Georgia Bulldogs head football coach Kirby Smart said he has concerns with the current status of name, image and likeness rights for college athletes.
"It's unfortunate that it slid the way it did because I was one of the biggest advocates that the name, image and likeness [rule] needed to be in place," Smart said at the Texas High School Coaches Association convention. "Look, it is not for everybody. Everybody's not gonna make the same amount of money off of it. ... You're gonna have different pay scales for different guys. I can accept that.
"What I can't accept is some young man getting $10,000 a month for four years or three years of college?" Smart continued. "That's $120K a year. What do you think he's doing with that? Is that actually gonna make him more successful in life? Because, I promise you, if you handed me $10K a month my freshman year of college, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. I believe that."
Given that Smart is making a reported $7 million per season, however, his complaints about his players potentially making $120,000 per year are going to smack of hypocrisy for some.
Smart's argument is that players should have to first earn those levels of paydays. In the current system, many players are signing lucrative NIL deals before they ever step on a college field.
"You could say, 'Well, he deserves that,'" Smart said. "Well, he might deserve that if he earns it. If he goes out there and plays, I'm all for taking care of guys that have been part of the program and start and play. It's a reverse system right now, where the bottom coming in is getting rewarded more than the top going out. And that's tough."
The counterargument is that the market is deciding the worth of players, a system that has always existed for coaches. Many head coaches, for instance, receive a lucrative contract to take over a program before they've ever been a head coach themselves.
Those coaches would fairly argue that they've climbed the coaching tree and paid their dues. But many college athletes could counter that they've dedicated their young lives to their sport, have paid their dues as well, and if a company wants to offer them sponsorship money at the college level, why shouldn't they take it?
In professional sports, players are given a contract after they are drafted and can sign sponsorship deals. While more lucrative contracts and deals come later, high draft picks are still earning millions of dollars before they've ever proved their worth on a professional field. College athletes, who were unpaid until the NIL rules were put in place, can argue that the current NIL system isn't all that different.
There's no question that the NIL rules have fundamentally changed college sports and especially college football, and coaching staffs and athletic departments are still adjusting to the new frontier. There is a Wild West feel to the system at the moment. Smart said that 85 players on Georgia's team last year had some sort of NIL deal.
But when people who have always profited off the unpaid labor of college athletes like Smart raise concerns about a system that now pays those players, there is bound to be some pushback.