NIL+Portal vs education and graduation

One thing I haven’t seen coming up in most discussions about college athletics and the current insanity is its impact on education and graduation.

As the sports (mostly football and basketball) overtly professionalize and teams become a random, yearly gathering of mercenaries who hop from school to school for $$ and media exposure…

What happens to student athlete graduation rates? I’ve taught and had athletes in my class (decades ago) and it wasn’t great then but at least the U and the PAC had an emphasis on using the college to provide actual education that ended in a high graduation rate.

But when these kids are chasing money through different schools each year where does that go honestly?

Yes, the absurdity of NIL & portal may make it so some student athletes get a bigger paycheck than they are likely to get at the NFL for a year or two which (like Cam) may get them to come back.

But what’s the impact on the remaining 90% who aren’t getting big NIL money but who also don’t have cohesive teams and see everyone running for the door to make more $$ as fast as possible?

We don’t have data for this yet really but I think we are going to see declining academic performance and increased drop out rates parallel the transfer rates and in the end the colleges need to decide if they are in this for education or not. Because as it currently trends I think it’s become clearly about everything but getting a quality education.

This isn’t a U thing…this is a nation wide college integrity thing.

One unforgettable moment from my undergrad years: Professor R.J. Snow talking to a small group of us about our approach to higher education, especially what was then called liberal education: “You have to decide whether to emphasize what you want to do, or who you want to be.”


Ever since our inception in the PAC12 we have had top level GPA and graduation rates> I hope this continues as ther is certainly more to University and life than athletics.


For the people that stay or finish their eligibility at a school, the team’s graduation rates will appear ok. But for the hundreds/thousands that enter the portal and don’t land somewhere OR have to drop a division OR keep jumping, I think education and degrees will significantly decline.

This is a huge worry as the student athlete becomes the mercenary athlete. The loss of recognition that a scholarship has value. And a scholarship to a strong academic school. Now, there are other anecdotes, like Nate Johnson going to Vandy, but that’s not the norm. Of course, those high star athletes making most of the high level NIL dollars - are they really there for an education anyway? Maybe, maybe not. Seems more like a pathway to the NFL.


This reminds me of getting a rhetorical question from a faculty member about athletics: “What does having a football team have to do with the mission of a serious university?

The question is tougher to answer than it was before.

I predict Stanford spends a couple of years trying to make the ACC work, then they might turn the dial down on their FB program. The Portal is tough for Stanford, NIL makes a mockery of their mission. Add in the upcoming travel…

Yep, something’s gonna give in Palo Alto.



In the past, it was a way to let students continue in athletics. Then it grew into bigger money. Lately, sports is more or less a marketing tool to attract students to that university. Now, it’s its own beast that often overshadows the university purpose.

Of course, the academic side of things is broke too, with more emphasis placed on research dollars than quality teaching, at least in STEM (more of a halo effect/afterthought). That is why I eschewed academia and make my living in the private sector.


My answer then was high-level athletics is a marketing engine for the university, and also helps provide opportunities to kids who come from backgrounds where higher education may not be a common aspiration.

Those are still true, but both aspects are coming under pressure with the distorting effects of Portal and NIL, and external political trends that might adversely impact athletics (and certainly will present challenges for the schools who are similarly trying to broaden the American Dream).

Things that offer hope that colleges can withstand the pressures and CFB and other high level athletics can evolve away from the troublesome trends:

  • Athletics is a great distraction from other parts of life that are negative, they unify people across economic class, ethnicity and religion.
  • Realignment, NIL and the Portal might not be sustainable, so there is pressure for the powers that be to address these issues.