Why Michigan football isn’t losing players, NIL, transfer portal

For years, the prevailing thought around Ann Arbor was that if the proverbial ‘bag man’ became a legal entity in the eyes of the NCAA, Michigan football would clean up.

The ‘Michigan money cannon’ has been a real thing — when fans have needed charitable efforts made, the community is fast to back those who bleed maize and blue. Yet, when name, image, and likeness became the new law of the land, the Wolverines have lagged behind the competition.

Yet, we haven’t seen mass departures like we’ve seen at other schools.

Given that the maize and blue just had a coaching change, it’s somewhat surprising that only one starting-caliber player has departed the program (safety Keon Sabb) while others have resisted potential tampering from other schools that covet their talents. Outgoing defensive tackle Cam Goode notes that the culture in Ann Arbor is what keeps players around more than anything, despite the temptations that may arise outside of the program.

“It’s the brand, it’s the brand — you see that block M, it’s really hard to leave it,” Goode said. “I know a lot of people love the Bamas of the world, Ohio States of the world. But when I saw that block M call my phone, I felt like that was the only place I needed to go. And a lot of the people will understand the brotherhood here. It doesn’t matter who the coaches are. Your teammate is who’s next to you. So like, people know that this one locked-in mindset. So they’re not going to transfer because it’s one goal. And that’s just the reason why people don’t transfer.”

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy is a veritable star player, not just in the state of Michigan, but in all of college football. Trending towards being a top-five pick in next month’s NFL draft, McCarthy may be a polarizing figure in terms of just how talented he might be, but he’s always been a favorite son in Ann Arbor ever since the day he committed to the program.

His first year in college, 2021, NIL wasn’t yet legal, and McCarthy went through the same thing that any other college kid went through before him. Struggling to make ends meet on his own, but even when things changed and he suddenly had money rolling in, his mindset never changed.

“I was here for, I want to, say, a year, about around a year where I was getting that $300 stipend check. And, you know, two Door Dashes, I was already down to like 100 bucks, and I’m like, shoot, alright, here we go,” McCarthy said. “But, you know, having that is a blessing. But just the way that it’s influencing players to go transfer because of the money to go to a certain school because of the money, it’s just something that’s sad. Because at the end of the day, going through college is all about developing you as in turning you into a grown man. And you lose that kind of fundamental aspect of the developmental process.

“But it’s just a part of it now. And I see this route going towards more of like a semi-pro, and getting away from the NCAA. But who knows how it’s going to turn out. And I just hope a guy is really just focused on the main thing which is getting better at football because that’s going to make you the most money at the end of the day. Like Michael Jordan always talks about, the best endorsement is your game. If you are scoring two points, you’re not going to get the endorsements that Mike was getting.”

Though Michigan is notably behind in NIL, McCarthy says that it’s coming along — thanks in large part due to what Michigan is.

He credits Michigan for how it operates — his teammates, the camaraderie, the culture. All of those things play a big part, especially for the players who might not have a ton of NIL money rolling in. And McCarthy says it’s more important to thrive in a culture rather than one based off earning as much money as you can as quickly as you can.

“I don’t have to do anything — that’s the beautiful thing about this place is that guys just love playing football,” McCarthy said. “They love winning, and what better place to come to than that. And they understand the process of it. It’s not just about the outcome. It costs more — always talks about process over prize, and then if you worry about the process, then the prizes are just gonna be inevitable. They’re gonna come your way so feel like this program is unique and different compared to every other program in the country. And we’re gonna keep getting those guys that fit that mold.”


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