The Tennessee Vols spent a lot of time this spring promoting their willingness to help athletes navigate the changing landscape of college football.
Specifically, Tennessee focused on the name, image, and likeness rules that will allow college athletes to make money off endorsements.
In early June, UT unveiled a plan that would “empower” student-athletes in the new NIL world.
— Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Sports) June 3, 2021
At the time, I thought this was a brilliant move by Tennessee that could possibly give the Volunteers a unique edge in recruiting.
But that may not necessarily be the case.
Since the new NIL rules went into effect, we’ve seen a litany of endorsement deals for college athletes — mostly from local companies. These deals likely aren’t as lucrative as many folks expected them to be.
The “big money” deals are probably going to be few and far between, reserved for Heisman Trophy candidates who won’t really need any help navigating the NIL rules.
Elite players — the kind of players that SEC programs need to compete for conference championships — won’t be making their college decision based on which program promotes NIL assistance the best. They’re going to be making their decision based on where they can become a better player, compete for a national championship, and improve their odds of reaching the NFL.
This was most recently evidenced by comments from five-star wide receiver Evan Stewart, who told 247Sports that programs hyping up NIL rules were removed from the list of schools he was considering.
Tennessee is still wise to offer NIL help to recruits, but it shouldn’t be their focus.
What happens on the football field is still the most important thing in recruiting. If the Vols are going to return to the top of the SEC East, it won’t be because of endorsement deals — it will because recruits feel like they can win games at Tennessee.
That’s why Josh Heupel’s impact on the Vols’ offense is much more important than which restaurant in East Tennessee offers to pay players for a social media post.
Featured image via Caitie McMekin/Pool via News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services