Texas A&M Football: Could the Aggies’ NIL Setup Backfire?

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 06: The student section is seen during the game between the Texas A&M Aggies and Auburn Tigers at Kyle Field on November 06, 2021 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 06: The student section is seen during the game between the Texas A&M Aggies and Auburn Tigers at Kyle Field on November 06, 2021 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Texas A&M football and NIL controversy seem to generate at least one huge headline per month at this point. First, the many accusations leveled at the Aggies due to their record-setting 2022 class, which directly followed what many considered a disappointing season. These accusations even arose from coaches in the SEC West—one of whom continues to hold a grudge against Jimbo and Texas A&M football even now. Then came the disastrous 2023 season, wherein the Aggies—plagued by injury, inexperience, and a lack of offensive identity—amassed a 5-7 record, much to the delight of the doubters.

Following this, the Aggies saw a number of portal entries, bringing about cries that the Aggies’ “great NIL experiment” had failed. Of course, the facts are that only one player who recorded a stat in the Aggies’ final game of the year entered the portal; that most of the highly-rated 2022 class has stuck with Texas A&M football; and that the conspiracy theory that the Aggies dropped huge bags of cash to get that class is rooted in either baseless speculation or a lazy evaluation of cherry-picked, surface-level facts.

As Vern Poythress has written, however, all knowledge is contextually colored. Those who believe that the Aggies cheated to get their 2022 class will interpret all further, related developments through that lens. They will continue to do so until presented with an alternative theory so convincing that the cognitive dissonance between those facts and their previous interpretations causes a paradigm shift in this area. With the secondhand nature of most college football fans’ knowledge of the inner workings of recruiting, as well as the lack of penalty for misinformation, such a shift seems unlikely.

With that in mind, it is no surprise that Texas A&M football was the target of more accusations when the 12th Man Foundation—a fundraising entity contracted by the school but, importantly, a legally separate body—announced the new 12th Man+ Fund. The long and the short of this innovation is that the 12th Man Foundation—a longtime fixture in the Texas A&M athletics scene—now was in the NIL game. Donors could direct their money towards specific Texas A&M athletic programs, raising NIL funds for the players on those teams, and earn priority points for their donation. This innovation not only requires the specific legal setup that the 12th Man Foundation has in relationship to Texas A&M, but is bolstered by the laws in the state of Texas.

This is a distinct competitive advantage in the new NIL space. Other programs within the state don’t have long-established fundraising bodies close to their athletic departments but still legally separate in the way that A&M does, so even if they try to set up something similar, they would lack the combination of clout and fundraising power of the 12th Man+ Fund.

Still, wherever there is an advantage such as this, there will be competitors trying to erase it. Ross Dellenger of SI dropped an article today about the confusing intersection of the NCAA’s NIL guidelines, state laws, and university-level regulations. He certainly garnered some eye-catching quotes, such as the one below from the president of Georgia:

Let’s be clear: by all available information, Texas A&M has done their homework. They are not putting their athletes at risk by cooperating with the 12th Man Foundation in this venture. Texas A&M football and other sports stand to gain from this innovation in their approach.

It’s important to remember that this is a particularly advantageous setup for the Aggies relative to other schools in the conference; therefore, naysaying of this type is to be expected. It’s not as if underhanded behavior hasn’t been happening in this conference—and, indeed, all of collegiate athletics—for a long time. So to purport that the Aggies, by using their natural advantages as an institution, are acting in some specially dangerous way is pretty ridiculous.

At the end of the day, the NCAA won’t come after Texas A&M football, Texas A&M basketball, or any of the Aggies’ other sports. There’s nothing they can do to stop the Aggies in this sphere, because the Aggies have conducted themselves according to the laws in the state in which they are located. They won’t because they know if they do, they will suffer yet another humiliating and precedent-setting loss in court.

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