football Edit

UNC Fully ‘On Board’ and Catching Up With NIL

CHAPEL HILL – Mack Brown acknowledges North Carolina’s football program has had some catching up to do with respect to raining money for its football collective. But progress is well underway.

UNC recently met its initiative raising $1 million for the Heels4Life Hold The Line campaign, and now the focus is on getting to $5 million this year.

NIL money is at the core of college athletics now, especially football. And building a cash flow isn’t just for spending money on players in the transfer portal, Brown is intent on keeping his best players in Chapel Hill. And that’s where it starts.

“It will help us,” he recently said. “We need to get another million dollars. We need to get a minimum of $5 million. And then you’ve got to be able to have retention of your roster. I mean, that’s really important now. We lost (offensive tackle) Diego (Pounds).”

Pounds surprised a lot of people when he left for Ole Miss. Had UNC been better positioned with its collective, perhaps the Raleigh product would still be a Tar Heel.

Be that as it may, UNC is entering new terrain in the NIL game. Just two months after Pounds left, the program is in far better shape. That’s a good thing given that the next portal wave opens April 15 and runs through April 30.

Brown says his program will be buyers, but only for specific needs, such as defensive line. But it will cost them.

“You’ve got to factor at the end of spring practice, because you start the next cycle of transfer portal,” he said. “And I think it’s even more expensive for guys in the second phase of the transfer portal because guys that didn’t get what they wanted to in the first part and go through spring practice and see how desperate they are to get somebody at that position.

“So, we’ve got to be more competitive in those areas.”

UNC Coach Mack Brown says more NIL money for the program should mean more cheering from fans.
UNC Coach Mack Brown says more NIL money for the program should mean more cheering from fans. (Kevin Roy/THI)

The uneven playing field that is NIL abundances at some schools and not so much at others, in conjuncture with there being few guidelines in place has generated calls for some kind of cap, like a salary cap used in most professional team sports.

Carolina is operating within this world, much better situated than many power conference programs, but far from the upper two tiers. A cap of some kind could make for a healthier sport down the road, says UNC Assistant Athletic Director/General Manager for football Pat Suddes.

“We’re not the NFL because the NFL has salary caps, and as a general manager, I’d be able to say, ‘okay, this guy gets this,’” Suddes said. “We have to stay out of the money piece, obviously that’s up to Heels4Life and the collective to do that.

“We’re basically baseball. There’s no salary caps, you have to figure out who fits your roster, and within whatever budget or everything you have with your collective.”

Fortunately for Brown, Suddes, and the UNC program, the light has gone on with respect to increasing revenue in its collective.

Before the NIL wave, UNC had plenty of appeal to recruits. The school is among the most recognizable in college athletics. It is tied with the Jordan Brand, and its gear has always been an attraction. It’s a renowned university, and when Brown returned in late 2018, it gained a Hall of Fame coach.

Recruiting success reflected those things. But beginning with the class of 2024, Brown and his staff altered their approach. Bringing in highly touted classes are great, but you have to keep them around for their potential to bear fruit.

Carolina’s seeds are planted, watered, and showing solid signs of life.

“Everybody’s got to be on board for NIL,” Brown said. “It’s a new thing, (but) it’s real, it’s here. There will probably be changes over the next few years, but in this transition period, we’ve got to stay up. And we’re working really, really hard to make sure our NIL collective is as good or better than the others that are out there.

“And that’s something that we got a little bit behind with. Really excited about right now. So, this is a step in the right direction. It sure doesn’t mean we’re there. We’ve got to continue to go. We said we need a minimum of $5 million this spring. We’re getting close to that.”