From 'perfectly fine' to worries about 'pocket-watching,' ACC's elite are mixed on future of NIL deals

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The moment Pat Narduzzi began to answer the question, some in the room could already tell a national headline was coming.
Known for his strong opinions, standing at the podium on live television at the Westin Hotel in downtown Charlotte, the Pitt coach was asked Tuesday morning by the Post-Gazette what changes he would make to today’s current NIL landscape. How can arguably the craziest era of college athletics be reigned in? In Narduzzi’s mind, it starts with a salary cap.
“There's got to be a lid on it, right?” Narduzzi said. “I think everybody wants to play under the same rules. The National Football League, they have a salary cap. I think you want to have some type of salary cap. This is what you are allowed to spend, but you can't have universities that maybe have 75,000 students, those guys are all former alumni at some point. When you have 16,000 ... it's going to matter.”
From columnists to top-tier college stars, many weighed in on Narduzzi’s comments over the next few days. Numerous other coaches, along with ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, also expressed their concerns about NIL. But while the leaders of the sport attracted most of the headlines, those responsible for the product on the field also had something to say.
Throughout the three-day ACC Kickoff event, the Post-Gazette spoke with notable players throughout the conference to hear their thoughts on how they would change NIL. From All-American quarterbacks to recently transferred linemen, players of all beliefs and backgrounds weighed in on the sport’s most controversial topic.
Keeping it competitive
While many voiced an opposing stance to Narduzzi’s notion of a “salary cap,” one of the few that took his side happened to be the reigning ACC Player of the Year. When asked what changes he would make to the current NIL landscape, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye quickly brought up Narduzzi’s comments from the day before.
“I think one of the best things that I heard yesterday, and I forget who I heard it from, would be to create something kinda like the NFL salary cap,” Maye said. “That way each team in each league can spend the same amount of money on players, even earning money company-wise. But from the university itself, with collectives, I think teams with more money are going to get the better players, so just trying to find a way to even out that spread between all the ACC schools.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Maye’s mind is focused on a more level playing field. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound signal caller is projected to be one of the top picks in the 2024 NFL draft. With a large payday on the way, Maye’s concerns with NIL are connected to how it affects competition, saying some teams in the league have an advantage over others, thanks to their larger collectives.
“You get into that argument of Clemson having more,” Maye said. “They raise more money than us. Down there at Florida State, they’ve got a lot, too, so it would be kinda capping them, but I think it would even it out and it would make a lot of teams not that much heavier than the others.”
Another quarterback who saw positives in a salary cap is Pittsburgh’s own Phil Jurkovec. Entering his sixth season at the collegiate level, Jurkovec has lived through the changes that NIL brought to the college game. Although he feels a lid on spending could bring more order, he said it could also limit opportunity.
“I think that might be good, because you’d be able to see how much everyone would be making,” Jurkovec said. “You could have certain earning tiers. But at the same time, people should be rewarded. We live in a capitalist society; it shouldn’t be everyone getting paid the same. There should be incentives.”
Other programs believe the willingness to spend big is a reflection upon their desire to win. All-American Florida State defensive end Jared Verse thinks limiting a team’s finances would be bad for both the players and the overall spirit of the game, claiming a cap would all but eliminate the amateur element of college football.
“I think it should be more about leaving it up to each team,” Verse said. “A salary cap, that feels like too much of a business. That makes it feel like we’re too similar to the league already, like we’re under an NFL standard. We shouldn’t put it like that. This is college. It’s still a loose, easy-fitting thing. We shouldn’t have to bring all these lawyers and other people into it to do it. Let’s just leave it fun and light-hearted.”
More money, more problems?
Though at times it can feel like the sport’s boogie man, each player the Post-Gazette spoke with for this story agreed that NIL has had more of a positive impact than a negative one for college athletes.
“I think it’s great for college football,” Miami center Matt Lee said. “Especially for the athletes across the country who are using this to help their families out, or even using this to help set themselves up for whatever they’ll be doing after college football, if that doesn’t include a professional career.”
“NIL has probably helped so many families out in the world,” his teammate Kamren Kinchens, an All-American safety, echoed. “Why stop that? Why prevent someone from earning past a certain threshold? I don’t think there should be a cap on it. It’s perfectly fine how it is now.”
Understandably, players certainly enjoy the financial opportunities that come through NIL. But like in any field, more money can bring more problems.
Numerous players spoke to the Post-Gazette about efforts their team has made to ensure NIL money doesn’t create a divide within the locker room. For Pitt, that means putting everything out in the open.
“We’ve recently had a meeting on NIL, as a team, to make sure this doesn’t become a distraction,” Jurkovec said. “It’s a great thing that we’re fortunate to have, but we’re not going to allow it to become a distraction.”
Meanwhile for Florida State, the mentality is to simply keep one's finances to themselves.
“We don’t really talk about it,” Verse said. “We’ll talk about interesting deals, like the other day when I had to fly out to California for a deal, my teammates were all hyped up for me. But we don’t talk about money amounts.”
Today’s NIL landscape offers little clarity on just how much athletes are truly making. While occasional reports will emerge here and there on big-time brand deals, that’s typically only scratching the surface. Numerous players informed the Post-Gazette that the true money comes through a school’s NIL collective, which is defined by as something independent of a university that gathers funds from boosters and businesses to help facilitate NIL deals for athletes.
Because there is no official connection between a school’s collective and the university, most numbers reported are just rumors. Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said the sport could be better off if those figures were made public.
“I wouldn’t mind that,” Van Dyke said when asked for his thoughts on making NIL collective payouts public information. “I mean, college football is kinda turning into free agency, turning into the level below the NFL, in terms of that stuff. So, I don’t think that would be a bad idea.”
Others disagreed, saying public knowledge of one’s pocket book will only create more potential issues both on and off the field.
“I think it would be worse,” Kinchens said. “That’s when the pocket-watching comes in. Let’s say this year I’m named an All-American and I’m getting $2 from NIL and then you have a guy that just got into college making $5, if I see him making $5, that can cause problems. If I’m good with my $2 from the get-go, that’s fine. If I see another guy who just came to college making more money than me, when I’m one of the premier guys in the league while he hasn’t done anything to prove himself — which, no shame on him, that’s not going to go well.”
“I think it would be a lot for college kids to have their public knowledge out there, especially if you're only 18 years old and getting paid,” Maye said. “It’s a little different once you turn professional. I don’t know about public. I think it would be good public knowledge within the team, so everybody can be honest and know what’s going on.”
‘Part of the game’
Through all the good and bad, the one certainty about NIL is that it’s here to stay.
Similar to how players have been tasked to balance school and athletics, financial obligations have obligations are also now a part of the workload. And while college football players have tutors and coaches to help them improve in the classroom and on the field, some lack the guidance to properly handle the ins and outs of major financial responsibilities.
“There are some people out there that are taking advantage of college football players that may not have great people around them to make decisions,” Maye said. “That’s where I think college football programs need to step in. I think North Carolina does a great job of kinda taking care of us and being smart with who we talk to, who we shake hands with. Protecting us, that’s the main thing college football players want.”
During his opening forum Tuesday, ACC commissioner Phillips expressed a need for federal guidelines that will help protect college athletes from illegitimate opportunities or illegitimate representation. Two-time All-ACC Clemson defensive tackle Tyler Davis believes player safety should be the top priority for those constructing federal NIL legislation in Washington D.C.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Davis said. “Just having an agent that you know you can trust and get you good deals for your brand. Players shouldn’t be getting mixed up with the wrong people because they hired the wrong agent.”
Although many players have heard horror stories about how some college athletes transferred into a new program only to find out they were given empty promises, the consensus in Charlotte was that, at least for now, that’s simply a risk that exists. For North Carolina tight end John Copenhaver, today’s NIL world is, in a way, similar to football — sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
“That’s the game,” Copenhaver said. “It’s a business, I think we can all agree on that. Coaches are here to provide for their families, to put a roof over their wives’ and kids’ heads and clothes on their backs. But that’s the truth. It’s part of the game, and the game isn’t always fair to you.”

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