Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack Cause Commotion at Uni. of Miami Over NIL Endorsements
The year is 2022, and college athletics as we know them are in a rather unique place that will see the landscape of college sports change dramatically in the forthcoming years. This past summer, the NCAA relaxed its rather stringent restrictions regarding NIL (name, image and likeness) deals and are now allowing college athletes to utilize their likeness in the pursuit of brand partnerships for the first time in NCAA history. This has seemingly been a long time coming as detractors of the NCAA have often argued in favor of paying the athletes at the behest of NCAA athletics give the amount of revenue they are responsible for generating year in and year out, but this is the first time the NCAA has, both literally and metaphorically, put their money where their mouth is. In some cases we are witnessing individuals as young as 18 years old secure deals worth millions of dollars and watching their lives change virtually overnight, however once money is involved these things tend to get a bit messy. We are now seeing the first example of how messy it can get down at the University of Miami where NCAA boosters are eager to sign large checks in favor of attracting premier talent to the university only to witness the ensuing power struggles between the NCAA and its athletes. The University of Miami is one of the premier Division 1 schools in all of NCAA athletics with a rich history that dates back several decades and includes national championships across virtually every sport. They have a laundry list of notable alumni who are ready and willing to support the University in their efforts to attract elite talent to Miami in the form of NIL endorsements, with Nijel Pack being the latest NCAA athlete to benefit from said willingness. Pack played basketball at Kansas State Wildcats last season where he started as a guard and averaged over 17 points per game, however the team struggled as a whole finishing 9th in the Big 12 with a record of just 14 wins and 17 losses. Pack subsequently elected to enter the transfer portal, upon which he received a big payday: UM booster John H. Ruiz announced via his personal twitter account that Pack had signed a two-year endorsement deal with Ruiz’s company LifeWallet which guarantees him $800,000, as well as a car, pending his commitment to transfer to UM to play basketball next season. While many would view this as a major win for both Pack and the University of Miami, one prospect seemingly felt slighted when he heard the news of Pack’s signing and highlighted the potential downside of these newfound NIL agreements. Isaiah Wong began his basketball career at UM back in 2019 and has become an integral part of their basketball program since he first stepped on campus. His commitment predated the NCAA relaxing its rules regarding NIL endorsements however, meaning that it wasn’t until his junior season that Wong could start utilizing and benefiting financially from his likeness as a Miami Hurricane’s basketball player. Like Pack, Wong also signed a deal with Ruiz’s company LifeWallet which would allow the company to utilize Wong’s likeness in endorsements and would see Wong benefit from any such efforts financially; the problem? Wong’s deal was for considerably less than Pack’s, and left such a bad taste in the prospect’s mouth that he went as far as threatening to enter the transfer portal this past week if he didn’t see an increase in the amount of money he would receive from the NIL endorsements he had already committed to. Wong has every right to transfer schools if he feels that is the best route for him to go, however this situation highlights the looming issues surrounding paying college athletes and is likely a big part of why the NCAA was so stringent regarding any such deals in the first place. Wong isn’t considered one of the top, elite prospects in NCAA basketball, however he played an integral role in Miami’s Elite Eight run this past March. While he has seemingly earned every penny that has been promised to him, this situation only serves to catalyze the politics surrounding NCAA athletics and could highlight a potential hurdle for high level Division 1 schools moving forward. Not only do schools have to be able to attract elite talent, now they have to be able and willing to pay them to attend their respective school and put on a jersey. Wong ultimately went back on what he said and has elected to remain at the University of Miami, but only after speaking to Ruiz who agreed to help him pursue other NIL endorsements while enrolled at and playing basketball for UM. Division 1 athletics have been governed by an unwritten set of politics for quite some time now, however the newfound NIL opportunities being presented to athletes have already begun to bring those politics to the forefront. Wong isn’t even the first athlete to go this route with Wichita State's Craig Porter making similar threats before the university announced plans to form an NIL collective which promised Porter a substantial package for his NIL if he were to stay at Wichita State, which he ultimately elected to do. As NIL deals become increasingly common, more and more will athlete’s commitments become dependent upon the financial benefits they receive as a result. It is only a matter of time before we see an elite prospect utilize a similar tactic to increase the amount of money they receive from their NIL endorsements, then virtually all bets are off.
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