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NIL and the future of recruiting hoaxes
In the 2010s, recruiting sites got pretty good at weeding out frauds. But NIL gives grifters a new foothold.
One might have thought that NIL value was downstream of actual, on-the-field value to college football programs. But what Baby Gronk demonstrates is that there isn’t a 1:1 relationship between those propositions, and maybe indeed no relationship at all. In this case, the antibodies the recruiting industry has developed against [recruiting hoaxes] could prove to be totally useless. Because, as it turns out, it’s possible to game Instagram’s algorithm without the help of the recruiting media.
Previously, recruiting hoaxes fell into one of two buckets:
desperate recruits overstating their offers for attention
digital anarchists creating fake players to put a thumb in the eye of recruiting services
In those cases, tricking the recruiting websites was a means to an end: getting a player personnel staffer at Alabama to watch your tape, or embarrassing 247Sports by having them create a profile for a player who doesn’t exist. But the question Baby Gronk raises is whether the means (successfully duping the recruiting sites) is still necessary and whether the end is now an end itself.
According to his father, Jake San Miguel, Baby Gronk is raking in $100,000 a year as a ten-year-old from influencer sponsorships. And he’s achieved this without being taken at all seriously as a college football recruit. Most of the major recruiting sites won’t even acknowledge that he exists — not even to point out that he’s an obvious fraud.
Baby Gronk’s only foothold in the world of recruiting coverage is at On3, which created a player profile for Baby Gronk and gave him an NIL valuation of $115,000. I was emailing back-and-forth with the president of On3 about commenting on the Awful Announcing story, but after I sent my questions over, I stopped hearing back. One of my questions was whether they’re concerned that by giving Baby Gronk a player profile they were sacrificing their credibility as a recruiting service and laundering the reputation of a grifter.
I wanted to know whether they’d considered the fact that On3, 247Sports, and ESPN themselves have a big role to play in creating NIL value. The recruiting sites decide for the general public what a recruit’s value is, through star ratings, rankings, and a player database that lists offers. How do they navigate the ethical dilemma of not just holding up a mirror to existing NIL value but arguably also having a role in creating that value in the first place? Is there a church-and-state approach between NIL reporters and recruiting reporters, similar to how many media organizations keep editorial decisions insulated from advertising decisions?
Having participated in editorial meetings at one of these companies, my suspicion is that no one has even thought about these questions, much less asked them. But if you work at a recruiting site now and would like to prove me wrong, please reach out: email@example.com.
Baby Gronk is a 10-year-old football player with 300,000 Instagram followers, whose dad deliberately misleads his audience into thinking his son is already being aggressively recruited by the likes of Alabama and LSU.
Another question I submitted to On3: “Explain to me like I'm a five-year-old what On3’s NIL valuation number represents. I've read On3's page explaining how the figures are derived, but what does that bottom-line number mean, exactly, to a player, to an NIL collective, to a brand that wants to do a sponsorship with that player?” My suspicion, bolstered by how closely it mirrors San Miguel’s claims about his revenue, is that the number is effectively meaningless. It’s the Klout score of 2023.