Can Clemson Remain Competitive in NIL Era?

By now you’ve probably heard about what has been going on at Texas A&M in regards to football recruiting.

Boosters have raised over $30M for NIL deals and recruiting efforts to catapult Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies to the highest ranked recruiting class for 2022, and one of the highest ranked classes ever. This includes 6 five-star prospects, 19 four-stars and 3 three-stars per 247Sports. That’s quite an impressive haul, and now they have a fully loaded roster, ready to hit the ground running.

In comparison, Clemson boasts just 1 five-star, 7 four-stars, and 3 three-stars for the 24th overall class. That’s not even enough to cover their current needs, let alone compete for a top class. Clearly, former defensive coordinator Brent Venebles’ departure played a role in this, as four players decommited shortly after it was announced. However, as of now, Clemson has been unable to fill these voids via recruiting efforts or the transfer portal.

It is also worth mentioning that Caleb Williams, last year’s starting quarterback and presumed starter for the 2022 season at Oklahoma, announced his intention to enter the transfer portal. At first glance it seemed as though he may just have been following former head coach Lincoln Riley to his new home at USC, but that did not materialize, as of yet at least.

There is much speculation flooding the internet that he may be taking his services to the highest bidder. He is the best player currently in the transfer portal, at the most important position, so he could demand a hefty price. This is the first time we have seen anything like that in college football.

No one blames the young men for seeking compensation, and given their situation most of us would possibly do something similar. It would be disingenuous to not assume at least some elite players were getting some type of compensation behind closed doors prior to the inception of the NIL, but now it is on an entirely different level. Million dollar deals are very achievable. Just ask Quinn Ewers who committed to Ohio State, collected some profit, then bolted to go back to Texas.

This is a brave new world of paying players, and one that small market teams like Clemson may have a difficult time adjusting to. Dabo Swinney has built his program and culture like a family. That has served him and Clemson very well. The question is whether that culture will hold up in the future, in regards to signing elite players.

Setting emotions aside and looking at the facts, it becomes pretty obvious that Clemson will have zero shot to land players who are chasing the cash. The truth of the matter is that Clemson likely wouldn’t have wanted those players to begin with.

A reasonable forecast would be that Clemson likely doesn’t have much of a chance to land a number one rated class going forward, simply because of the money aspect. That doesn’t mean, however, that Clemson can’t compete. They just need to slightly adjust how they do business.

As these larger market teams sign these huge classes chock full of talent, many will hit the transfer portal within a year or so because of lack of playing time. That’s where the playing field will be evened somewhat. Not to mention the coaches that will be on the hot seat immediately following a down year when those boosters forking out the dough are not happy with the on field production.

Historically, Clemson has never landed a number one class per 247Sports anyways. They have came pretty close, but it hasn’t happened primarily due to the lower number of players that Clemson signs. They certainly haven’t lacked quality players, that’s for sure. The quality of player that Clemson recruits has been comparable with the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the college football world.

Clemson may not have the boosters with the funds to compete with Texas A&M or other larger market teams, but time will tell if money can actually buy them a championship. For now, all Swinney has to do is keep the culture alive and well, and keep putting players in the NFL and the rest will take care of itself, as making it to the NFL, where the really big money comes into play, is still the ultimate goal of most college football players.

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