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MX News Update 2024

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Is Tennessee buying players? This is how Josh Heupel responded to Brian Kelly NIL’s comments

KINGSPORT – Brian Kelly said LSU is not “in the market to buy players” through the transfer portal with large sums of NIL money.

Well, is Tennessee football in that market?

Vols coach Josh Heupel thinks that is a complicated question. Meanwhile, athletics director Danny White doesn’t think athletes should feel ashamed for considering money when choosing a school.

‘Is it part of their decision? It has to be that way, White said Wednesday at the Big Orange Caravan’s final stop. That doesn’t make them greedy or selfish. That’s one piece of the puzzle.

“…If we offer NIL packages, and that is part of the equation, each of us in our professional lives would never take a job without knowing the details of what that compensation package looks like.”

TOPPMEYER Brian Kelly says he won’t buy transfers for LSU football, but he’s no Kirby Smart

This is what Brian Kelly said about buying players

Kelly made some startling comments about how some players in the portal only consider how much NIL money they can make when looking at schools.

“We’re not looking for players. And unfortunately that’s what some guys are looking for right now,” Kelly told WAFB-TV Channel 9 in Baton Rouge.

‘They want to be bought. Look, I understand that NIL is part of this, and we have an incredible collective. … But we don’t go out and buy players. That’s not what this is about. This was never about that.”

Heupel said money can’t be the only factor, but he knows it is an important factor for many players.

“There are many different layers to the cake that is baked,” Heupel said. “At the end of the day, we want guys who want to be that way (at Tennessee) to know that it matters.

“(We want players) who are looking for the right type of culture, environment, playing style, development as men – and not just on the pitch. All those things come into trying to bring in the right people.”

Was Kelly right about NIL or naive?

Kelly’s comments were polarizing around college football.

Some applauded him for prioritizing how a player fits into the program over the price tag. He thinks players’ desire to play for LSU affects winning.

Others criticized Kelly for being naive. After all, money should be an important factor in a player’s decision, just as it is for everyone in the labor market.

And others thought Kelly was hypocritical. After all, LSU gave him a 10-year contract worth $95 million to lead the Tigers. Why shouldn’t players prioritize a big payday if they have the same goal?

Josh Heupel wants to know what players find important

Admittedly, there is nuance to the conversation. And White recognizes that.

“(Prospective athletes) would want to be coached by our coaches. They would want to learn from our professors. They should want a Tennessee degree,” White said. “All those things are important.

“We still need world-class facilities and world-class academic staff. We still want them to graduate with a great degree from a flagship university and represent our university on the national stage. And they want those things too.”

To be fair, Kelly actually said he doesn’t want a player who would choose LSU solely because it gave him the most value. On that point, he and Heupel seem to agree.

“You’re definitely trying to figure out the whole makeup of the player,” Heupel said. “That’s why you spend all the time you do. That could be us going out (recruiting). This could also be those who come to campus.”

But isn’t Tennessee a leader in NIL?

Hip must be measured when talking about NIL.

After all, he is convinced that a healthy culture is the key to success. But Tennessee’s NIL collective Spyre Sports also has a reputation for being one of the most aggressive in the industry.

Quarterback Nico Iamaleava signed an NIL deal with Spyre that could pay him more than $8 million at the end of his junior year at Tennessee, The Athletic reported. Iamaleava never confirmed these figures.

Tennessee also signed LSU transfer Lance Heard, a former five-star recruit, from the portal. And it has edge rusher James Pearce, projected as a top-10 pick in the 2025 NFL Draft.

Their NIL deals have not been released to the public. But it is reasonable to assume that they are well paid.

A sign that Vols is not just about the money

But Tennessee couldn’t keep Tyler Baron, who would presumably have a fair amount of NIL money.

Baron entered the portal on December 8, committed to Ole Miss a week later and then headed to Louisville in January. After spring training in Louisville, Baron reentered the portal.

So he is back on the market and likely negotiating his next NIL deal. Neither Tennessee nor LSU appear interested, and perhaps for the same reasons Kelly acknowledged.

“If all you want is to get paid, you’re looking in the wrong place,” Kelly said. “If you love all the things we do here… and have a shot at NIL, then you should be a Tiger.

“But if you just want to get paid, this isn’t the place for you.”

Adam Sparks is the Tennessee football reporter. E-mail [email protected]. X, formerly known as Twitter@AdamSparks. Support strong local journalism by subscribing knoxnews.com/subscribe.

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