'How the hell is this going to work?' Coaches, recruits left in the dark with NIL deadline looming

·5 min read

AVON, Conn. — The high-major coaches crowded around the court to watch top-50 prospect Kyle Filipowski, a 6-foot-10 power forward at Wilbraham & Monson Academy who projects as a high-end college player in the class of 2022

Varying hues of powerful basketball brands — Indiana red, Iowa yellow, UConn blue, Ohio State red, North Carolina blue, Virginia orange, Michigan maize and Notre Dame green — lined the floor at different times this weekend at Avon Old Farms. Plenty of others watched with curiosity, with some mid-major schools eyeballing his twin brother, Matt Filipowski, a gritty 6-foot-11 center who also plays at Wilbraham & Monson. 

That familiar scene of coaches in $110 logoed golf shirts bee-hiving around top prospects played out with a different vibe at the New England Prep School Athletic Council showcase event this weekend. An undercurrent of uncertainty disrupted the familiar rhythms of coaches jockeying to be seen by top prospects, as college athletics careens haphazardly toward a moment of unprecedented change.

With July 1 the understood date for the start of some legislation to finally allow college athletes to profit off of their Name, Image and Likeness, coaches had few answers for what to tell recruits like the Filipowski twins the reality will be when they hit campus.

“There’s a sense of, ‘How the hell is this going to work?’” UConn coach Danny Hurley told Yahoo Sports. “What exactly is going to happen? Am I going to drive by a car dealership seeing one of the players do a signing? What is going on here?”

Nearly a half-dozen states have passed bills allowing college athletes to profit off their Name, Image and Likeness starting on July 1. Another dozen or so states, including Connecticut, have passed laws set to begin at varying dates. (The NCAA announced Monday that the “Division I Council voted to recommend the Division I Board of Directors adopt an interim policy that would suspend amateurism rules related to name, image and likeness.” The board of directors meets on Wednesday.) 

The NCAA logo is seen on the basket stanchion before a game between Oral Roberts and Florida during the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament on March 21. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The NCAA logo is seen on the basket stanchion before a game between Oral Roberts and Florida during the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament on March 21. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

But the lack of uniformity, vision and cohesion for a transformative NCAA rule change that will fundamentally alter a billion-dollar business has coaches confused, prospects curious and the facts shrouded with an aura of mystery in the recruiting space.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said that he sent an email to athletic director Jack Swarbrick last week asking for bullet points on what he should and shouldn’t be saying to parents and recruits about the potential benefits of NIL.

Brey said that Swarbrick and Notre Dame are bullish on NIL and have plans to be aggressive and “go for it” in how their players could benefit from NIL. But ambiguity remains, in part because schools can bring in outside firms to help players but can’t directly help athletes cut deals.

“Between what’s going on with the FBI investigation and all the stuff that’s been the circus of college basketball, isn’t it almost predictable?” Brey said of the lack of clarity. “Everyone is looking around for some coaching, and no one can really coach us.”

That includes the players. Kyle Filipowski made clear that being able to profit off of NIL legislation isn’t one of the focuses of his recruitment. “I’m sure it’s going to be passed,” he said. “I’m not really too worried about it.”

But he’s definitely curious. He’s taken recent official visits to Syracuse, Ohio State and Indiana and unofficial visits to UConn and Northwestern. He is headed to Duke and Iowa next week. There's still a lot of time before he hits campus in a year.

He said, as an example, that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was generally “broad” when speaking about potential NIL benefits and mentioned the possibility of Filipowski being in local commercials. On his visit to Ohio State, he learned how they were using an outside company, Opendorse, to help with athlete marketing. He stressed it won’t weigh heavily on his college decision.

“Wherever I go, it’s going to be pretty much the same,” he said of potential benefits. Filipowski is just as intrigued as all the coaches lining the baseline to watch him as to what will happen. “It’s something to help the players out,” Filipowski said. “I know how I look at it. Getting paid for me is a free education. Obviously, some extra benefits for the players is very helpful and courteous.”

Wilbraham & Monson coach Mike Mannix has advised the twins and his other players being recruited to college that NIL shouldn’t be the primary reason a player picks a school.

“I wouldn’t make it the No. 1 priority of differentiating if University A has this and University B has that,” Mannix told Yahoo Sports. “At the college level, they’re still trying to figure things out institutionally.”

He added that he’s told his players: “It’s so convoluted, still. Let’s still concentrate on your relationship with the coaching staff. As long as a plan is in place, you’ll be fine.”

Hurley said that in a few weeks he may drive by a car dealership or chicken wing spot in the state and see players signing autographs. Brey said he wouldn’t know how to answer questions from his veteran players on what he could do to help them run a camp if they wanted to in July. Multiple coaches cautioned that the windfall players and their families are bracing for won’t emerge.

Over the weekend, as three games unfolded on adjoining courts at Avon Old Farms and coaches clustered to watch top prospects, the billion-dollar business of college basketball buzzed on. Will there be an NCAA ruling before July 1? Will there be federal guidance? Will it be the patchwork and rudderless mess we’ve come to expect in college sports? Will an eleventh-hour solution give clarity to all parties? Can high school stars profit before enrolling in college?

As the games rolled on, the uncertainty only increased.

“I wish I knew what was happening,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “There's no game plan.”

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