UA’s New NIL Collective Already Paying Off in Recruiting after Noble Failed Experiments

Hunter Yurachek
Craven Whitlow

Trends take a long time, even in the age of the internet, to hit Middle America. One good example: Gen Z and Alpha caucasian kids walking around saying “bet” as though the word hasn’t been a staple in Black American culture for years.

All kinds of change has been sweeping into the state of Arkansas, home to three Fortune 500 companies including the Fortune 1 one. Exponential growth in the northwest corner of the state has created a metropolis, one that cracked the top 100 population-wise in 2022. An estimated 576,403 people live in the metro area affectionately called NWA. That number is more than 100,000 more than lived here in 2010 and about 250,000 more than lived here in the year 2000.

This growth, though, has yet to significantly benefit the most lucrative sports program at the state’s largest university. Athletic director Hunter Yurachek and the powers-that-be at the U of A aim to change that with Arkansas Edge, the newly introduced NIL program that Yurachek announced just before the Bobby Petrino news broke.

Arkansas Football NIL Collective Pays Off

The announcement came with mixed feelings from Arkansans as many can’t afford to contribute much and others, still, wonder why college athletes get any money at all. “They get a free education, don’t they!?”

Well, they’re about to get a whole lot more on top of what they have already been making. Arkansas Edge, now the official NIL collective supporting Arkansas student-athletes, is already paying dividends on the recruiting trail. As former standouts like Rocket Sanders announce their new destinations via the portal, Arkansas is stocking the cupboard with incoming transfers. Case in point: Keyshawn Blackstock, the top-ranked interior offensive lineman in junior college in 2022, who was interested in joining the Razorbacks for the 2023 season. Apparently Pittman, in turn, wanted Blackstock. 

But it didn’t happen because the Arkansas football NIL cupboard was too bare, Blackstock told Justin Acri and Wess Moore on the Buzz 103.7 FM. “I was talking to him out of junior college and he wanted to get me out of junior college,” Blackstock said. “He got to me a little too late. He told me he didn’t have enough NIL money to compete with other schools.”

Blackstock ended up at Michigan State for a season, but decided to cast his lot with Arkansas after hearing news about Arkansas Edge. He became the Razorbacks’ first pick up out of the transfer portal a few weeks. 

Arkansas entered the NIL game with OneArkansas last year. That barely made it a calendar year as it was scrapped for the more progressive Arkansas Edge. OneArkansas focused on partnering student-athletes with nonprofits. Arkansas Edge doesn’t bother with that as incoming recruits aren’t going to be awed into signing because they get to work with the Boys & Girls Club or some such. It’s cold. It’s also true.

That was a worthy effort that simply didn’t cut it in the capitalist football-industrial complex that the SEC has become. It’s not the first such noble experiment that Yurachek has scrapped in his six years in Fayetteville. 

Hunter Yurachek’s Noble Effort

Early on, he signed Pittman to an original contract that was meant to counter the skyrocketing salaries and buyouts that seemed to be spiraling out of control in college football. The original contract was for $3 million per year through Dec 31, 2024 but a couple of years later, he re-upped Pittman (who had hired a new agent in Jimmy Sexton) with an extension that works out to $5 million a year and goes through the 2027 season. 

That boosted Pittman’s buyout up to $16.1 million after this past season, an amount so high that it appears some boosters were unwilling to try to pool the money to pay it.

So, Yurachek’s stab at injecting some sanity into ludicrously high coach salaries had failed under the competitive pressures of professionalizing college sports. It was laudable nonetheless.

For a while, the players weren’t seeing enough of the sports’ extra riches. Sam Pittman bemoaned the state of Arkansas’ NIL program toward the end of the season, stating it needed more money to play ball with the big boys. Arkansas has long been behind most of the SEC in recruiting and as schools adopted NIL programs outstripping Arkansas’ modest, but honest, one, the Razorbacks were in danger of falling further behind the pack. 

“I don’t feel, probably, that our budget is as big as a lot of the schools in the SEC,” Pittman said before the announcement of Arkansas Edge, hinting toward the change that would come at season’s end. “But it’s hard to know that because you really don’t know. You just know what other kids, where they come in recruiting of what NIL can do for them at other schools, and it’s a lot more than what you could imagine….”

Arkansas is, at least, now trying to compete. To make any real change on the field, though, people have to pitch in. 

Not Exactly a Rallying Cry, Folks

Don’t take this as a recommendation to do so. I don’t care. I’m not really an Arkansas football fan. Hell, I barely give the university I attended any money. My universities aren’t exactly known for their athletics, either, though. At Arkansas, that’s their jam. Academics are nice and all, but athletics makes the school money and even public colleges are, fair or not, in the money-making game. Arkansas makes less of it when its teams are bad. And with Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC fray next year, the Razorbacks are trending even further downward.

The Razorbacks football team has won four or fewer games seven times in the last 12 years. Powerful, or even would-be-powerful teams, don’t do that. Simply put, Arkansas is not a powerful football program and they’re a heck of a long way from being one. Adding a football mind like Bobby Petrino’s can nudge them a bit closer but money, real money, will move the needle much farther in that regard.

Yurachek and crew asking for Hogs fans to pitch in isn’t an unreasonable request. If you can’t or don’t want to give, don’t. Just understand that this is what college athletics are nowadays. Change came and Arkansas has taken a while to adapt. The Razorbacks might not win a national championship with an injection of more money. But they definitely won’t win a title and may even become wholly irrelevant without that dough.

Maybe, just maybe, the hangers-on to the past will make Arkansas Edge work. Or maybe the Hogs become just what most of the rest of the country thinks about the state.

Flyover country – another uncool place behind on everything, including one of the things it used to take pride in.


Hear the full interview with Keyshawn Blackstock here:

YouTube video

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