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Horning: Who can best navigate new landscape will determine who wins within it

  • 3 min to read
NCAA Georgia Tech Loyola Chicago Basketball

Former Loyola Chicago coach Porter Moser applauds his team as it plays Georgia Tech at the NCAA Tournament last March. Now Oklahoma’s men’s basketball coach, Moser and all his brethren will be navigating a new college sports landscape in which individual athletes may profit off their celebrity.

I don’t really care for mixed martial arts. Yes, referees tend to jump in quickly when combatants can no longer defend themselves. Fine, it gives wrestlers somewhere to go once their amateur days are done.

But it’s too much.

Boxing can be brutal, but its moniker, “the sweet science,” remains legit. That and, once an opponent’s down, everything stops for a few seconds. Mixed martial arts still feels like a blood sport.

That said, if somebody wanted to pay me $500 a month for a few tweets until my make-believe college football scholarship is no longer paying my make believe room, board, tuition, books, fees and whatever else it may cover these days, well, I’d have to think about it.

Not that I’m waiting for Dan Lambert, founder and owner of America’s Top Team, a mixed martial arts training academy in Coconut Creek, Florida, with affiliate gyms throughout the Sunshine State and others in Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Connecticut, California, also Canada, Russia, Austria and Italy, to make me an offer.

Indeed, he’s already made that offer to others, like every single scholarship athlete who’s part of the Miami Hurricane football program.

Nor is it like Lambert just dreamt this up, called a reporter and said, “Guess what I’m going to do?”


He’s created his own marketing company, too. It’s called “Bring Back The U,” designed to, as reported by David Wilson of the Miami Herald, “connect local businesses with Miami players so those athletes can take advantage of new NIL rules and make money off their talent and celebrity status.”

Lambert may be his own first client at “Bring Back The U” but he’s aiming to get all of South Florida on board and imagine if he can?

How can a school in Tuscaloosa or Norman or Gainesville, to say nothing of Starkville, Auburn, Boise, Stillwater, Blacksburg or Clemson, compete with the dollars all of South Florida might shower upon its Hurricanes?

Yet another great question is how college football and basketball players — and wrestlers in Iowa, hockey players in Minnesota, volleyball players in Lincoln, Nebraska — might be distracted when spending too much time chasing the dough, churning out endorsements on multiple social media platforms, to say nothing of personal appearances?

Last week, we called it the Wild West. Now we wonder, who can tame it, who can impose rules upon it, who can keep it from becoming a distraction, keeping their athletes not just eligible in a landscape that now invites distraction and selfishness, but truly engaged, their heads in the actual game.

Who can be Wyatt Earp in this vast and unprecedented landscape, keeping all hands pulling in the same direction?

You thought great coaching was managing personalities, before, at the college level? It’s becoming managing the personalities of young people, still with limited life experience, and now with ultimate distraction available.

The winners in this brave new world will be the coaches and programs that navigate the new paradigm the best and who knows who that might be?

I think of the best players’ coaches of my lifetime.

The faces popping in my head are Dean Smith, John Thompson and Barry Switzer. I’ve sat here trying to think of more and can do no better than them.

Those guys were absolute advocates for their players and very often for what’s right.

Smith helped integrate Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Thompson was a proud and fierce model of integrity, who stared down racism as a player and coach; Switzer embraced, championed and recruited athletes of color with enthusiasm at a time about none of his brethren were taking the same leap. He believed in and empathized with Black athletes in a way other white coaches of the time couldn’t begin to, they weren’t capable.

But would those men feel comfortable coaching amidst a landscape allowing athletes to market themselves individually, as separate entities from their team, even as their celebrity is rooted in being part of that team?

The lure to be a college coach rather than a professional coach, aside from the job security professional skippers never seem to have, is control.

If you’re a strong recruiter, you get to pick your players, create your own rules and enforce them. It all comes down to you.

The lure of the pros over the colleges is not having to recruit year round; it’s mostly about the sport rather than the program at large, with the implied understanding you can’t control everything, or even begin to. General managers and maybe some of your players have more power than you.

We’re now walking down a road in which the control college coaches once enjoyed must ebb, while the competition for talent will take place on a battlefield with many more pieces on the chess board.

It will take place on a battlefield that includes Dan Lambert and every South Florida business owner he can turn into a client of “Bring Back The U.”

Not just that, but there’s bound to be Dan Lamberts in Los Angeles, rooting for USC and UCLA, Dan Lamberts in Detroit, rooting for Michigan and Michigan State, Dan Lamberts in Chicago, rooting for Notre Dame and Northwestern, or 50 or 100 Dan Lamberts in each of those places and many more places.

It won’t be long, we’ll be hearing about big market universities.

Who can keep it all together? Who can thrive in an even more uncertain world, presenting new and unlimited challenges we can only imagine?

Great question.

Whoever it is, they’ll win.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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