Mandel: Third-party NIL collectives luring recruits are legal (we think) and here to stay. Embrace it or get left behind

Nov 13, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Power T on the field before a game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports
By Stewart Mandel Feb 15, 2022 130
Boosters pooling millions of dollars in donations to hook up recruits with cars and apartments. Alumni traveling to make sales pitches to their school’s top targets.

Not long ago, the details in David Ubben’s story Tuesday about Spyre Sports, the Knoxville agency operating an NIL collective for Tennessee athletes, would have made for a bombshell NCAA recruiting scandal. But in the span of seven months, these long-taboo tactics have not only become legal (we think), but normalized.

“This is how it’s going to be for the next few years until something changes,” said Blake Lawrence, CEO of athlete marketing platform Opendorse. “It’s like a salary cap. It’s impacting college football recruiting right now.”

We always knew, once the NCAA finally allowed athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness, that boosters would find ways to exploit it for recruiting. What’s remarkable, however, is how quickly these third-party NIL “collectives” sprung up, unaffiliated with a school but set up explicitly to raise money from fans and donors to funnel money to their favorite team’s star athletes. All legally. (We think. Or for now.) All the players have to do is sign some autographs or shake some hands at a tailgate.

Some, like Clark Field Collective in Austin, Texas (which recently announced $10 million in donor commitments) or