Like it or not, there's a clear lesson to be learned for Power 5 programs to avoid a Jordan Addison scenario
If I were Pat Narduzzi, I’d be furious, too.
Jordan Addison, AKA the Biletnikoff Award winner and arguably Pitt’s best returning player since Aaron Donald, reportedly sought a transfer to USC ahead of the May 1 deadline. It’s one thing to lose a star player to a devastating injury in the spring. It’s another to lose him to a program on the other side of the country that clearly wiggled around the NCAA tampering “rules” to reportedly pitch him on some significant NIL compensation.
The latter scenario probably drove the normally animated Narduzzi to even more extreme levels. As my colleague Josh Pate suggested, I too would pay a large sum of money to hear the reported conversation between Narduzzi and Lincoln Riley. If Narduzzi is the same guy who was bold enough to repeatedly call his shots on live airwaves, I can only imagine the bold nature of his 1-way conversation with Riley, especially if the compensation package was on par with what former Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett got from the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Addison rumored to be receiving >$3M, plus house in SoCal from USC boosters via NIL funding vehicle.
If true, he’ll make more than Steelers’ 2nd rd WR pick and have a 2022 compensation package on par with Kenny Pickett, the 20th overall pick in the NFL. Was this Intent of NIL?
— Carlo Veltri (@vetchy119) May 1, 2022
What a time to be alive.
But let’s back up a second. Go back to the opening line of this column.
“If I were Pat Narduzzi, I’d be furious, too.”
Yes, I’d be furious with Riley for what appears to be blatant cheating (even if it does figure to be totally unenforced). I’d also be furious with myself for not having the foresight to take care of the most valuable asset in my program.
Think about this. Pitt just had a senior quarterback earn a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. How much did Pickett make off of NIL? He reportedly pulled in just $100,000. Meanwhile, Heisman winner Bryce Young got 10 times that before he ever started a game at Alabama. Young was already on Alabama’s roster, so he wasn’t a recruit. He never hit the portal or threatened to. But Alabama made sure that the most prized player in the program was taken care of.
Of course, Pitt isn’t Alabama. One program made Nick Saban the first $4 million coach in the sport 15 years ago. The other program had a coach who was set to make $4.8 million in 2022 before he got a contract extension.
OK, so here’s a more relatable example for Pitt. Take Kentucky.
It was Kentucky that aggressively pursued Power 5 transfers like Wan’Dale Robinson and Will Levis last year. On top of that, the program sought NIL opportunities for its stars. Robinson set program records and did quite well with NIL during his 1 year back in his home state. When he was in the process of determining whether to leave school after his junior year, one of the factors was based on his NFL Draft projection. Specifically, his earnings projection. Had Robinson been projected as a 3rd-round pick, Robinson would’ve been in position to make more with 7-figure NIL earnings to stay at Kentucky. He wasn’t, though. So he left.
But take a case like Levis. He returned to Kentucky after his breakout 2021 season. On the same day that Levis showed up in way-too-early 2023 NFL mock drafts, the Wildcats quarterback announced an NIL deal with local car dealership Paul Miller Ford:
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis signs a NIL deal with Paul Miller Ford that includes a new Bronco. Wan’Dale Robinson was the first Wildcat to partner with them last year. @will_levis @nil_athlete pic.twitter.com/Yh99UpQtxR
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) May 2, 2022
That’s not just because Levis is the whole banana-eating, mayo-coffee drinking viral quarterback, either. Running back Chris Rodriguez got a truck through NIL in 2021, as did plenty of other Kentucky players. The Wildcats have a collective called “The 15.” According to BusinessOfCollegeSports.com, it’s designed to do the following.
“It plans to sign multi-year marketing deals with businesses to be promoted by an unspecified UK athlete. Athlete Advantage, acting as an agent, will then connect the athletes with the businesses and promotional activities that best fit their platforms and personalities. Athlete Advantage help execute the campaigns.”
That, according to Mark Stoops, is still not on that level where it wants it to be.
Compare that approach to Pitt. Even with the benefit of being in a major city, the university doesn’t have a collective set up yet. In other words, there’s not a streamlined process for players to benefit off of NIL.
Like it or not, that’s now a disadvantage in college football. Yes, it’s an awful lot like pro sports. Welcome to the new age.
This isn’t just about getting blue-chip recruits a 6-figure NIL deal. It’s about keeping current stars compensated. Whether you’re the most dominant program in the country like Alabama or you’ve got 2 winning seasons in conference play since the Jimmy Carter administration like Kentucky, you had better get your NIL ducks in a row.
To be clear, it’s not that Addison wasn’t making anything off NIL at Pitt. He set up an apparel company designed to give back to his community, and like Levis, he also got a truck working with a local dealership:
— Jordan Addison (@Espn_Jordan) January 19, 2022
Maybe Pitt, even when it does have a collective in place, will never be able to compete with pockets as deep as USC’s. It at least needs to make sure it exhausts every resource to make that happen. Is that in itself, for lack of a better word, exhausting? Sure. It’s a good thing Narduzzi just got a contract extension to keep him at Pitt through 2030. The sport is changing before his eyes. It’s ironic.
Just 2.5 years ago, Narduzzi threatened to leave for the NFL if it became a different set of rules for “pay to play.”
“If it becomes that chaotic, I’ll be going to the NFL where there’s at least a salary cap and everyone’s playing with the same rules,” Narduzzi said in 2019 (H/T Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
Narduzzi learned first hand how chaotic college football has become. In a way, though, it appears that everyone is playing with the same set of rules. As in, there aren’t any. At least not any that are being enforced.
Surely this Addison story will light a fire across the country for Power 5 programs to make sure that all of their players — not just blue-chip recruits or transfers — are maximizing their opportunities through NIL.
And if they don’t, well, prepare to be furious.