Matt Bockhorst was just as surprised as most everyone else to see the recent name, image and likeness spat play out so publicly between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, one in which Fisher called a press conference to respond to Saban’s accusations that A&M paid for every player in its No. 1-ranked recruiting class.
The former Clemson offensive lineman said it wasn’t a good look for Saban, but what’s done is done. Bockhorst won’t be shocked if college athletics’ rapidly changing climate births similar feuds among schools in the future.
“I believe (Saban) made an error in a moment, and he understands that he was in the wrong,” Bockhorst told The Clemson Insider during a recent phone interview. “I would say this as a general outlook on life: do not throw stones if you live in a glass house. I think that is the tip of the iceberg from a public standpoint of what will one day come out.”
The topic of NIL continues to be a pressing one amid college athletes, coaches and administrators – and one that everyone seemingly has an opinion about. An all-ACC interior lineman who finished his five-year career with the Tigers last season, Bockhorst is getting out just as the opportunities for players to cash in are as expansive as they’ve ever been in the budding NIL era, which officially began last summer when the NCAA made it legal for student-athletes to reap NIL profits.
Yet Bockhorst has no problem with his timing.
“You could also argue that I got out at the right time because my experience with college football was one that was void of any ulterior motives and the now conflicts of interest that exist for students,” he said.
What Bockhorst does have an issue with is the way some boosters have used NIL and its ambiguous regulation for purposes other than their true intent. Bockhorst has no problem with current student-athletes making money off their NIL the way some of his former teammates have. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei had endorsement deals with Dr. Pepper and Bojangles last year while a number of Clemson athletes across multiple sports are getting paid through partnerships with the university’s two NIL collectives, both of which launched earlier this year.
But collectives using their funds as a recruiting inducement to lure prospective student-athletes to their school doesn’t sit well with Bockhorst. The NCAA attempted to crack down on that by introducing new NIL guidelines last month that identified collectives as boosters, thus making it illegal for them to broker NIL deals with recruits.
“I think it’s important – and I’m not the first person to make this point – but NIL stands for name, image and likeness. So a very collective phrase you could use for that is endorsement deals, right?” Bockhorst said. “But somebody coming to play at your school is not an endorsement deal, and that has most definitely happened over the past year and it is grouped into NIL. I disagree with that interpretation of that, and I think that there are a large amount of things that you can argue are unethical that go on as a result of NIL being put in place.
“I think we need some sort of direction here, some sort of red tape. And I know that the NCAA has since within the past month or so come out and very explicitly stated that it can’t be used from a recruiting standpoint, and that’s really where I think the regulation is going to be focused here in the near term. But I think, over time, there’s going to be kinks that need to be worked out. I would hate to deprive these student-athletes the opportunity to make money on what is rightfully theirs because people could not follow the rules.”
As for the debate of whether or not athletes should be compensated beyond their scholarship and full cost-of-attendance stipend, “I would not necessarily put myself on one side or the other,” Bockhorst said. He understands both sides starting with those who believe athletes should be entitled to more given the work they put in helps generate millions of dollars in annual revenue for their schools.
“There is a school of thought out there that student-athletes should be just jumping for joy and grateful that they have the opportunity to be a student-athlete and that they should cherish it because there’s a lot of people out there who can’t and would give anything to be in their position,” said Bockhorst, whose career was cut short by a serious knee injury last season. “I understand why people say that, but I would respond to that by saying – and I would use myself as a perfect example – student-athletes pay a tremendous price to be a student-athlete. Whether it’s injuries or the time commitment or the sacrifice or whatever, time away from family on holidays like Christmas, there is absolutely a price that is paid by student-athletes. And so I strongly disagree with that notion.”
On the other hand, Bockhorst said he doesn’t buy into the notion that not seeing any of that money means that athletes are being exploited. He said he understands why some may feel that way, but he also believes being a member of Clemson’s football program afforded him the kind of opportunities that non-athletes don’t get, including an internship through the PAW Journey program and assistance landing a job as an associate wealth advisor.
“Speaking from my experience at Clemson – and I understand that my experience at Clemson is not the experience of all student athletes – but the opportunity to be a part of an organization like Clemson football and the greater University of Clemson is an opportunity that is tremendous,” he said. “And if you understand the value of that and understand the doors that can be opened for you by being a part of that program. And not only being a part but being a standout, and that doesn’t just mean on the field. Conducting yourself professionally, being a great human and always interacting with people and showing people respect and courtesy and representing yourself and your family the right way, that can allow you the opportunity to skip the minor leagues and play in the bigs in some instances.
“So I don’t think that either of those two viewpoints really accurately identify the issues within college athletics. Now I think I would be a fool to say that college athletics is without its flaws, and I do think that college athletes getting compensated in one way or another above the stipend is not a bad thing. However, the issues that I believe is that the way NIL was rolled out with very, very little context and very little regulation has allowed people to exploit the NIL era.”
Professionally, Bockhorst is involved in the NIL space. He said the company he works for, Beacon Pointe Advisors, has partnered with Limitless NIL, an agency created earlier this year by Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford to represent athletes and help them maximize NIL opportunities.
From a personal standpoint, Bockhorst said incentivizing education by tying NIL profits to graduation feels like a “reasonable compromise.” It could also deter players from entering the transfer portal for the sole purpose of seeking a quick payday, Bockhorst said.
But Bockhorst’s opinions on the subject are just a few of many, leaving him with one overriding thought on a topic that continues to be hotly debated.
“I think there’s a lot to unpack with NIL,” he said.