Drew Butler: The Transfer Portal and Name, Image, and Likeness in College Athletics

In the coming months, Game Plan will embark on an ongoing Q&A series titled "Redefining the Student-Athlete in The New World of College Sports" where we aim to delve into the important questions for this moment in college athletics. Here at Game Plan, we are dedicated to guiding 100% of athletes through 100% of their journey. From understanding their experience to helping them capitalize on their opportunities, we are here to serve athletes everywhere.

Drew Butler, former NFL punter and student-athlete at the University of Georgia, has a depth of experience in the college athletics space. Butler is currently the host of The Punt & Pass Podcast, an NIL Advisor, and President of 4th Down Consulting. His wealth of experience allows him to offer great insight into the current landscape of college athletics. Below are his thoughts on the transfer portal, NIL, and where we are headed down the line.


I think we're at an inflection point in college athletics and it's due to the lack of activity for many years. Right now, we are in a situation that everybody's been thrown into. People are looking for help, fingers are being pointed and nobody's able to come to the table with the solution to usher college athletics into a new era. When I say lack of action, it really is nobody's fault except the NCAA’s. The NCAA is an entity that's dying on the vine. It's dying in the courtrooms, and it is inevitable that college football and college basketball probably will not be a part of the NCAA in the future.

I'm not smart enough to know what kind of timeframe we are looking at for clarity. I don't think anybody really does know, but it's unfortunate that the lack of action and the lack of foresight from college sports leaders, to not understand that these things were coming to a head, has put us in this position. The one thing that threw college sports into this tailspin is, it's not just NIL, it's not just the transfer portal. The timing of the COVID pandemic and shutting down sports and shutting down decision-making and shutting down future thought efforts. This really put the NCAA way behind the 8 ball. They took a step back and said: You can transfer when you want, and now NIL is legal for all student-athletes.

The transfer portal and the lack of rules and regulations around the transfer portal is the gasoline that's been just thrown onto the NIL fire, and nobody knows what's going on because there is no guidance. The fact that the NCAA continued to fight against paying players and said “amateurism, amateurism, amateurism” underscores their lack of acceptance of what is happening in some shape or form. The NCAA should have been asking these questions a decade ago. They just turned a blind eye to it, and they were forced to put their hands up at the eleventh hour - and what happened is that instead of having everybody play by the rules, they essentially made the rules themselves as they went, trying to figure out how to uncover great new advantages for their institution. Coaches and administrators have largely been the most unprepared.

Everybody's searching for the same answers, and that's the toughest part because there's no guidance. There's no leadership on what is going to happen. What will college football do? Will they break away from the NCAA? If they do break away from the NCAA, what will happen to those non-revenue sports? What's going to happen to scholarships? What's going to happen to student-athletes who want to unionize or become employees? Nobody has those answers. There's been a total of vacuum leadership.

The fact that the NCAA Is asking the federal government for help, simply for antitrust protection, is laughable at this point. Can student-athletes collectively bargain without being employees? I think that's interesting. Could you revenue share with student-athletes if they're not employees? I think that could be interesting. With the revenue that's generated from basketball and football, you would have to assume that either those student-athletes become employees, or those student-athletes share the revenue they generate. There will be a large chunk of that revenue that has to be allocated back to the non-revenue sports to pay for the scholarships, but a lot will change in the dynamics of university athletics. If that system does happen, I truly do believe there will be change. Maybe the coaching staffs get smaller. Maybe the training table changes. Maybe the athletic support staff around those teams get smaller, maybe, rather than the golf team playing in Maui. Las Vegas and Puerto Rico…they're now playing in Memphis, Chattanooga, and Jacksonville.

Things will have to change simply because the dollar numbers are going to get smaller. And I think there will just be a general pairing down within athletic associations. And again, these are the people who want to support the student-athletes, not to say that it hasn't gotten completely out of control. But college sports are currently in an arms race. There's a lot of money that's getting allocated to these coaches, to these athletic programs. And it's kind of catching up right now. I have a very hard time believing anything will change in the next 18 to 24 months. And here's the reason why: the TV contracts are locked in. They're locked in for the next 5 years or 6 years. The dollars drive every decision. College athlete leaders are meeting presidents, and executives at these media networks. They're trying to put their heads together to say: “What can we present to our network partners that will make them rethink these contracts that have been inked, and they're set for the next 6 to 7 years.” And they're worth billions of dollars. That's what they're going to have to figure out. I don't think there's any change in the next 18 to 24 months.

One thing for certain: The players are experiencing the least amount of pain. I would say athletic directors are experiencing the most challenges, because they're being asked all these questions, and probably the smart ones are saying: “I don't know.” They are asking the same questions and receiving little to no guidance. Even the smartest ones who are allocating the most resources towards its NIL are flying by the seat of their pants. The plane is literally being built mid-flight, and I empathize with those athletic directors.