There’s a positive way to portray the TCU NIL program, which pairs TCU’s athletic department with the campus's business school. It’s not particularly hard to make this sound good. For example, from Matt Brown’s Extra Point’s newsletter,
“On paper, this sounds like exactly the sort of arrangement that would most benefit TCU’s athletes. Outside vendors may have great advice on how to introduce athletes and brands, but it is unlikely that any outside firm will have more experience and more dedicated knowledge on entrepreneurship than TCU professors.”
I would not be writing this article if Gary Patterson had made this sound good. No, Gary stood in front of a room of TCU boosters and local businessmen and told them that he could lose twenty to thirty players (the equivalent of an entire recruiting class and then some) if they were not “up and running by the end of November”.
Do I believe that Gary Patterson could lose thirty players because of NIL alone — No. That sounds like someone worried about the transfer portal conjuring up a specter more so than any reality to me.
If you were confused as to what Mr. Patterson means by up and running, allow him to clarify. All quotes from Gary Patterson via The Fort Worth Star-Telegram,
“In taxes, do you do short form or do you do deductions? I can promise you there’s nobody in this room that does the short form,” Patterson said, smiling. “That’s what I’m talking about in recruiting. Everybody lives in the gray area. Everybody in this room lives in the gray area. The bottom line to it is we’re going to have to live in the gray area if we want to keep up.”
Patterson followed up by claiming that many SEC schools are calling one of his star freshmen,
“There’s five SEC schools calling him and telling him, ‘Here’s what we’ll give you if you come here and not stay at TCU,’” Patterson said. “At the end of the day, that’s just real life. If we don’t do anything about it, within a year we lose him. The rules have changed. There is no wrong anymore.”
Gary does not leave room to be misinterpreted here. He wants TCU boosters to immediately and aggressively use NIL deals as a sort of team slush fund and he tied the continued success of the program to it. Again, I’m not sure that I believe Gary Patterson that this is “real life” right now but it’s certainly a way to make boosters feel important in roster retention.
“I hear, ‘Well, I don’t want to get dirty. It feels dirty. I don’t know the rules.’ Let me just say, you guys know me, I’m just going to tell the truth — the bottom line to it is I can lose 25-30 guys on scholarships by January. Players recruit players. When a kid calls, ‘Well, how are they taking care of you?’ If they don’t say they’re giving me this then the kid is not going to come. Players recruit players.”
This is a direct and flagrant violation of the spirit of the law. I don’t mind that. I just want to point out that if you want people to give you the benefit of the doubt in the future, erasing the benefit of the doubt at a publicly reported banquet are some words you can get hung with. If you’re an athletic program trying to get away with rebranding the bag man, doing it quietly may have been wiser. The NCAA has its tail between its legs these days but enforcing NIL violations is within their rights. TCU just went and put a target on its back.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Gary Patterson, a man who built his career off of identifying under-recruited and sometimes literally underfed players and threatening to send them back if they step out of line (and who used the n-word during the conversation at least once) isn’t the best communicator.
This is a man who knows his players often come from poverty and uses that to his advantage. You can even see it in his NIL pitch, where the coach directly told local boosters “five thousand dollars to someone who has dirt on their floors is a lot of money.” He’s not wrong, but using the school's ability to connect players with NIL deals to maximize the leverage he has as the head coach over players coming from poverty feels gross - particularly when Gary Patterson is pulling down nearly six million dollars a year.
This pitch for boosters to pay players to keep up with the SEC is an example of Gary Patterson giving in to the old coaching mentality that has fed the facilities arms race in college football for my entire life. Many coaches (if not the overwhelming majority of them) are absolutely convinced that the most minute difference between them and another school will be constantly exploited in recruiting. The statistics don’t quite bear them out, but a lot of coaches are control freaks. This gets exacerbated by the SEC, which often serves as a proxy for “Alabama and company,” making everyone lose their minds.
Now may be a good time for a bit of history on TCU and where they come from. You see this isn’t exactly a heel turn from a clean-nosed program. TCU is an old Southwest Conference school, with every single bit of cheating your ass off that entails. In extraordinarily Texan fashion, in the ’80s they went on probation (and suspended a Heisman candidate) because a coach's “honesty and integrity” sermon encouraged a player to disclose the boosters slush fund.
Kicking these players off the team in 1985 led to TCU going from a top program to cratering. The Horned Frogs did not record another winning season until 1991. This decline in quality (as well as inadequate attendance) can be seen as a contributing factor to TCU winding up outside the Big 12 in 1994. TCU does not ever, ever want to go back to the Mountain West Conference. They know exactly what it is like to be outside a P5 conference and they did not enjoy the experience. They are going to do whatever it takes to remain a major conference team. What Gary Patterson did was say the quiet part out loud and in public - take it away Gary,
“It takes more to stay where we’re at than it took to get here. We’ve done a lot to get here, but if you want to play at a very high level, what you have to understand is we’re going to have to do some things to make sure that we stay and keep growing. At the end of the day, what does that entail? We’re going to have learn but we’re going to learn it a lot faster than what everybody right now is willing to do.”
Yes it is nice that Gary Patterson is attempting to get his players paid but both his motivation (increasing his programs leverage over said players) and the inequality between what TCU employees and TCU players are likely to earn aren’t exactly making things more fundamentally fair. You may have heard that the National Labor Relation Board had some thoughts vis a vis whether college employees are employees lately.
Labor conditions in college football are changing dramatically and how well coaches do at navigating this new world of NIL, transfers, and potentially even players as employees will go a long way towards determining programs futures. How well Dabo does at building a plane while flying it is going to go a long way towards determining Clemson’s future.
The NCAA is set to convene for a constitutional convention, change is not stopping in the foreseeable future. Gary Patterson is absolutely right that people are going to have to learn lot faster than they are going to want to. Look around, Clemson’s starting quarterback has a Dr. Pepper sponsorship. The future is already here.