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Name Image Likeness fallout: Florida doesn't want to buy recruiting affection | Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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It was supposed to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Florida and prized recruit Cormani McClain. Everybody thought they were destined to spend their lives together. Last Thursday was the big day.

The dearly beloved gathered at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. McClain essentially walked the aisle, got to the altar and the preacher asked, “Should anyone present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy football matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

To which the guest wearing a green and orange suit shouted, “I have five million reasons!”

That’s how many dollars the nation’s No. 2 prospect out of Lakeland High School will supposedly get to play cornerback for Miami.

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Please note, that figure is a well-placed rumor. In the shadowy world of Name Image and Likeness, only the IRS knows for sure what kind of money recruits are getting. And whatever the reported figure, the people writing the checks will deny it’s accurate.

But rest assured, young Mr. McClain’s dowry is well into the seven figures. And all that green has Gator fans seeing red.

They are mad at Miami. Frustrated with Florida. Fearful that Florida is getting played in the NIL game.

They should take a deep breath and try to relax. There’s a method behind Florida’s madness, or lack of madness.

Miami has mad money, thanks largely to John Ruiz - the lawyer, billionaire, founder of LifeWallet and Hurricane lover happy to lavish small fortunes on 17-year-old prospects. All of it is carefully packaged so the NCAA can’t say a recruit was “induced” to sign with School X.

And make no mistake, Florida’s NIL apparatus wasn’t just offering McClain room, board and dinner with Tim Tebow. It’s just that there’s a limit to UF’s madness.

No bidding wars for Billy Napier on blue-chip prospects

Billy Napier doesn’t want to engage in bidding wars for kids who’ve never taken a college snap. His approach is more in line with what NIL was originally supposed to be. A way to compensate athletes for their accomplishments, popularity and marketing presence once they get to campus.

He wants more of what happened this week, when a player from another school called an acquaintance on UF’s team and inquired about UF’s program from NIL on down.

He wants prospects to base their decisions on a school’s overall environment, the campus, the program and the many subjective things that add up to an enduring affection.

NIL should be a factor in the decision. It just shouldn’t be THE factor.

But how does a high schooler turn down a supposed $500,000 advance and three years at $1.5 mil a pop?

He doesn’t.

Bully for McClain. Bully for capitalism. Bully for the ‘Canes.

NIL brings to mind Anna Nicole Smith

They got their man, and that’s all that matters for now. But I can’t help thinking about the late Anna Nicole Smith.

Anna Nicole-Smith, posing as she arrived for an awards show in Los Angeles in 2004, was once married to a man 63 years older.

Remember the blond bombshell, Playboy starlet, quasi-celebrity who married wheelchair-bound billionaire J. Howard Marshall in 1994?

She was 26, he was 89.

For some reason, people thought Smith married for money, not love. Their holy matrimony didn’t last, primarily because Marshall died a year after being wheeled down the aisle.

I’m not saying this is the football version. Maybe McClain was wooed by South Beach, or the thought of helping Mario Cristobal rebuild The U, or the excitement of playing in a half-empty NFL stadium 20 miles from campus.

Genuine relationships make it through thick and thin. But NIL is spawning a lot of Anna Nicole Smiths.

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Case in point – Miami basketball. It lured Kansas State guard Nijel Pack with an two-year, $800,000 contract with LifeWallet.

That didn’t please Isaiah Wong. He’d just led the ‘Canes to the Elite Eight and was getting $100,000 in LifeWallet cash. He threatened to transfer if Ruiz didn’t pony up.

“I DO NOT renegotiate!” Ruiz texted ESPN.

He did say he’d help Wong set up other deals. Things were smoothed over, but the episode shows how NIL can become locker room dynamite and enhance the sense of entitlement among players.

That could help explain some of the dysfunction at Texas A&M, where three members of its ballyhooed recruiting class were suspended last week. Such is the NIL world we now live in.

It had Florida fans in a tizzy this summer after Miami swooped in and got quarterback Jaden Rashada, who seemed ticketed for Gainesville. A couple of weeks later, Florida got a string of commitments and all was again right with the world.

Ruiz is a human ATM, but Florida’s problem is not a lack of money. This is a case study in differing recruiting philosophies.

Miami’s may work out fine. Cormani Nicole McClain could fall in love with the place and become a superstar.

He could also get homesick, blow some coverages, hear fans (and teammates) grumble about not getting ample bang for the buck and start making calls to acquaintances on other teams.

For now, all we know is that Hurricanes can raise a toast to the union. Florida fans just have to sit back and remember an eternal truth.

If you want a beautiful relationship, you marry for love, not money.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley

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