Friday, September 29, 2023

NIL and the Minnesota Psyche

Darius Taylor is pretty good, yeah? Hoo wee, watching him mash the [REDACTED] player at the line of scrimmage, then taking it outside to break that long tuddy in [REDACTED] was about as close as it gets to meeting god in this plane of existence. I love Mo like he is my only son, but he was never able to break those big touchdown runs. Destroy your soul at the point of contact and charge 20 yards downfield on 3rd and 14, absolutely; but he just never had the speed to outrun the defensive backfield. Darius, as a true freshman, looks like the sort of dude who will not only steal your lunch money, he’ll also swing over and burn down your house after school. Absolute effing killer. The best parts of MBIII and Maroney.

Naturally, the proud representatives of the Gopher innernetz are ecstatic, crowing about how we’ve got a future Heisman contender, lording our successful recruitment of him over other suitors such as Michigan and Wisconsin, and generally throwing deuces to the rest of the college football world in recognition we might have the best running back in the nation in maroon and gold. A little over the top? Maybe. But we’re savvy enough to know when we’ve got something special and are not afraid to let other people know in the most condescending possible ways.

Ah, no. Alas. That is not, in fact, how most of us are handling this. In the true spirit of the Minnesota state motto of “OMG WE’RE SO FUCKED” we are managing Darius’ success with the dignity and aplomb of an exploding whale carcass. Simply enjoying good things as good while they are happening while taking steps to ensure the good things keep being good is not in our DNA. We must construct the worst possible future outcome, do approximately nothing to keep it from manifesting into reality, and shriek the whole time about the injustice of it all.

And that, friends, is the current state of dialogue on the Gophers’ NIL situation.

A sampling of the prevailing thinking: “Why isn’t Dinkytown Athletes getting Target to use Gophers in their advertising?” “It’s not fair that fans have to pay for player salaries!” “We’ll never be able to raise enough money to keep Darius and we’re doomed!” A fine slurry of intellectual pap, to be sure. But, having assembled our Strawman of Despair, let’s set it on fire!

*Because people will stick a shiv between my ribs tomorrow if I don’t say this: you are free to spend your money however you see fit. None of what I am about to say is directed at people who don’t have disposable income.

1) Why isn’t Dinkytown Athletes getting Target to use Gophers in their advertising?

First, yeah, the people who are running DTA are well networked and have, with 100% certainty, approached Minnesota’s collection of Fortune 500 companies to gauge their interest in NIL participation. Give them some credit for being competent businesspeople. Second, to believe that Fortune 500 companies are going to be all hot and bothered to use college kids in their advertising reflects a complete disconnect from reality. These firms are operating on a national level, not cutting ads on a state-by-state basis to get Darius in for Minneapolis spots and Braelon Allen in for Steven Avery in Manitowoc County Jail. You need a national star to feature in national advertisements. At the collegiate level, that’s basically Caleb Williams, Caitlin Clark and…that’s about it. Hell, even for NFL players, getting on Fortune 500 spots requires absolute superstardom. For our favorite pro team, the Vikings, that’s Justin Jefferson and /squints/ mayyyybe Kirko Chainz? There are a few other Vikings that you’ll see on billboards for local companies, but they are very, very much the exceptions. If Fortune 500 and smaller regional firms aren’t banging down the doors to get NFL players into their advertising campaigns, I’m not sure why you would expect they’d do differently for our favorite rodential players.

2) “It’s not fair that fans have to pay for player salaries!”

You’re right. It isn’t. That college football teams bring in tens-to-hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and it is somehow the burden of the fans to provide player compensation is the height of idiocy. It is, as the kids used to say, a feature of late-stage capitalism. Having acknowledged that it is, indeed, extremely not fair, you have three choices: nope out and find a new hobby; indulge yourself in the unfairness of it all, do nothing, hope there are enough other people willing to pay your share, and, if there aren’t, scream about your prescience when the team is horribad; or buck up, realize life isn’t fair and that we all need to do our part to compete in this new reality. DTA can’t move mountains on their own. If we want the team to be competitive, it is literally up to us to make that happen.

I get it, though. There is a principle here that the onus shouldn’t be on us to make this work. And it sucks, because it really shouldn’t be. But I’m not sure I would feel great standing on principle as I watch the team get dismantled week after week in perpetuity. I’ll give what I can, risk throwing good money after bad, hope others are willing to do the same and, if it doesn’t help, I can die knowing I did my best to help something I deeply care about.

3) “We’ll never be able to raise enough money to keep Darius and we’re doomed!”

If Alex Trebek were still with us, I would ask him “What is a self-fulfilling prophecy?” and win the Daily Double. If we collectively believe that we can’t raise enough to keep Darius, then we absolutely will not raise enough money to keep Darius. The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club. Yes, Bucky Irving left for a grip of bills to play at Oregon. Everyone knows this. You do not need to keep telling people that happened. You’ll note, though, that Darius Taylor is not, as of last reading, Bucky Irving. Different person. Different circumstances. One has no bearing on the other as much as our brains want to make that connection.

Fleck’s decision in not offering recruits NIL is brilliant here, in that it recognizes if monetary opportunities are the primary motivator for a recruit, it ain’t going to work here. We will never have the biggest NIL war chest and, according to Fleck, he doesn’t even want the biggest NIL war chest. He wants enough to keep our players here. How much is that? No idea. More than we have today, but a lot less than what Texas A&M can raise.

Will Darius get massive NIL opportunities to play elsewhere? I mean, yeah, if he stays healthy, he will. But NIL was not the primary factor in his decision to commit here, as he was offered more elsewhere during his recruitment. Read that again and repeat it to yourself every time your brain starts screaming at you. He’s already getting something and, based on Fleck’s AAA team appeal and on the emails I’m getting, it’s all hands on deck to raise more so we can keep him. Yes, of course it’s possible his priorities have changed and he is now purely motivated by money; but that gets back to the Minnesota state motto and assuming the worst possible future even when the contrary outcome has real evidence to support it. If you believe there’s no chance we keep him because we can’t come up with the money and you do nothing to help mitigate that risk, I guess I’m not sure why its worth following the team except to hate watch it. Free country, though, brother.

Straw man = dead. Look, I recognize it’s a challenging issue. It’s fundamentally changing the nature of a sport many of us grew up obsessing over and, a lot of times, it feels like it’s being ruined by money. And it just feels wrong when, now, we have to spend more money to fix it for our team. But every other teams’ fan bases are carrying that burden for their teams and, if we don’t carry it for ours, we’re stuck with the burden of creating a broken team. A Sophie’s choice of burdens, to be sure. But, man, we’ve got to try, don’t we?

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