As NIL has become increasingly intertwined with recruiting in college sports, Ohio State’s stance on how it’s approaching NIL has gradually changed over time.
When college athletes were first permitted to begin benefitting from their names, images and likenesses on July 1, 2021, Ohio State took a mostly hands-off approach to NIL. While Ohio State instructed athletes to disclose all NIL activities to the university and provided education to athletes to help them maximize their NIL opportunities, OSU initially stayed away from assisting athletes to actually line up NIL deals, citing a lack of clarity from the NCAA on what universities were and weren’t allowed to do.
Over time, Ohio State has gotten more involved in helping arrange NIL deals for its athletes. The athletic department changed its guidelines in January to allow designated staff members to work with brands and collectives interested in funding NIL deals for Ohio State athletes. It also launched an NIL Corporate Ambassador Program in June to facilitate partnerships between Ohio State athletes and local businesses. Those efforts have been focused on generating NIL opportunities for current Buckeyes rather than on potential future Buckeyes.
Around the country, however, NIL collectives have become increasingly influential in recruiting – particularly in college football – as top prospects have received lucrative offers tied to attending specific schools. While Ohio state law prohibits directly offering NIL payments to recruits, collectives can have conversations with recruits about the deals that could be available to them once they arrive at Ohio State.
In what was seemingly an acknowledgment that Ohio State needs to create more NIL opportunities for recruits if it’s going to continue to attract top recruiting classes, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith released a statement last week in which he publicly endorsed the three NIL collectives currently supporting Ohio State athletes: Cohesion Foundation, The Foundation and The “O” Foundation.
There has never been a more exciting time to be a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Excellence within our programs and remarkable experiences for our student-athletes will always be the standard at Ohio State, while competing for championships, academic excellence and graduating, and preparing for life after sports are our goals.
Recent guidance updates from the NCAA clarified how schools can be involved with Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) activities of student-athletes. Many of our Buckeyes are taking advantage of this, and we are committed to supporting our current and future student-athletes while building strong, competitive programs.
We welcome your help in keeping Ohio State at the top of the college athletics landscape. Three “collective” organizations that are helping our Buckeyes maximize NIL opportunities are in operation now and seeking additional support.
Smith chose not to comment further when asked by Eleven Warriors this week why he released that statement. But Ryan Day acknowledged during a press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Tuesday that Ohio State needs the support of the collectives to remain competitive on the NIL front.
“It's certainly a priority for us to make sure we have everything we need to support our players. And that's kind of where I’ll leave it right there,” Day said. “We have some folks that are really helping and doing everything they can and that's great. We're gonna need as much help as we can moving forward. But the great news is we have great fans who want to support it, and we're gonna make sure we do everything we can to make sure our guys get what's fair.”
Day also said NIL has increasingly become a topic of conversation with recruits. Many recruits and their families are now more concerned about NIL opportunities than any other factor when choosing which school they’ll attend.
“It was never part of the conversation, then it became part of the conversation, and it's trending towards being the conversation for a lot of folks,” Day said, emphasizing the word ‘the.’ “So just as time has gone on, it's become more and more of a priority for folks. And so navigating those times and adapting is important.”
Because schools are still not allowed to pay players directly, they are forced to rely on donor-led NIL collectives to help them recruit players, which certainly isn’t an arrangement that Day or other coaches throughout college football love. While Day didn’t want to get into specifics on Tuesday about what he thinks the NCAA should do to regulate NIL, he indicated displeasure with the current state of affairs.
“That's a deep question that I'm not going to jump into right now,” Day said. “But I will say, there are times where you ask that question, ‘What are we doing?’ I'll just leave it at that right now.”
Since many NIL deals are never disclosed publicly, it remains difficult to gauge where Ohio State truly stacks up with other major college football programs in terms of what’s available to its players and recruits right now. While there have been growing rumblings about OSU falling behind in NIL from a recruiting perspective, the Buckeyes still have the seventh-ranked recruiting class of 2023 and the sixth-ranked recruiting class of 2024, the latter most recently bolstered by the commitment of No. 2 overall prospect Jeremiah Smith.
When asked about his comment earlier this year that Ohio State would need $13 million in NIL money to keep its roster intact, Day said he did not know how close OSU is to actually reaching that number but said OSU must do as much as it can to try to get there.
“I think that's the thing that we're working towards, but it's here … it's not going anywhere,” Day said about the need for NIL money to recruit and retain players. “So embracing it and moving forward and having all those things working towards exactly that is where we all have to be and where we're going.
“I don't know exactly where we're at with all that right now, but that's the goal. I mean, that has to be it. And, you know, we're all in. And, again, we got to do everything we can to fight for our players to make sure they have what they need, and we gotta be on the forefront of that. So that's important. And our players need to know that we're fighting for them. We are. And the same thing with recruits.”
“It was never part of the conversation, then it became part of the conversation, and it’s trending towards being the conversation for a lot of folks.”– Ryan Day on NIL in recruiting
Day recognizes that the influence of NIL on recruiting will continue to grow unless the NCAA actually cracks down on the use of NIL as recruiting inducements. But he expressed optimism that Ohio State will be well-positioned because of the support it is receiving from its collectives and fans.
“We're gonna need all the help we can get. But that's kind of the way it is across the country right now,” Day said. “And the great news is we're positioned really, really well in Columbus and with our fan base to do just that. And our team has done very, very well here on campus and over the last year, they've done great. So we're gonna keep building towards that and just make sure that everyone knows that this is real.”