There were many changes in the landscape of college sports during the 14 months in which recruits weren’t allowed to make campus visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the biggest one might be the change that’s expected to go into effect next month: NCAA athletes finally being allowed to make money off of their name, image and likeness.
As Ohio State welcomes visitors back to campus throughout the month of June, the NIL opportunities that athletes could have by playing for the Buckeyes will be a big part of Ohio State’s recruiting pitch.
Erin Dunston, Ohio State football’s director of on-campus recruiting, expects it to be a frequent topic of conversation between Ohio State’s staff and recruits going forward. She was specifically asked to offer a percentage of how much of the conversations are about NIL.
“I would say honestly, with NIL, if we’re going pie chart, I’m gonna say the presentation’s about 30 percent but the natural conversations that happen, I think it’s gonna take over a lot of the chunk of what is talked about, because that’s what these kids are really interested in,” Dunston said last week. “They’re interested in their playing time, they’re interested in building a relationship with the head coach but there is that money aspect. So to me, if you’re asking personally, presentation and conversation-wise, it’s gonna be about 50 percent.”
Ohio State still can’t pay recruits directly or instruct anyone to pay recruits as an incentive to become Buckeyes. Those remain NCAA violations that come with consequences for any school that gets caught.
What Ohio State will be able to do once name, image and likeness legislation goes into effect, though, is provide a platform through which athletes should have the opportunity to make money through avenues like endorsement deals, event appearances and sport instruction. And Ohio State football players should be as well-positioned to take advantage of that market as anyone.
As the most popular sports team in the United State’s 14th-most populous city, Ohio State football offers its players a combination of local and national marketability that few other college sports programs can match, and Ryan Day, Mark Pantoni and the rest of Ohio State's staff will be making sure recruits know that.
“The brand of that Block O nationally, the brand of Ohio State football, the city of Columbus and then our fan base, which is another level, we feel very excited about the opportunities for our players and we’re gonna definitely discuss it with all the recruits these next few weeks,” Pantoni said. “We think it’s a great selling point for them. We have to embrace it. We know it’s coming down the tracks. And we’re going to be well-prepared for it.”
Day said he believes “the opportunity for name, image and likeness for future Buckeyes is going to be off the charts.”
“I’m very, very excited about the opportunity that we have at Ohio State, when you combine Ohio State’s brand, the Ohio State football brand, the fan base, Columbus, the amount of industry that’s here and the 67,000 businesses that are in the greater Columbus area, and then also our social media presence throughout the nation,” Day said Tuesday during an appearance on 97.1 The Fan's Morning Juice. “It’s very exciting, and now when we get these families on campus, we’re gonna really talk to them about what our plan is and what unbelievable opportunity it’s gonna be here.”
Even though its athletes can’t start accepting NIL benefits quite yet, Ohio State is already promoting how it will help athletes maximize their opportunities in that space. While schools won’t be allowed to broker endorsement deals for their athletes, Ohio State has partnered with Opendorse to create a platform – called “THE Platform” – which will provide educational programming and “empower Buckeye student-athletes with a custom assessment of their current brand value alongside a roadmap to maximize it.”
Pantoni said Day and Gene Smith have been “awesome” about preparing for NIL legislation to go into effect, which gives Pantoni confidence that Ohio State can benefit on the recruiting trail from both its existing brand power and the resources it will be offering athletes.
NIL Coming to College Sports
“Other schools are gonna be pitching it, but there’s only a handful of other schools that even have the platform to compete with us on the whole branding process,” Pantoni said. “It’s definitely something that we feel strongly about, so we might as well use it to our advantage.”
Until NIL rules actually go into effect, though, no one can know for sure exactly how it will impact recruiting. While it stands to reason that NIL could increase the gap between college football’s powerhouses and everyone else, as those teams are likely to have the most brand power, recruits might also have more incentive to stay close to home or go to schools where they have an easier path to playing time if that leads to earlier opportunities to make money.
That said, Ohio State plans to focus on what it knows it can offer its athletes rather than on what other schools could offer.
“I personally think it’s hard to predict,” Pantoni said when asked how much he thought NIL would be an advantage for Ohio State vs. other schools. “Just so many unknowns right now, what’s gonna happen. But we’ll just focus on us and do what we gotta do.”
“Other schools are gonna be pitching it, but there’s only a handful of other schools that even have the platform to compete with us on the whole branding process.”– Mark Pantoni on why NIL can be a recruiting tool for Ohio State
Of course, Ohio State has plenty of other selling points beyond potential NIL earning power, which is why it signed the No. 2-ranked recruiting class of 2021 and currently has the No. 2-ranked recruiting class of 2022. The Buckeyes will continue to promote their ability to develop NFL players, compete for national championships and prepare players for life after football as much as they always have; the money-making opportunities that could come with playing at Ohio State will be just one more piece of the puzzle.
But Ohio State certainly isn’t going to shy away from telling recruits about how it believes it can help them profit off their name, image and likeness if that’s something that’s important to a player and his family.
“I think it depends on each kid, and that’s knowing the kid and their families,” Pantoni said. “We’re not gonna overwhelm them with it. We’ll present information. If they have follow-up questions and they seem like it’s really important to them, then we’ll definitely use it more.”