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College football scandals are boring with NIL deals

The other day, I was walking down a street in a city in the SEC footprint. My colleague points at a building and says, “That is where I found out that Phil Fulmer was not the “Secret Witness.” A good writer would stop and explain to the audience just what “secret witness” implies, but that would ruin the exercise. If you know, you know.

The secret witness was one of a multitude of college football urban legends that fed conversations on message boards, booster meetings, bars, and barbershops for decades. These tales made up the dark web of college football. They were college football’s Morse code, tapped out on t-shirts and ESPN “College Gameday” signs. In short, they were just fun, and they may go the way of the Wishbone Offense due to NIL.

To be clear, I am 100% in favor of college athletes making as much money from their name, image, and likeness. But now that the money being made by players is out in the open, it might really put a damper on the urban legend market. What passes for a scandal these days? University of Miami commit Jaden Rashada reportedly signing a $9.5 million  NIL deal and spurning an $11 million offer from Florida.

Is this true? Who cares? There is no mysterious bag man in this story. John Ruiz, Miami mega-booster, talked openly about working on a deal with Jaden. The only sultry detail is the final value. Big. Whoop.

The brouhaha between Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s John James “Jimbo” Fisher Jr. captured headlines for a few days, but the spat was ultimately over semantics and order of operation. Did A&M promise NIL deals to players in order to secure their commitment? Or did they sign NIL deals only after the top recruiting class in history had signed their letters of intent? It doesn’t really matter.

The transactions are taking place in broad daylight. There is no need to smuggle a player a gold Trans Am when they just accept one from the dealer or, even worse, buy one with their well earned legal money. The future scandals of college football recruiting are going to be visible only in spreadsheets, and have more to do with accounting and taxes than they do secret-state sanctioned slush funds. Where does Luther Campbell even fit in the new landscape?

It is getting to the point that a high school coach or enterprising father can’t even get a handshake from a booster anymore. In the coming years, who will even be left to “Keep It Down Home, Cuz“?

The dirty business of college recruiting was an integral part of the machine. It meant that the games never actually ended. At any time, a ring, a title, or even a Heisman Trophy could just be wiped away. You could always hurl an accusation at a rival fan if a rival got a little too good at cheating. Without these scandals to distract us, we may even have to start looking seriously at the scandals that are decidedly not fun.

For more, listen to the Throw The Flag podcast on Spotify or below.

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