Texas offensive lineman Christian Jones remembers walking up to Bijan Robinson not long ago and asking for a lift, figuring it was least the All-American running back could do for one of the big guys doing all the blocking.
“He said there's a height limit,” Jones said with a smile.
Turns out there's not much space in a Lamborghini for a 6-foot-6, 328-pound teammate.
“The suspension would probably be messed up," Jones added.
Thanks to a bold new era of name, image and likeness compensation deals across college sports, plenty of star players are cruising around campus in a fancy ride. But for every NIL millionaire like Robinson, there are thousands of athletes who have hardly struck it rich.
“For sure, you have the haves and the have-nots,” said Jake Brandon, who founded a NIL collective at BYU to help put some extra money in the pockets of Cougar athletes. “We’ve given out thousands and thousands of dollars to the athletes, but we haven’t given out millions and millions of dollars to the athletes."
According to the NIL platform INFLCR, the average transaction involving a college football player is $3,396, while a similar platform called Athliance puts it at $3,391. But those numbers are skewed by exceptionally large deals signed by elites such as Robinson and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud; the median deal through INFLCR’s platform is just $53.
That's hardly enough for a tank of gas in Robinson's flashy orange Lamborghini.
Jones can at least count himself among those cashing in better than that. At Texas, the Horns With Heart NIL group has pledged to pay every scholarship offensive lineman $50,000 a year for work on behalf of charities. It's not millions, but it's still a lot compared to most.
“The most common request I get from athletes is, ‘Can you help me get a NIL deal to get groceries this month?' Or, 'I got a flat tire in my sidewall and I don’t have the money to cover it. Can you help me get a NIL deal?’" Brandon recalls telling a local Utah business. "So the majority of people in college football, if you look at the broad spectrum, are not walking away with six-figure NIL deals. They’re more likely to be walking away with a couple extra thousand dollars.”
They're more like the deals found on the Opendorse platform, where Tennessee fans can get a recorded shoutout from linebacker Tyler Baron for as little as $10 or an autograph for $25. Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez will author a targeted social media post starting at $125 while Memphis defensive back Quindell Johnson is open to custom requests.
The Opendorse offers are take ’em-or-leave ’em opportunities, allowing athletes to decide what makes sense for them.
“For me, it’s been nothing more than fun,” said Martinez, the prolific former Nebraska quarterback who will start for the Wildcats this season. “I’ve never wanted it to stress me out.”
The additional stress is why some players, such as Iowa's Riley Moss, have opted out of NIL deals entirely.
The Big Ten’s top defensive back last season, Moss declined to participate in a players-led collective called the Iowa City NIL Club so that he could focus on this season and, with any luck, embark on a far more lucrative NFL career.
Other athletes take on NIL activities only in the summer, when there are fewer demands on their time. And in many cases, the few hundred dollars they get can supplement an often modest stipend that they get from their schools.
“You know, after workouts, you might have gotten in an extra workout or you might have done some things, but now they might say you have to go to this event,” West Virginia defensive tackle Dante Stills said. “Like, I’ve gone to multiple events where I’ve signed autographs, taken pictures. Stuff like that. Just interacting with fans.”
Stills didn’t say how much he’s made on NIL deals, but he did admit the extra cash makes everyday life easier.
“Obviously my first three years, you know, being a college athlete, it’s hard,” Stills said, “especially with, like, the money, the stipend you get. That doesn’t last you a long time. So just adding on this NIL, I’m very appreciative and thankful for it, and I know a lot of people are. It’s helping out you and your family.”
AP sports writers Schuyler Dixon, Stephen Hawkins, Erica Hunzinger and Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.
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