INDIANAPOLIS — From suggestions on how to handle name, image and likeness deals to talks about College Football Playoff expansion, here are five takeaways from the Big Ten Conference football media days.
After leading Maryland to its first winning season since 2014, coach Mike Locksley said this year’s team is the “deepest” group he’s had since taking over the program in 2019.
“On offense, we have over 163 starts [with] 15 different guys that have started a game,” Locksley said. “On the defensive side of the ball, we have over 113 starts with 16 different guys having started a game. I’m a strong believer in continuity leading to success.”
According to ESPN’s SP+ rankings, which take into account returning production, recent recruiting and recent history, Maryland enters the season with the 15th-best offense in the country.
Besides redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the Terps’ talented receivers, Maryland will be returning its entire starting offensive line, which Locksley called the most improved position group on the roster. Led by seniors Jaelyn Duncan and Spencer Anderson, the offensive line returns a combined 88 career starts.
“This is a pretty unique situation,” Locksley said. “It shows that we played a lot of young offensive linemen that got their teeth kicked in early, and now they’re battle tested.”
Maryland will also see the return several players from season-ending injuries, including senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., a three-time All-Big Ten honorable mention. The Terps also added transfer VanDarius Cowan (West Virginia) and St. Frances star Jaishawn Barham at linebacker to help replace a trio of departures via the transfer portal.
During Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren’s news conference Tuesday, he continued to express his support for student-athletes earning money from their name, image and likeness. But he believes there needs to be federal legislation to prevent NIL from being used as a recruiting inducement.
“I am disappointed that we still have to operate with these various patchwork of laws from a state-level standpoint,” Warren said. “We have a lot of work to do, even from a political standpoint.”
Under the NCAA’s interim policy, individuals can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located. Schools and conferences may choose to adopt their own additional policies until federal legislation or new NCAA rules are adopted. In May, the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors issued new guidance, clarifying existing rules that prohibit boosters from being involved in the recruiting process of a high school athlete or transfer.
Locksley, a supporter of NIL, agreed with Warren, saying there needs to be some guardrails to stop deals from impacting the recruiting landscape. Six-figure NIL deals with athletes are becoming more common and controversial, leading to a public spat this summer between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. Earlier this month, the Matador Club, a collective supporting Texas Tech athletics, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that it will sign 100 Red Raiders players to one-year, $25,000 NIL contracts.
“We’ve got to control it and how it’s used in the recruitment of players,” Locksley said. “For me, that’s where we’ve got to continue to find a sweet spot with how it’s managed and used.”
Maryland athletic director Damon Evans told The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday that he believes NIL deals should take place once a student-athlete arrives on campus.
“That’s when your collectives should get involved,” he said. “I think we [have] to make sure that we don’t allow this to turn into an artificial pay-for-play.”
Warren said he’s “100% supportive” of expansion of the College Football Playoff, which currently admits four teams decided by a committee of athletic directors and former players and coaches. His remarks came after the Big Ten, along with the Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12, reportedly rejected the proposal of expanding the playoff field from four to 12.
The CFP’s current 12-year contract expires after the 2025 season. The 10 Football Bowl Subdivision commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick would have had to unanimously agree to the expansion.
“We have meetings coming up in September and October to talk about these issues,” Warren said. “What is that right number? We’ll figure it out. I’m confident we’ll get the College Football Playoff expansion resolved. I feel very strongly that we need to open it up to have multiple media partners that we need to have from the college football standpoint. We need to take a holistic view. We need to make sure we protect some of the critical bowl relationships.”
Locksley said he thinks a 16-team playoff format would be the right number, but he wouldn’t be upset with 12. He thinks a playoff expansion will allow coaches to sell the opportunity of competing for championships.
“We’re hired to try to create an environment to win championships,” Locksley said. “And so with that expansion, I think it opens up the door.”
Warren said both Southern California and UCLA will receive a full share of conference revenue when they join the Big Ten in 2024. Maryland, Rutgers and Nebraska, on the other hand, had to wait six years before receiving a full share when they joined the conference.
“We think that’s important for various reasons,” Warren said. “[USC and UCLA] bring a lot of value to our relationship. They bring a lot of panache to our relationship, and we look forward to welcoming them into the Big Ten family here in 2024. There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then.”
Locksley said he doesn’t worry about other schools’ financial situation since it’s out of his control. “Like I tell coaches and players in our program with NIL, you can’t go around comparing yourself to what they got,” he said. “I’m happy to have them in the league.”
Last week, the Division I Board of Directors endorsed the recommendation of eliminating the rule that prohibits players from transferring more than once. The concept would also implement transfer portal “entry windows,” or periods of time in which student-athletes must provide their school with written notification of transfer to be eligible to compete immediately the following academic year.
Under the current transfer rules, Division I players can transfer once to another Division I school, for any reason, and be immediately eligible to play.
When Locksley was asked about the possibility of players having an unlimited number of transfer opportunities, he said it won’t affect his recruiting approach.
“We will continue to be a program that builds our team with high school players,” Locksley said. “We’ll use the transfer portal most likely for junior college recruits by need only.”
Locksley doesn’t see a day where 50% of his roster is built through the transfer portal. He wants the culture of the locker room to remain intact.
“When you bring in a bunch of transfers, you don’t know what you’re getting,” he said. “We’re gonna continue to recruit the high school players and develop.”