In the NIL world of recruiting, does the college town still matter?

Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) opportunities for college athletes have shifted the game—the universally accepted game behind the game—where the normalcies of years past have been transformed into the irregularities of today’s recruiting landscape. 

And that brings up an interesting question in the current stages of NCAA commits: Is the college town or city still a significant factor in the decision?

That’s to say, with the monetary fruits of possible NIL deals weighing heavily on recruits’ decisions, where a student-athlete can make seven figures before they even step foot on or near a school, it seems like having a great campus or town or atmosphere would be dismissed. Or at least diminished.

It then becomes a matter of which schools have boosters with deep passions and deeper bank accounts, ones with the capacity to turn a mid-level program that features winter in late-April into a lucrative, year-round paradise. (Warm your hands on this pile of cash, my friend. And wait till you see it here in June.)

Mind you, the NIL growth is what it is, and the point here is far from forecasting the good or bad as things progress.

And some of the obvious deflection, of course, would be things like the program’s reputation, the coach, the system, depth charts, plus any number of professional draft factors.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid conversation point in the high school recruiting macrocosm. Especially now, when it’s not only a look toward the top-tier recruits across the land.

NILs work in multiple scenarios, regardless of how many stars accompany the athlete’s recruiting profile. The payouts might not be as substantial, but a dollar today is one more than yesterday. And so on.

So, what of that great college town?

Most likely, the answer to the question won’t be a resounding one that echoes in agreement from the east, west, north and south. And it certainly won’t happen anytime soon, as much of the NIL world is still being siphoned through the government hose in each state.

However, while the adults are theoretically sorting it out, one of the top 2023 football prospects provided hope—albeit unknowingly—to those who believe that a college campus and its surroundings still play a significant factor.

Arch Manning, the top quarterback in the class, spoke to On3’s Sam Spiegelman ahead of spring practice at Isidore Newman, providing insight into some of the schools vying for his services—namely, Alabama, Georgia and Texas: the three programs most likely to land Manning. 

Each overview was just that — an overview. However, when Arch explained his takeaways from multiple visits with the Georgia Bulldogs, one thing stood out.

Here’s the entire quote:

I love coach Kirby (Smart), and he’s a real normal guy, a great coach. Georgia, the takeaway from practice there, is that they have athletes all over the field, especially on the defensive line. They have some studs and it shows: they had 15 players drafted. Athens is probably the best college town I’ve ever been to. The coaches are all good people; they know how to win, know what it takes, and it was cool seeing that.

That’s a hefty statement, and should pique the excitement for Bulldog fans and the team. For the the rest of the SEC and the NCAA powerhouses, not so much.

But mixed in the recap is one straightforward sentence, unprompted and perfect.

“Athens is probably the best college town I’ve ever been to.”

Hey, he noticed!

Your move, LSU, Alabama, Texas, the sleeper with eager sponsors? 

Early predictions and number-crunching have Manning’s earning power in the NIL space calculated at over $3 million. 

In reality, that’s enough to make most athletes think any college town is cool—assuming that town has ample ad space for their Name, Image and Likeness.