MORGANTOWN — Where some see doom and gloom in the current world of college athletics that is dominated by the transfer portal and money earned by athletes through Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), Randy Mazey sees opportunity.
To be sure, the WVU baseball coach, who is about to begin a new season on Feb. 17 at Georgia Southern, has had the conversations and he’s heard loud and clear the negative effect of NIL and how it’s changed rosters and the game itself.
“When you bring up transfer portal and NIL to people, I have yet to get anything other than a negative reaction from people,” Mazey said during a Zoom call on Wednesday. “Many have called it the ruination of the game.”
Mazey would like to convince the people of this state otherwise, that the NIL game is a well-defined opportunity rather than the destruction of college athletics.
What exactly is Mazey’s definition of opportunity? It’s one based on economics, which makes sense in that NIL is purely a financial gain for athletes.
“It’s no secret, even if people hate to admit it,” Mazey begins. “At West Virginia, if we let people come in here and cherry pick our best players after every year and convince them to get into the transfer portal, whether it’s NIL-association or not, there’s literally no way to have success that way.
“If you own a business and you let your competitors come in and take your best employees every year without notice, realistically what are your best chances of having a successful business?”
Mazey will begin his 11th season with the Mountaineers predicted to finish sixth (out of nine teams) in the Big 12.
He’ll also begin this season without two of his top hitters from last season in Austin Davis (now at TCU) and Holbrook McGwire (Florida State), who transferred in the offseason.
Mazey didn’t refer to the those two transfers as NIL casualties, but knows there have been several around the country.
“The best shortstop in our league was at Kansas and now he’s at Tennessee,” he said. “You never know what’s true and what isn’t, but you hear all kinds of rumors about the NIL packages these kids get. The best freshman hitter in the country last year hit 20 home runs at NC State; he’s now at LSU. Air Force had a tremendous two-way player, a pitcher-catcher, who left the Air Force Academy and is now at LSU. There’s impacts all over the country.”
Throughout the media session, Mazey used the word “investment” a number of times and even went as far as comparing the current world of college athletics to a professional model.
In Mazey’s opinion, this is where opportunity kicks in: If the fans of WVU athletics got together and were able to help out financially through donations, then WVU athletics would be in a better spot to compete against the top teams in terms of enticing athletes through NIL offers.
“As a state and as a fan base, we have the opportunity to control that to a certain degree,” Mazey said. “If people jump on board with this NIL transfer portal stuff — we can’t win with having people standing on the sidelines. We have to convince the people around West Virginia that the world we’re in now is the world we’re in.”
Are there obstacles? Sure, and it begins with finances. According to 2021 statistics, the average income for state residents was $36,860 per person, which ranked No. 48 in the country.
While states like Texas, North Carolina and California may have more divided fan bases among the Division I schools in those states, those states do have better finances to work with.
“There’s no doubt, and that’s the battle we’ll continue to fight here,” Mazey said. “There is a financial aspect, but we have an opportunity to have people jump on board en masse because of our following. I know everybody in the state of West Virginia can’t give us six or seven figures, but if people participate, you will see results.”
What kind of results? Mazey did not hold back expectations.
“Three years from now, every team that plays in the College World Series is going to have a player at every position who has probably got a nice NIL package,” Mazey said. “If you add all of them together on the roster, of all the NIL money they’ve collected, it’s probably going to be pretty significant.
“If people around the state want to see the Mountaineers playing in Omaha, they have a chance to affect that now more than ever.”