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The unintended consequence of the NIL: Stay and play AND help your family

Many young athletes get put in the position of “play college ball or help your family”. The NIL gives them an opportunity to do both.

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TCU v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

TCU Football fans weren’t surprised when Ar’Darius Washington went to the NFL Draft with eligiibilty remaining. They knew the young man had talent and moxie, and was good enough to play at the next level. After a really great first year and an impactful second — along with an injury scare — the Fort Worth version of the Honey Badger elected to capitalize on his opportunity to maximize his earnings.

When he went undrafted, ultimately signing as a free agent with Baltimore, it felt bad.

But as we learned during Media Days this week, Washington, like many of his peers, didn’t neccesarrily feel like he had a choice. His family back in Shreveport, LA needed his help, and he was going to do whatever it took to give it to them. He didn’t know then what we know now — that, had he stayed for his redshirt junior season, he could have been raising his stock AND making enough on the side through Name, Image, Likeness laws to send money home. Maybe more than he will make this year as a likely practice squad member with the Ravens.

Many worry that NIL legislation will make the playing field even more uneven: the biggest programs can offer the best exposure in market places that would do anything to (legally) throw money the players’ way. But Gary Patterson had a bit of a different take on the matter when asked during Big 12 Media Days, and I think he might be onto something. There are, after all, only so many car dealerships in Tuscaloosa, as Mike Ryan Ruiz of the Dan LeBatard Show likes to say. “I’m a little bit different on the NIL. I think it evened the playing field. I think it gave every kid an opportunity. The really good players are going to have their own deals. People are going to find them.”

So far, not many TCU Athletes have signed big time deals, but several have signed with agencies or secured some mid-level endorsements. You can expect that to pick up — for football especially — if the Frogs can get out of the gate strong in September. Beating SMU and Texas in back to back weeks would certainly move the needle.

But it’s not just about the flashy deals — good for D’Eriq King and Spencer Rattler of course — it’s about the multiple small deals that will mean a lot to guys that really need it. Patterson said as much last Wednesday when he referenced his former star safety. “I’ll give you a great example how it might have helped TCU last year: Ar’Darius Washington. He went early in the draft as a safety. He didn’t have all the measurables. Probably if he could have some endorsement deals where he could have made some money that he could have given to his family, he might have stayed another year and then played at TCU right now.”

Washington, a redshirt sophomore when he left TCU, was graded out as a likely mid-round pick. But after measuring in at 5’8”, 176, seven rounds passed without his name being called, ultimately signing as an undrafted free agent with Baltimore, inking a three year deal that is worth a guaranteed $100,000 annually and could ultimately net out at $2,440,000 if he stays in the league.

I wouldn’t bet against Washington at the next level; he’s impressed Baltimore brass since arriving with the Ravens, and looks to continue a long history of UDFAs making the 53 man roster — a streak that reached 16 years before ending in 2020. Director of Player Personnel Joe Horwitz told The Athletic “He’s a good football player. Let’s get him in here and see what he is. Frankly, that’s how we evaluated him as a potential draft pick and he was a potential draft pick for us. We just didn’t draft him. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have draftable grades on him. Our scouts really liked him. To a man, everyone talked about how tough he was.”

But it will be an uphill battle for a player that really could have benefited from a full season on a big stage — and playing for a team that has designs on competing for a conference championship. “I think there’s going to be some positive things that came out of doing all this,” Patterson said. “But like anything, abuse leads to restriction. The things you talked about, tampering, using leverage as far as the amount of money that you would have to go to one school or the other; anybody that believes that’s not a possibility is crazy.”

While Patterson is going to see his best players cash in, certainly, he doesn’t quite see it as a pervasive problem — yet. “I saw a high school kid talk about in recruiting, anybody that starts talking to him about Name, Image and Likeness, he took — he took them off his page. He was going to college to play football. There are still those guys out there that want to do things for the right reason.” And while ‘the right reason’ might seem pandering, he understands the big picture and what a huge opportunity this is for so many young athletes and their families. “We want everybody to be successful and we want them to be able to move on and help themselves, whether they help themselves or their family or anybody else. It’s a big deal.”

College football fans should want the same.