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BYU head coach Mark Pope says he’s losing out on recruits because school is ‘not on the cutting edge of NIL’

Salt Lake Tribune logo Salt Lake Tribune 3/16/2023 Kevin Reynolds
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU coach Mark Pope reacts to a foul as BYU hosts Gonzaga, NCAA basketball in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. © Trent Nelson (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU coach Mark Pope reacts to a foul as BYU hosts Gonzaga, NCAA basketball in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023.

BYU head coach Mark Pope says his program is losing recruiting battles — both in the NCAA Transfer Portal and high school — because of name, image and likeness money.

“The short answer is yes, of course,” Pope said when asked Thursday, during an end-of-season news conference. “Without getting into specifics, yes.”

By Pope’s assessment, BYU currently does not have the monetary backing through NIL to offer recruits enough money to compete with other top programs. Pope said he believes that could be an issue as BYU heads into the Big 12.

“This NIL money is real,” Pope said. “It’s just a real part of this. It is not the end-all, be-all. [But] there were some programs last year who were really successful in buying teams, right? So that is a real part of this process.

“It’s probably never going to be [at BYU]. I don’t know if I can’t say never, but [at least] right now. ... It’s going to be a complicated thing here at BYU. It’s not traditionally the way that we are,” Pope continued. “It’s just a very new concept here. I think it’s a concept that donors and fans are appropriately cautious about evaluating. We are not on the cutting edge right now of NIL. And that’s OK. That’s probably appropriate for BYU. I do think we’ll continue to grow there. And I do think it’s a massively important part of college athletics right now.”

Since NIL’s inception, BYU has publicly endorsed one NIL Collective, the Royal Blue Collective. It has also announced one-off NIL deals with an NFT company, Ocavu, and a protein bar company, Built Bar. The NFT deal was criticized by experts as being overly risky.

Overall, though, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe has stressed that BYU’s NIL strategy has to be in line with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although he hasn’t gone into specifics as to what that means, he has stressed the need for team-wide deals rather than individuals getting paid more.

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake has emphasized similar things in the past.

“We want to make sure that [the NIL deals] are in line with the mission of our church and the mission of our school,” Sitake said. “The key for us is to make sure our young men understand what they represent and who they represent. We will keep the focus in line with that.”

But that doesn’t necessarily translate to the basketball program being able to put up large sums of money for individual recruits. Looking around at the top players in college basketball — the level BYU will now need to recruit at in the Big 12 — it has reportedly taken close to $1 million to retain and bring in some top recruits such as North Carolina’s Armando Bacot.

Take Indiana star Trayce Jackson-Davis as another example. He pulled his name out of the NBA draft late last year, in large because of the money he could make through NIL. His current valuation is $608,000, per On3.

“I get a chance to get better,” he told Sports Illustrated. “Get my degree, be around all my friends and then also make a lot of money.”

Pope doesn’t see that happening at BYU — at least not anytime soon.

“We’re going to figure that out the BYU way,” Pope said. “For us, it’s not going to be the place where it serves as a quick fix. But hopefully we can find a way where it’s an incredibly positive experience for our student-athletes and where it can be more than just a cash handout. That it can be life-changing, growing experience, and that’s what we’re chasing. And so, while that might not harvest immediate results, I think in the long term, it’s going to be an incredibly winning approach. It just is not a quick fix.”

Pope pointed to deals his players have had in the past as ways he thinks NIL can work at BYU. Point guard Trey Stewart started his own company that sells shoes and clothes to make money. Forward Gideon George and center Atiki Ally-Atiki have done similar things.

“What you’re seeing from our guys is they’re going to make a massive difference in the world [with NIL],” Pope said. “And so we’re beyond proud of that. It might not be the ‘open the door’ sell to recruits. But in the long run, it’s a winning formula. ... So, you know, we’re growing in the area and we think we’re pushing a little bit in a different direction.”

Still, Pope acknowledged that isn’t what some top recruits want. And that is the reality he must deal as he tries to bring in transfers for the first year in the Big 12.

“There’s a lot of filters here at BYU that actually are, at the end of the day, going to give us a really incredible product,” Pope said. “But right now, you know, NIL is certainly a heavy filter. And so that is a space where we’re gonna continue to grow and find out how to do it in a way that’s in harmony with our university.”

Additional reading: Inside BYU’s NIL collective: High-powered coaches have called out shady deals nationally — but local players and donors paint a different picture


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