Gordon Monson: Questions for Utah, BYU, Utah State and other schools swirl in the chaos of NIL payouts

Former USU forward Great Osobor will reportedly make $2 million next season at Washington.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies forward Great Osobor (1) dunks the ball as Utah State faces San Francisco in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023.

Where will the NIL chaos/craziness/circus end?

“I don’t know.”

I broke a double-shot of personal rules with those two items: 1) Don’t start a column with a question; 2) Don’t start a column with a quote, especially a non-definitive one that says nothing.

But, in this case, both of the above do say something. They are central to what’s on a lot of college sports fans’ and coaches’ minds about now — for good reason. The question is what I’m asked again and again, week after week, the quote is from a respected major athletics department administrator. And he meant what he said — he has no clue how or where or when the NIL spin will cave in on itself, but he figures it will not remain over the long haul the way it is at present.

How is it at present? Out of freaking control.

Example A is the recent news that former Utah State forward Great Osobor signed to play at Washington, where former Aggie coach Danny Sprinkle now runs the program, for … what’s this, $2 million? For one year? That’s right, t-w-o-m-l-l-i-o-n-d-o-l-l-a-r-s. It’s unknown how much of that total will come from marketing deals and how much is simply slapped on Osobor’s personal barrel for signing up in Seatte. Granted, he’s a fine player who helped Utah State do some unexpected things this past season as they qualified for the NCAA Tournament, but …

Good lord.

Maybe as a hamburger climbs toward costing $100 in some posh eateries in some cities these days, $2 million ain’t what it used to be. And yet, it sounds a bit pricey for a dude who isn’t exactly Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or even Victor Wembanyama. What would those guys get as college basketball stars in this current market?

The answer: As much as a player’s best agent and a school’s richest booster or combination of boosters were able and willing to shell out.

Somebody stated the other day that the math, in many of these situations happening here, there, not quite everywhere, doesn’t work out. More than a few of these athletes are not/will not be worth what they’re being paid. My response was, it’s not a purely mathematical formula, at least not every time. If a booster or a collective offers up a boatload for an athlete, will that athlete generate that kind of cash in return for the marketers or the school he represents or for which he or she plays — via sales pitches, via increased interest, via ticket sales, via gear sold, via results — and the money generated thereby — on the court or on the field?

Sometimes, sometimes not.

What we’re often looking at here is an emotional buy on the part of marketers and especially boosters who have more money than they can ever spend and that have a love of and a rooting interest for their favorite school that is only exceeded by the far reaches of their ego. I get it. I have some good friends who fit into such blessed/cursed predicaments.

Their expenditure doesn’t have to pay off financially for them or for their school, their football or basketball team and it doesn’t even have to make sense.

Look at it this way: If a wealthy man wants to get around town, he can buy a car. Mobility is important. Got to get from place to place. But a Hyundai Elantra will do that just as efficiently as a Mercedes-Benz Maybach Exelero. It might not do it as fast, or as comfortably, or as impressively, but no matter, it will do it just the same.

So why does the rich guy do it? He has his reasons, even if he’s not a collector who wants to turn the car into a garage queen and sell it later for even more than the ridiculous price he originally paid. Instead, he wants to get out and drive it, be seen driving it, and beat the daylights out of it.

Nike founder Phil Knight has opened up the vault for Oregon athletics, in one way or another, a thousand times over, and the Ducks have frequently flourished on account of his largesse. He’s made a huge difference for that school competitively. Perhaps he’s gotten some monetary kickback for his donations, but here’s what he’s gotten more than anything — gratitude and gravitas, approval and approbation.

In Eugene, he’s not just the man, he’s the king.

Athletes might help sell some product for some entities, but how much? Hmm.

Boosters who either individually or as a part of a collective lure in an athlete to a football or basketball program that otherwise wouldn’t have considered that school, those poo-bahs enjoy a status that’s hard to come by. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy one helluva quarterback — hello, Cam Rising — or power forward — hello, Great Osobor — or a coach — hello, Kevin Young.

Schools and their boosters don’t always get what they pay for. Some of these mercenaries aren’t as good of a talent or a fit as they seem. Some might get injured. Some might crumble under the new pressure that a big contract — or whatever the proper term should be called — brings.

I never liked the old, antiquated NCAA rules that were so prohibitive in what young athletes could and couldn’t do, the way schools that were pocketing big money from their services used them and the term “amateurism” as some lofty, glorified, above-the-fray, exalted state of being that in reality just allowed institutions to give those athletes little for what the schools were getting in return. On the other hand, I didn’t like cheaters — and there was a whole lot of that going on for years, for decades — in those confines because it gave certain programs a competitive advantage over other programs.

But what do we have now? Certain programs getting a competitive advantage over other programs — and some athletes reaping the rewards because so many businessmen and boosters want to drive an Exelero, not an Elantra.

When and how and where it will end, to quote the aforementioned AD, “I don’t know.”

Even the pro leagues have salary caps and free agency/contract rules that are supposed to at least partially level off ridiculous advantages for teams that do cannonballs into their huge stacks of cash.

Money doesn’t always — not even now — win the day in college sports. But it wins it more often than it doesn’t. Just ask the Aggies of Utah State, who now have not only lost their star coach to lucre’s lure, but also their star forward.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.