There was considerable consternation from loyalists of Boston College recently, upon reading that some football recruits flipped their commitment from BC to land elsewhere. A popular hot take: The kids found a better program.
The kids, according to sources who follow recruiting, likely found schools offering better NIL deals.
This is the new reality of college sports: Who has enough money in their Name/Image/Likeness coffers to keep their programs competitive and attractive?
Consider, for instance, the contrast between BC’s new $3 billion capital campaign - with a $400 million goal for athletics - and the recent words of Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy:
“Don’t build it, put the money in the bank,” Gundy said at a recent media session. “Put the money in the bank and spend it on NIL. That’s just the future. I’m not saying I agree with it. I only know the signs of the times.
“Players used to want to go somewhere for shiny new facilities and new uniforms and things like that. They still want to go somewhere where they win, but they also want the other stuff. I’m going to hypothetically build a situation: If you brought in 50 of our players and said ‘We’ll NIL you $50 to $60,000 a year in cash or we can build you a new weight room and meeting room, which one do you want?’ They’re gonna take (the money) right? That’s what kids do nowadays.”
This is not to suggest that BC’s goals and ideals align with Oklahoma State’s. But Gundy’s message, while perhaps odious to many of us who still value the concept of higher education, is a cautionary tale to anybody unwilling to adapt and adjust to the new reality. Name/Image/Likeness is the newest illustration of athletic Darwinism.
At BC, the NIL initiative is called “Friends of the Heights,” created not long ago by four forward thinkers who may turn out to be the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to BC athletics: alums Joe Popolo, Scott Mutryn, Brian Tusa and Sam Raia. BC grad and former University of Hartford basketball coach Tom Devitt was recently hired as the initiative’s full-time general manager, indicating a level of seriousness that ought to have BC fans thankful and encouraged.
“The importance of this is multi-faceted,” Devitt said. “No. 1, it sheds light on the BC value system. And equally as important, it allows us to compete at the highest level possible. That competition will continue to advance BC as an institution on national and international stages.”
Devitt, like many of us, has discovered some distaste for the NIL concept among BC alums. Some have been reluctant to contribute for ideological reasons. And while it is noble to maintain a value system, there is a practical side that is clearer than a bottle of Poland Spring. If you don’t contribute to future successes don’t complain about current failures.
Devitt offers a metaphor:
“Seventy percent of Americans today have never rolled down a car window,” Devitt said. “In terms of the operation of the vehicle, things are simply done differently. If you get into a car and are seeking fresh air and you’re looking for a handle to roll down a window, you’re going to start sweating.
“Boston College has done an unbelievable job to make sure this initiative aligns with our values. Because so much of this is service oriented, it lines up perfectly. But remember, if you are seeking fresh air but doing it the way you did 30 years ago, you are going to sweat.”
Then Devitt paused and asked, “If student-athletes of other eras had these opportunities, would they have turned them down?”
It is quite possible that a simple lack of understanding about how NIL works lies at the roots of the ideological distaste. BC fans are not alone.
“We’ve heard it all, right? Our fan base is no different than any other fan base. Our coaches are no different than any other coaches in college sports,” Oklahoma State athletic director Chad Weiberg said during a media opportunity. “This is not the way college athletics has worked all these years and decades. There are a fair amount of people that don’t like it.
“It is now part of college athletics. It is not going away. And for us to remain competitive, it’s one of the areas that we are going to have to compete in. We have to continue to do a good job in the area of educating and telling our fans how they can get involved. There are a lot of ways that they can get involved and I think that is part of the confusion.”
This is why anybody with an affinity for BC sports should visit the Friends of the Heights website (friendsoftheheights.com) to learn more. Memberships begin as low as $25 per month, but they will accept any dollar amount as a one-time donation. Here’s Devitt:
“There are tax deductible contributions, commercial contributions (asking for teams or players to sponsor your company), many ways to give, and many levels of membership,” Devitt said. “We are grateful to accept all amounts of funding. This is not pay for play. Non-profit rules are very strict. For example, when a student-athlete partners with a charity, they have to do the work first and then earn compensation after that.”
Devitt said NIL money has even helped more than one BC student-athlete to pay tuition. Others are using it to gap tuition debt.
“This is not Livvy Dunne hosting the ESPYs. These are real life scenarios,” Devitt said. “There’s a misnomer about how all Div. 1 student-athletes are on a full ride. Far from the truth. NIL can be used as a vehicle to gap tuition costs, too.”
BC sports are painting a rosier picture. Football has won two straight. Hockey is in the top five in the country. There is optimism around basketball. Student sections are howling. And yet with successful teams and successful players come the poachers.
“Common sense says that a student-athlete can still love it at BC, not want to leave - and still be coerced by the various forces in his or her life,” Devitt said. “We’re not necessarily looking to outbid other schools. This is for the student-athlete who values the BC degree and who can have a great experience here."
This much we know: There are decades worth of loyal BC grads who have done well for themselves. There’s money out there. BC also has a number of graduates in the media who can spread the word about the importance of Friends of the Heights, including (but certainly not limited to) Joe Tessitore, Jon Sciambi, Molly McGrath, Bob Wischusen, Mike Lupica and Bob Ryan.
Our individual opinions about the bonafides of NIL are noted, but alas irrelevant. This is about keeping BC competitive. I’m in. How about you?
Mike DiMauro, a columnist in Connecticut, is a contributor to Eagles Daily and a member of BC’s Class of 1990. Readers may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @BCgenius