1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

The outlaws who can’t shoot straight are going about this the wrong way.

If you wield power because you give more money to a university than anyone else (hello, Auburn outlaws), at least throw your cash where it matters most: a student-athlete collective.

This, everyone, is the future of college sports generally — and college football specifically.

Collectives are not only smart investments, they’ll likely save college football from itself.

“This is our one chance at mitigating the impact of pay-for-play down the road,” a Power 5 athletic director told me.

That’s what this is all about. Want to know why university athletic departments across the nation are embracing name, image and likeness “collectives” as arms-length dance partners?

Because the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The enemy of college sports is straight pay-for-play, sharing media rights and apparel revenue with players. There is legal action filtering through the courts that could break the current system that’s overwhelmingly favorable to universities.

By overwhelmingly, I mean every single penny.

That’s where student-athlete collectives enter the picture. It’s so simple, even Auburn’s misfit moneybags can make it fit with their overbearing egos (more on that later).

The best part? The NCAA can’t touch it.

Once the U.S. Supreme Court capped the NCAA at the knees last summer, making it clear with a 9-0 vote against any limit on student-athletes’ NIL earning power, the die was cast.

From millionaires – hell, billionaires – to Joe Fan dropping annual collective dues of a few bucks a month, they’ve locked arms in a common goal: fandom. These collectives of boosters (what other name can you call them?) throw money into a pool, and that money is paid out to student-athletes for a variety of uses of their name, image and likeness.

Autograph shows, pictures, event hosts, product endorsement. You name it, the collective will pay you for it.

The NCAA can’t get its arms around it with the specter of SCOTUS looming, and frankly, who are a bunch of university presidents – whose main goal is fundraising (see the irony?) – to say where student-athletes can lend their NIL?

Everyone has them. Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Miami. And on and on and on.

They’re not run by the universities, but the connection is undeniable: The Gator Collective, The Garnett Trust (South Carolina) and the Auburn-NIL, to name a few.

Oliver Luck – the former No. 2 at the NCAA behind president Mark Emmert – runs Country Roads Trust to serve West Virginia student-athletes

Having a birthday party? Well, the collective has the star quarterback at State U., who will belt out their best Happy Birthday to you over FaceTime. For $500, thank you.

Opening a new restaurant? The offensive linemen at State U. will be happy to film a commercial and proclaim there’s no better feed than Joe’s Steakhouse. For $1,000 each.

How does this help mitigate pay-for-play, you ask?

Because players are making money off their name, image and likeness – money they would not (and could not) make without playing college sports.

Previously, college sports – specifically football and basketball — were vilified because it was the only avenue to professional sports. Players had to run the course the way they were told — if they wanted to get to the professional payday at the end.

The NFL still doesn’t have one player on a roster who didn’t play college football, and high school basketball players skipping college is rare.

What used to be the go-to complaint of college sports is now its lifeboat.

While universities will still likely have to pay players at some point, NIL opportunities could mitigate the percent of revenue that must be shared.

“We’re not oblivious to the fact that money that once went directly to the university will now go (to collectives),” another Power 5 athletic director told me. “But there’s a valuable tradeoff there.”

2. Money for good

It is here where we delve deep into the lunacy that is the Auburn kingmakers.

The kingmakers aren’t university bigwigs but boosters who give money and believe – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that money equates to power.

These are the same people who tried to push out coach Bryan Harsin over the past 2 weeks (it actually began much earlier), and who almost got their wish.

They wanted former Auburn DC Kevin Steele to take over for Gus Malzahn, whom they deposed and paid $21 million to go away. Then they lost a power struggle, and Harsin arrived and the sabotage began.

But now we have a novel concept for those kingmakers with millions (even billions): If you don’t think Harsin can recruit, give him the tools to do so.

Fund the Auburn-NIL collective. Make recruiting easier.

All that money that was paid to get rid of (take your pick) Terry Bowden, Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik and Malzahn? Give it to players instead. Give it to – sorry, Jimbo, you know it’s reality – recruits instead.

Eliah Drinkwitz is one of the most engaging and charismatic coaches in the SEC. He and his staff at Missouri work hard at recruiting. Just like Jimbo Fisher and his staff.

But if you think Missouri’s 14th-ranked recruiting class by the 247Sports composite is built on the staff and history and momentum of the program alone, you’re in la-la land.

Same with Texas A&M and their No.1 class that includes 7 – seven – 5-star signees. Or Kentucky, Stanford, Indiana, Ole Miss and Arizona – all in the final top 25 recruiting rankings, all with the same common denominator of NIL cash and potential earning power.

3. Embrace the new world, The Epilogue

I’m still perplexed why Fisher was so heated about an allegation that a large pool of NIL money supplemented the Aggies’ recruiting.

Instead of calling out the hypocrisy – which I totally get, and it needed to happen – he should’ve sat in front of the microphone and cameras and stated without hesitation, “Yes, the idea of our student-athletes being able to earn off their NIL through our vast alumni resources helped us – and it’s only going to get better.”

Then call out the hypocrisy.

Because if anyone thinks at least 1 player in the top 8 of every position signing with Texas A&M is because of Fisher and his staff, let me show some reality.

Fisher is 34-13 in 4 seasons at Texas A&M and hasn’t won his division. The Aggies lost last year to Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas. Hardly momentum.

Unless recruiting has dramatically changed outside of NIL, the elite high school players want to play for winners. That’s the entire foundation of the criticism that college football is top-heavy with Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, LSU and Georgia dominating recruiting and championships.

NIL has changed the game for the better. It has allowed the second-tier to move into the elite, and the bottom feeder to compete for championships.

Think about this: Indiana finished in the top 20 of college football recruiting. That’s typically reserved for its legendary basketball team.

Arizona, which from 2019-2021 lost 20 straight games and 23 of 24, finished with the No. 22-ranked class in the nation.

Jedd Fisch’s first season as a head coach was 2021 at Arizona. One season, people — a season in which his team finished 1-11.

Just last week, a group of Tucson business leaders announced the creation of the Friends of Wilbur and Wilma Collective, a group named after the Arizona mascots and backed by two longtime deep-pocket boosters.

And away we go.

4. Filling the pockets

Speaking of hypocrisy, it was Alabama coach Nick Saban who announced last offseason on the rubber chicken circuit that one of his players – who hadn’t yet won a starting job – already had an NIL deal of nearly $1 million.

Now, we can take that one of two ways: A Saban get off my lawn moment of complaining that things aren’t what they used to be, or a humble brag he knew would go viral and help recruiting.

Nick Saban, everyone, does nothing without intent.

The last thing he will be is the old curmudgeon standing at the dais, shaking his fist and complaining that players get all they need. So if you don’t think Saban knew what he was doing when he announced that in front of a packed house, again, you’re in la-la land.

Now, fast forward to the 2022 season: How much is Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young worth? I spoke to a financial analyst who has performed some work for a collective in the SEC, and he said Young, “Conservatively, will double what he made last season.”

If Saban was correct that Young had a deal for nearly a million dollars last season, that number will grow exponentially this fall.

Those numbers impact all levels of recruiting. High school recruiting, transfer portal recruiting and yes, self-roster recruiting.

Maybe someone should explain this concept to the same people who keep throwing bad money after good at the Auburn football coaching position, desperately trying to impact a program by exerting their influence on the hiring and firing process.

Or they can stay in la-la land and think they’ll get it right.

5. The Weekly Five

The top 5 NIL earners – based on potential — in the SEC for the 2022 season (per a financial analyst who has worked for a collective in the SEC):

1. QB Bryce Young, Alabama

2. QB Spencer Rattler, South Carolina

3. QB Stetson Bennett, Georgia

4. QB Anthony Richardson, Florida

5. DE/LB Will Anderson, Alabama

6. Your tape is your résumé

An NFL scout breaks down a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Arkansas WR Treylon Burks.

“I absolutely love this kid. Earlier this year, I really wanted to see his game develop as far as the route tree, and getting in and out of breaks and fighting for balls. He improved across the board and showed he can be a team’s No. 1 (receiver). He hasn’t played in a pass-friendly offense, and the guys who have really made an impact of late have. Guys like (Ja’Marr) Chase and (Justin) Jefferson, and (Jaylen) Waddle and (Michael) Pittman.

“That’s going to be the negative on him. Is he just a big guy who can run and has all the tools, but isn’t necessarily a polished receiver, sort of like (Laviska) Shenault – who has all the skills but wasn’t a Day 1 impact guy. It’s a fairly deep receiver class, but everyone is looking for that guy who can stretch (the field) and catch. (Burks) is that guy. Wouldn’t surprise me if he goes top 10-15.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: offensive newcomer to watch in spring practice.

1. Alabama: WR Jermaine Burton (transfer, Georgia).

2. Georgia: G Earnest Greene (midterm enroll).

3. Texas A&M: WR Evan Stewart (midterm enroll)

4. Kentucky: OT Kiyaunta Goodwin (midterm enroll).

5. Arkansas: WR Jadon Haselwood (transfer, Oklahoma).

6. LSU: OT Miles Frazier (transfer, FIU).

7. Florida: OT O’Cyrus Torrence (transfer, Louisiana).

8. Ole Miss: QB Jaxon Dart (transfer, USC).

9. Mississippi State: WR Justin Robinson (transfer, Georgia).

10. Tennessee: G Addison Nichols (midterm enroll).

11. South Carolina: WR Antwane Wells (transfer, James Madison).

12. Auburn: QB Zach Calzada (transfer, Texas A&M).

13. Missouri: TE Tyler Stephens (transfer, Buffalo).

14. Vanderbilt: WR Jayden McGowan (midterm enroll).

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: What’s your problem with Spencer Rattler? I’ve heard you on the SDS podcast and Finebaum doubting him. To me, this is the best quarterback South Carolina has had since Connor Shaw. I think he has the ability to make that kind of impact. What say you? — Stephen Smith, Columbia, S.C.

Stephen: Maybe Rattler will shock us all. Maybe he is the elite quarterback who, at the beginning of the 2021 season, was the No. 1 overall selection in multiple 2022 NFL Draft mocks. If he’s that type of player, South Carolina will be playing games that matter deep in November.

But I’m big on track records, and what’s actually on tape. When you start there, what exactly has he accomplished to make you think he’s going to arrive in a significantly better conference on the defensive side of the ball and put up huge numbers to reach those lofty goals?

Frankly, he didn’t do it last year in the Big 12, where defense is optional – and was eventually replaced by Caleb Williams. Rattler’s career TD/INT ratio is a strong 40/12, and the NFL Draft hype was built on the back of the final four games of 2020, when he had 10 TDs and 1 INT in wins over Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Florida.

But here’s a number of concern from the past 2 seasons: only 50-of-116 3rd-down throws were completed (43%). That’s a low number that can’t be ignored.

But think about this: Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer won 7 games in 2021 without a true SEC quarterback. What happens in 2022 if a legitimate NFL first-round pick plays to his potential? The possibilities are scary good.

9. Numbers

41. Kentucky could lose OC Liam Coen to the Los Angeles Rams as soon as this week. Current Rams OC Kevin O’Connell is expected to be named coach of the Vikings Monday, and Coen could then move into the OC role with the Rams.

Coen was an assistant quarterbacks coach for the Rams prior to coming to UK in 2021.

A potential replacement at UK circulating through the coaching community is Wake Forest OC/QBs coach Warren Ruggiero, a longtime college assistant whose offenses at Bowling Green and Wake Forest have been prolific.

Wake finished 4th in the nation in scoring offense in 2021 (41.0 ppg.), after finishing 19th in 2020 (36.0 ppg.). Kentucky averaged 32.3 ppg., last season.

The Deacons averaged 77.4 plays per game, and ran the ball (565 rushes) more than they threw it (519 attempts). Kentucky averaged 66.3 plays per game, and its run-pass ratio was significantly tilted toward the run (496 rushes, 366 passes).

10. Quote to note

South Carolina coach Shane Beamer, on winning the first-year coach of the year award: “Early on, just how hungry out players were to be successful. Once we got to spring practice and I saw our personnel we had, and credit to (former South Carolina) coach (Will) Muschamp, he left a lot of quality players and young men here.”