Tennessee football: Kirby Smart is just scared of Vols with NIL concerns

Jul 20, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart awaits his turn on the stage during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart awaits his turn on the stage during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ve heard a lot of ridiculous comments about name image and likeness, but Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart’s take from earlier this week may take the cake. What’s clear is that he’s simply against it because of the recruiting edge he’s about to lose against other schools, mainly Tennessee football.

Smart’s top concern wasn’t about NIL money being used to recruit players, which is debatable, and it wasn’t about the sustainability of it. Those things are concerns, but that’s not where he went to first. Where he went to first was the amount of money players were making.

According to Dave Wilson of ESPN, Smart referred to it as a “reverse system” in a question and answer session at the Texas High School Coaches Association convention in San Antonio, one day before he took the podium at SEC Media Days. Here’s what he said.

"“What I can’t accept is some young man getting $10,000 a month for four years or three years of college? That’s $120K a year. What do you think he’s doing with that? Is that actually gonna make him more successful in life? Because, I promise you, if you handed me $10K a month my freshman year of college, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I believe that.”"

So Smart’s contention is that it’s not good for a player to make that much money early on? Would he rather players be broke? Yes, some players won’t be smart with their money. Blowing money irresponsibly, though, is usually still better than not having money in the first place.

Also, Smart then spoke at SEC Media Days Wednesday about an unnamed player being able to support his father on dialysis with that NIL money. He didn’t even deny that was a good thing, and he’s acknowledged he’s in favor of NIL. So where is the issue with the amount coming from?

Here’s the issue. The amount of NIL money is so substantial that it will take away a huge recruiting advantage Smart has. UGA is one of the top four or five places to recruit at in the country when you factor in program prestige, proximity to elite talent and competition from other programs.

Only the Ohio State Buckeyes and LSU Tigers are clear-cut higher, and you then have a case for the USC Trojans and Alabama Crimson Tide. Texas and Florida schools have too much competition. UGA’s only competition is the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and that’s not real competition.

Simply put, the nature of location and prestige favors Smart. However, if you throw in the NIL factor, schools that are ahead of Georgia on that can nullify the advantage. Most important among them for Smart is Tennessee football.

As reported by Eric Prisbell of On3 back in May, the Vols have one of the five most ambitious NIL collectives. Joining them were the Texas Longhorns, Oregon Ducks, Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators. Want to know who wasn’t on that list? Georgia.

Now, Florida could be competition as well, but UGA recruits a different territory than the Gators. The Vols, though, rely heavily on Georgia prospects to build their program since they don’t have the same level of talent from within their home state.

Just look at the 1998 national championship team. Cosey Coleman, Deon Grant and even Jamal Lewis before he got hurt were key that year, and all of them came from that state. With the new NIL money, the Vols will be able to use their proximity to Atlanta to recruit that region too.

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Taking that into account, Smart’s fear about the amount of NIL money is about fear of Tennessee football. Substantial differences is what will give the Vols a recruiting edge. Notice that Ryan Day of OSU, Nick Saban of Alabama and Brian Kelly of LSU have all complained about this to a degree. That’s because like Smart, this takes away their proximity edge in recruiting.