Alabama looked like the same old dominant monster in Week 1 of college football this past weekend, which was expected. They smacked around Miami in large part thanks to new quarterback Bryce Young, who threw a record-setting four touchdowns in his Crimson Tide debut. It was a good day.
Today brought more good news for Young. Alex Weprin of the Hollywood Reporter broke that Young is inking an NIL deal and will join the growing ranks of college football players making money off their fame. Young's deal, though, is unique. He's signing with Colin Cowherd's podcast network. Per Weprin:
On Saturdays this fall, University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young will lead the Crimson Tide as they vie for yet another national title. But on Tuesdays this season, Young will have another role: podcast host.
As part of a deal the quarterback signed with Colin Cowherd and iHeartRadio’s The Volume podcast network, Young will talk college football each week on The Bryce Young Podcast alongside Jake Crain, host of The Volume’s Jboy Show.
To start, this is a very good get for Cowherd. The FOX host has been building up his network quickly over the last three months and while Young is unproven in the world of podcasting right now the notoriety that comes along with being the starting signal-caller for the best team in the country easily justifies whatever paycheck he's earning.
On Young's end, this is a really interesting decision. The Hollywood Reporter doesn't mention how much Young is getting paid for this, but it seems safe to assume that he could make more doing less; Ohio State's Quin Ewers, for example, recently signed a deal worth over a million dollars with a sports marketing firm and hasn't even played a snap yet. There are undoubtedly dozens of big business magnates in the greater Tuscaloosa area who would sign a very big check to get the starting quarterback of Alabama to endorse even a minor product.
Signing with Cowherd doesn't mean Young can't take advantage of those opportunities. But as his first NIL deal, it's intriguing. Most athletes these days have been coached up to view media appearances as part of the job, to never say anything too interesting, and most importantly never speak more than necessary. Young is going in the opposite direction, giving himself a weekly platform for all the aggregators and analysts to nitpick.
But it is a podcast, not a live interview spot, and thus this deal seems like an extension of the "control the narrative" movement that has been gaining more momentum among the athletes that actually play the games over the last decade. From that vein, it's a brilliant move by Young. If he so chooses, he can address the larger narratives about himself and his game every week in the exact manner he chooses. Given how little access media members get to college athletes nowadays, it will be far easier for Young to seize control of the conversation surrounding him than a professional athlete in a similar position. Young gets that inherent advantage while being paid to do so.
Even with that in mind it feels inherently surprising that a high-profile college athlete is choosing to be in front of a microphone more often than he is required. The machinations of sports media have never played a bigger role in the public's perception of athletes than they do today. For college athletes, it affects potential earnings. That's why nobody ever got an interesting soundbite from Trevor Lawrence despite the fact that he started for three full seasons for one of the best teams in the country. Even if Young is controlling every aspect of his own podcast and his team will have the final say in anything that gets published, it's a built-in risk that one mistake, however minor, could change his future.
It is, in a sense, ground-breaking no matter which way you spin it though. College athletes have never been able to have a say in how people talk about them because NIL restrictions severely limited their opportunities to do so. If more follow Young's path in the near and far future, that changes in a significant way. For now, Young is the great experiment. It probably won't have the grand ripple effects suggested in this column, but it's worth keeping an eye on anyway.