HOOVER, Ala. — Lane Kiffin was speechless.
When the Ole Miss football coach was told Alabama quarterback Bryce Young had “almost seven figures” on the table in name, image and likeness opportunities without ever starting a college game, he took a few seconds to even react.
“That number just blew me away,” Kiffin said. “You didn’t prepare me for that.”
Even minutes later during his 2021 Southeastern Conference Media Days session Tuesday at The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, the factoid was on the mind of the second-year Rebels head coach as he fielded an unrelated question about running back Jerrion Ealy’s health status.
“I’m still blown away on this Bryce Young,” Kiffin said. “The guy’s made a million dollars already? That’s good, man. He don’t need to play next year against us, then. I mean, that’s mind blowing.”
Since the NCAA approved an interim NIL policy June 30 — a day before it became law in six states, including Mississippi — reactions from SEC players and coaches have been widespread. Some have been as shocked as Kiffin to find out how lucrative endorsement deals for college athletes can be; some are far from ready to dive in just yet.
“NIL can be your outside business, but when we’re in the facility, we’re focused on our goals and focused on being the best Kentucky team that we can be,” Wildcats defensive lineman Josh Paschal said Tuesday.
And some, including Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis, aren’t sure of everything NIL laws entail.
“I definitely think the NIL thing is a great addition to the NCAA. It gives us an opportunity to use our platform for profit, but in terms of me, I haven’t touched it,” Davis said Tuesday. “I’m confused by it, honestly. It’s a lot.”
Many schools have done their best to help explain NIL to their athletes, bringing in third-party platforms to lead education about the new policies and make sure players are well prepared to engage with brands and strike fair contracts.
Tennessee defensive back Alontae Taylor said a meeting with compliance helped break things down, while Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral said his school has given its athletes the support they need in the mere three weeks since NIL became the law of the land in college athletics.
“Ole Miss has done a good job of helping us navigate through this crazy time, because if you don’t know what you’re doing, it could get really cloudy, and you could end up doing something that could hurt you in your future,” Corral said.
That uncertainty isn’t the only reason some SEC players have shied away from diving too deep into the untested waters of the new legislation. Both Taylor and Georgia quarterback JT Daniels — who did strike an NIL deal, signing with Sports Collectibles.com Thursday — said football, as usual, comes first.
“I think for me and really a lot of guys that I’ve talked to, being that (NIL) came out July 1, it makes it pretty difficult to do anything for it,” Daniels said. “Like for me, season mode kicks in June 1 when you come back from your May break, because that May break is the only time you have off for the rest of the year. I won’t leave Athens unless it’s an away game really until after the season.”
“So we’re fully in season mode,” Daniels added. “I wish I could give you more about NIL, but it’s just not a huge focus for really a lot of people that I’ve talked to.”
But NIL remains a massive story in college football, with nearly every coach who spoke the past two days either bringing up the topic or being asked about it. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart met the subject head on Tuesday, expressing his support for the legislation.
“Our young men in the sport of football, in all athletics really, and student-athletes, are getting an opportunity that has not been afforded to anyone before them,” Smart said. “You think back to the likes of a Hines Ward or a Champ Bailey at the University of Georgia, an A.J. Green, a Todd Gurley, what they would have been able to do with NIL.
“These young men and women have earned this opportunity,” he added. “We are so excited for them. The opportunities are really limitless.”
So much so, in fact, that chances for endorsement deals are now coming from a perhaps inopportune direction. An adult site announced Tuesday it’s looking to sign college athletes to “represent the XXX brand.”
Smart referenced a text message he received from the rapper Quavo, an Athens native who makes up one-third of the trio Migos, that implored Bulldogs players to make sure they make the right choice.
“He said, ‘Coach, please tell the players (to) be selective who they put their brand with,’” Smart said. “Don’t just do anything.’
“He used the term ‘thirsty’ — ‘don’t be thirsty,’” Smart added. “Be selective in what you do, selective in how you handle your branding. You’ve got tax issues now you’ve got to deal with. There’s a lot of education that we’re doing in house to make this an advantage for our young men, and that’s something that we continue to drive home with our players, and they understand.”
And despite the enticing opportunities in front of them, many players just aren’t ready to get on board with NIL just yet.
“With my process, I’m still trying to figure it out,” LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. said. “You know, everybody is. This is all new. So I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s all going to pan out in the end.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.