The Wolverine

August 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE AUGUST 2021 M oney talks in big-time college athletics. It al- ways has. Only now, it's not whispering in dark alleys. It's screaming from the rooftops in every elite foot- ball town in America — and among plenty of hope-filled non-elites as well. Recently approved NIL leg- islation — involving the name, image and likeness of college athletes — stands as perhaps the biggest game-changer in college football since the insti- tution of the forward pass. Alabama head coach Nick Saban recently said his quar- terback will be in line to make a million dollars off NIL deals. High-profile athletes across the country are cashing in as well. The question for Michigan? How fervently, and effectively, does it play the game? The law opens the door to legally leveling the playing field in ways U-M re- fused to do by illicit means over the past half-century and beyond. Now, it's a whole new ball game. Will the Wolverines kick the door in, or peek inside and just feel around with one Nike-cleated or sneakered foot? If you think it's been one world in college athletes over the past sev- eral decades, you're beyond naïve. The biggest winners have generally represented the biggest recruiting cheaters — period. Call that a lie, an excuse, an exag- geration. Call it whatever you want. Then talk to somebody that knows and get educated. The saying is common in SEC country: "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'." Trying really hard has paid off, in big ways, for the usual suspects in the College Football Playoff. Envelopes of cash. Unbelievable car deals via all-too-willing local supporters. Poker chips given to re- cruits that feature no intrinsic value on the surface, but that the casino in town is ready to accept and pay for on delivery. Free tattoos that don't even scratch the surface of all the bounty delivered before the ink even dries. See, Michigan has been battling more than great schemes and pow- erful football organizations in its quest to claw its way to the top of the Big Ten and into the playoff. Has it done its part to be one of those relatively clean programs that occasionally breaks through? Clearly, no. The missteps and failed attempts to scramble back in the post-Lloyd Carr era have been painstakingly and excruciatingly documented. But again, anyone insisting that everyone follows the "If you cheat, you've already lost" dictum also believes Santa makes the rounds in one night and that Al Capone (or his ink-stained, modern-day reincarna- tion) was just a misunderstood busi- nessman/football coach. Enter the NIL. Enter the opportu- nity to execute legally what others have done behind the curtain for decades. Does Michigan play ball, or fumble? One insider on — informed and legit to the point that a quarter-century ago, palace guards at Schembechler Hall were demanding to know his identity — stands concerned. The money is there, he insists. The cash support for Michigan athletics is ready to be unleashed. The worry centers on Michi- gan perhaps allowing strict compliance concerns (and those are evolving) to trump getting student-athletes in position to receive funds. The cheaters are already off and running, our insider notes, "clinging to their advantage for now." Whether Michigan answers, and forcefully wipes out that advantage, will determine the Wolverines' fate in high-profile sports in the years to come. Understand, all this comes with some reservations of our own. This is the wild west, and will likely produce glar- ing abuses across the country. We don't suggest for a mo- ment that Michigan compro- mise the recruiting integrity it has maintained for so long. At the same time, Michigan can now take on the cheats — and do it without shame. There's no question director of athletics Warde Manuel is wrestling with this one, and perhaps hear- ing from reticent superiors. Jim Harbaugh won't talk about this particular aspect of NIL, but there's no doubt he and Juwan Howard are scrutinizing every aspect of it. "In some ways, the soul of the old things really still stands true," Har- baugh insisted at Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis. "You're a college ath- lete. Get the best grades, win the most awards, excel at sports and there will be really good consequences." What he didn't say, and won't, is that if you really excel at sports, there's a decent chance you've been well compensated prior to NIL. With it, there could be outstanding consequences, both for the athletes that pull on maize and blue and for their results in those sports enjoying the biggest stage. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON A Pass Michigan Can't Afford To Drop Some of the highest-profile Michigan athletes, such as sopho- more safety Daxton Hill, stand to cash in on the NCAA allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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