In these first days of December, deer in my backyard and the neighbor’s yard are feasting on discarded pumpkins after the days October and November, the key months for college football drama. And now, like the deer outside, we’re left to feast on what was.

Tectonic plate shifts will rattle college football’s foundations next year. Massive conference realignment becomes reality in 2024. A 12-team playoff arrives. The transfer portal has already sucked in successful starting quarterbacks at major programs. Big NIL money will flow to some players, while others will be surprised at the lack of depth and breadth in the NIL marketplace.

AND… just this week the NCAA proposed new rules allowing certain teams to pay athletes up to $30,000 a year in an educational trust fund. This is an attempt to avoid athletes being classified as employees and true revenue sharing with collective bargaining and benefits. Expect more court action. 

For now, big coaching contracts, NIL and the transfer portal may seem like good things for coaches and players. But a wise man always told me “You never get anything for free. It may not be obvious right away, but there will always be a cost.”

Over a year ago in an NBC News interview, I stated that universities should just admit that we are in the sports entertainment business now. Our hearts may feel differently, but the facts tell us that we’ve professionalized college football.

The costs of the current era have manifested themselves in several ways.

There is far more talk about money now. 

Fully guaranteed contracts for head coaches and even assistant coaches are bigger than ever. And it is all played out publicly. Widespread legalized college sports gambling means fans now have money riding on the game’s outcomes. Winning isn’t enough; coaches and players have to cover the spread. 

There has always been criticism of coaches. Old-school coaches had the confidence to ignore most of it and be defiant about the rest. This generation of coaches seems more sensitive to it, getting into exchanges with people on social media and in press conferences. Some wonder aloud why there is so much criticism.

And with NIL, the players have become professionals in the eyes of fans. They know players are driving free Teslas or BMWs and making more money than professors who teach the classes players are supposed to attend. And players can jump from your school to a rival school any time they want—unrestricted free agency.

Consequently, for the players, the level of personal criticism from fans has increased. They’re taking incoming fan fire for failing to achieve offseason promises of great seasons or “Playing For The Natty” –as in the National Championship.

When a player throws interceptions or fumbles in a key game, the braying jackasses of social media are there to call them out. Like it or not, there is a reason for it. These guys are no longer seen just as college students playing for their school. 

To promote their “brands,” players have taken to social media. It is a necessary evil to make NIL money. But what we’re not telling these players is that the exposure you want on social media to make more money comes with increased accessibility. The minute a player posts about an energy drink or a restaurant, it opens the door for someone to blast them on social media. Fans also feel freer to boo these guys. They need to be equipped mentally to take that blowback.

Another part of building a brand includes answering media questions, including tough questions after losses. But rather than bemoan the tough questions, we should prepare them mentally to expect it. They should understand what comes with putting themselves out there to make money.

We know there are likely more mental health issues coming for student-athletes. After three years of consulting for a national NIL firm, I know the stories from schools around the country. Our group talked about the unintended mental health issues coming with NIL almost from the outset.

These are all things we’ve learned that come with the NIL era. But we’ve also learned that most schools have not adequately prepared players to deal mentally with all the demands of going to school, playing and running their NIL brand. 

Some families push players to make NIL money. And families and agents pressure players to jump from one school to another chasing playing time or more money. And these players are now dealing with the adult issues that come with their new fiscal status.

In a few weeks when we turn the page to the 2024 season, these pressures will remain. We can only hope that our universities learn the lessons of what this new era means before massive rule changes arrive again.

Because in 2024, just as everyone has adjusted to the offseason demands and responsibilities under the current rules, more change is coming. By this time next year, court decisions may bulldoze this week’s NCAA’s proposal, paving the way for the players to become employees and allow collective bargaining. 

That ushers in an era of a players’ union, contracts between players and schools and a whole lot more. And as alluded to by Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, paying players will require pay cuts for coaches and a restructuring of the entire fiscal model of college athletics.

So, enjoy these next few weeks. Feast on the memories of the past few months, enjoy the feast of the bowl and playoff season ahead before we feel more earthquakes ahead.

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