The three college athletes expected to have the highest estimated 2023 earnings are Lebron James’ son, Deion Sanders’ son and Livvy Dunne, a gymnast at LSU. Dunne is estimated to earn $3.5 million annually for her various Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) agreements. LSU women’s basketball player Angel Reese is 9th on the NIL list, earning an estimated $1.7 million in 2023. (The average WNBA player’s salary is $113,000.)
If you don’t like the anarchy version of college football, don’t blame NIL. Angel Reese’s earnings didn’t ruin anyone’s enjoyment of her team’s 26-6 season last year. Don’t even blame the disastrous transfer portal – at least not in general. Instead, blame the college presidents and NCAA executives who, once their cozy club was fully exposed as an illegal cartel, passed on one final opportunity to provide moral and legal leadership to college football. They stepped back, washed their hands and essentially said, “let’s see how you like it with no rules.”
Legacy NCAA apologists love that the transfer portal is a disaster. Those who long profited from the previous system love to smugly point to the current chaos and say, “is this what you wanted?” They embrace disorder, hoping it masks their own motives and financial biases.
The NCAA insists on trying to project a fake academic legitimacy that, for at least 60 years, has not existed in the highest levels of college football. In the current system, college football players can enter the transfer portal while their team is still in season. This is ludicrous.
The college football transfer portal is a disaster because the university presidents tasked with supposedly providing leadership to the NCAA don’t understand football – and sometimes have undisclosed motives for their rules. (For some ugly insight into the NCAA football rules-making process, research the reason a college player must sit out a play if his helmet comes off during a play, but the NFL has no similar requirement. It has nothing to do with player safety.)
According to the college sports news site On3, the top 100 college football players received NIL income totaling more than $80 million last year. If you ever doubted that college football is a professional activity, ask yourself where that money came from. It was already “in the system.” And the people in charge of the system want it back. New NCAA president (and former Massachusetts governor) Charlie Baker has proposed a revenue sharing system that would set aside up to $30,000 a year for some college athletes. This initiative is not born out of a newfound commitment to fairness. It is a strategic move about money and control – and those NCAA executives want to regain each.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.