)

Crimson Tide changes

Saban announced three personnel changes Wednesday: Coleman Hutzler as outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator, Travaris Robinson as cornerbacks coach and Eric Wolford as offensive line coach.

Sal Sunseri, who coached the defensive line last season, will become Saban’s special assistant.

Jenkins joins Flights

Tennessee’s only addition on Wednesday was three-star defensive lineman Jayson Jenkins from Bordentown, New Jersey. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder had 32 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as a Notre Dame High School senior.

Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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