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How much does NIL mean in recruiting? Five-star prospect: ‘Everybody has opinions’

Photo credit: Oklahoma Athletics

Over the course of 48 hours, Peyton Bowen was a member of three college football rosters.

A long standing commit to Notre Dame, the four-star safety from Denton, Texas made the shocking flip to Oregon on National Signing Day. Less than 24 hours later, he’d flip once more to Oklahoma.

“This was my decision, it’s not anybody else’s,” Bowen said in an interview during media day for the Under Armour All-American Game.

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For many athletes in the class of 2023, flipping commitments has come with one major question: did NIL promises have anything to do with it?

In Bowen’s case, it came down to family.

“I made the decision off of what I thought was best for me and my family at the time,” Bowen told the media. “I was in the mindset of trying to please everyone. I was trying to do too many things and not think about what I wanted… If I go somewhere for my parents, I’d be blaming them for what happened, and I’d rather blame myself for the decision I made.”

When asked about NIL, Bowen said it was important, but was not the key in choosing Oklahoma.

“For Jackson [Guyer], a quarterback is 10 times more profitable than any defensive player… it played a factor, but it wasn’t the biggest thing… When I think of NIL I think about trying to market myself as early as possible so I can put myself in a better position,” Bowen said. “NIL was and is a priority, but it wasn’t the biggest thing. If I play well, I’ll get NIL [opportunities] wherever I go.”

Of course, in Bowen’s situation, no matter where he attended school, NIL opportunities were bound to come. Notre Dame is arguably the greatest historic brand in college sports. Oregon is the home of Phil Knight and Nike. Oklahoma has been a powerhouse program for the last three-quarters of a century.

Others, like Rueben Owens, the No. 2 running back in the class, got much more heat for his commitment flip from Louisville to Texas A&M in early December. When someone speculated he jumped to the Aggies because of $2 million in NIL, he chuckled.

“I was like, ‘What?!’ I wish they gave me $2 million,” Owens told 247Sports.

The reason behind Owens’ flip from Louisville came down to head coach Scott Satterfield taking the newly opened Cincinnati job once Luke Fickell jumped to Wisconsin.

But in the NIL era, why choose A&M over schools like Texas and TCU?

“[NIL] played a little part,” Owens said. “NIL is good. You’ll get it regardless. But I don’t know, I can’t really explain NIL.”

Like Bowen, Owens knows what it takes to get his NIL opportunities.

“Score touchdowns,” Owens said.

Like Owens, Dante Moore’s flip from Oregon to UCLA came down to Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham taking the head coaching job at Arizona State. One of the best quarterbacks in this year’s loaded class was assumed to have flipped because of NIL as well.

“I went on a visit to UCLA,” Moore told ESPN. “I talked to God and my people and really within myself. I knew that UCLA was the right move for me.”

“People think I made my decision off NIL,” Moore said. “I just laugh.”

RELATED: Five-star Brandon Inniss passes on lucrative NIL deals to play for Ohio State

Another five-star prospect, offensive lineman and Iowa native Kadyn Proctor, flipped his commitment from the Hawkeyes to Alabama. 

What seemed on the surface as a clear NIL move was quickly denounced by Proctor.

“I’m not getting paid that much (more) as Iowa was going to give me,” he told The Columbus Dispatch. “People didn’t know that. But everybody has opinions.”

“It’s not about the money because if people knew about the money situation, they wouldn’t be talking about it,” Proctor said. “But I wanted to go play football at a prestigious school. (There’s) a lot of competition down there and ultimately it’s going to make me better… I thought I was settling at Iowa.”

While these four athletes are a microscopic sample of athletes switching schools for reasons other than NIL, there is no denying it plays a factor in recruitment. In just the last three months during the college football season, NIL has seen programs such as Tennessee go from unranked and playing just over .500 football to a top 10 program winning a New Year’s Six Bowl.

About a month into his position as head coach, Deion Sanders and Colorado have the No. 2 ranked Transfer commitment, luring away multiple Jackson State players – including last year’s No. 1 prospect Travis Hunter – as well as adding six four-star recruits via commitments and the portal.

When Sanders joined Colorado, he openly said he’d give his players the opportunity to be “the most famous people walking this planet.

Other programs like TCU, who will play in their first ever College Football National Championship, was a Group-of-5 school just over a decade ago. In Sonny Dykes’ first year at the helm, TCU dominated the Big 12, but lost to Kansas State in the conference championship, finishing 12-1. 

Despite having most likely the least talented on-paper roster in the history of the college football playoff, TCU has shown how NIL can keep lower-scale Power-5 programs competitive.

Ranked outside of the Top 25 overall in recruitment in 2022 according to 247Sports, TCU did sit at No. 13 in Transfer Rank. They brought in a handful of three and four-star recruits, three of which earned Big 12 honors – Alan Ali (1st team), Josh Newton (1st team) and Johnny Hodges (2nd team).

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After making the College Football Playoff just before the early signing period, Dykes landed nine four-star recruits including Top 150 national prospects Markis Deal (DL, No. 129) and Cordale Russell (WR, No. 141). Additionally, the Frogs have landed major four-star transfers Tommy Brockmeyer (OL, Alabama), JoJo Earle (WR, Alabama) and Avery Helm (CB, Florida).

There is still a lot of time for NIL to develop, after all, it’s still in its infancy at only 18 months old. While NIL has managed to create more parity across the college sports landscape, these young 2023 recruits prove that it takes more than just money to earn a commitment.