UMass football coach Walt Bell stands with players on NIL rights

  • UMass football coach Walt Bell made it clear Tuesday that he stands with college athletes in regards to them profiting off their names, images and likenesses. GAZTTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/6/2021 7:05:14 PM

When it comes to players’ rights to their names, images and likenesses, UMass football coach Walt Bell made it clear where he stood Tuesday.

“Every dime that those young men can possibly get in a legal manner, I want that to happen. I am 100 percent in the players corner. I’m not the world’s largest fan of the NCAA and some of the things that they do, but I am a huge fan of the players themselves,” Bell said after Tuesday’s spring practice. “Trust me, the NCAA can find plenty of time to write a lot of rules. There’s no reason they can’t legislate this one, too.”

Massachusetts representative Lori Trahan co-sponsored “The College Athletic Economic Freedom Act” in February. It would allow college athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness with the fewest restrictions possible. Several states including California, Florida, Colorado, Nebraska, New Jersey and Michigan have already passed bills, and more like Mississippi, Iowa and New York have bills moving through their legislatures. Historically, college athletes have been very limited in what payments and gifts they can accept and still keep their eligibility under the organization’s amateurism principles.

The NCAA is also embroiled in a supreme court case on whether the NCAA’s eligibly rules regarding athlete compensation violate federal antitrust law.

Bell cited Gonzaga freshman guard Jalen Suggs as an example. He hit a game-winning buzzer beater to send the Bulldogs to the national championship game Saturday.

“That shot alone is worth millions of dollars for that young man. And he should be able to profit from that. He’s a grown man. While he is representing his university and getting a handsome scholarship check, in two years he could blow his knee out and never play again,” Bell said. “That kid, as an 18-year-old grown up, gave away millions of dollars because he’s not allowed to sign an autograph. He could probably sell an 8x10 signed photograph of that shot to every Gonzaga basketball fan tomorrow, and he should be able to do that. I am 100 percent in the players’ corner with this. The NCAA, like always, they’ll complain and they’ll find a way to legislate this now like they should.”

One criticism of compensating the players or allowing them access to compensation is the inability to distribute anything equitably under the current system. Bell doesn’t see it changing much.

“No and it never has been (equitable) and it never will be, that’s kind of the way America works. In the last 50 years of college football, go look up who’s won a national championship. It’s been the same 10 schools,” Bell said. “There’s lots of people that are willing to invest an incredible amount of money, and guess what? The people who invest incredible amounts o money typically get a pretty good return on their investment.”

He mentioned Alabama, which has been one of the sports premier programs for seven decades, in comparison to Vanderbilt, which plays in the same league and historically hasn’t had much football success compared to the rest of the SEC.

“Is that Alabama’s fault? Not really. It may not be equitable, but football’s really important to one of them. High level athletics, high-level competition, in the NFL, in college, it’s not about equitable. It’s about who can be the best,” Bell said. “I don’t think you’re ever going to legislate a way to make it more equitable. That’s just the way it is.”

OFFENSE WILL BE ADAPTABLE – Expect a “significantly” changed offense, according to Bell, who is both UMass’ head coach and offensive coordinator this season. The Minutemen plan to install “85-90 percent” of the scheme during the spring, and the rest will be game-specific during the fall.

Because UMass is working with multiple quarterbacks at the moment, the offense will be tailored to the skills of whoever comes out on top of the competition.

“You can already start to tell there’s going to be guys where their skills lend to certain parts of the offense,” Bell said. “That’s going to be our job as coaches is to make sure whoever wins that quarterback job, we build a system around him that he’s comfortable with and best show his skills. All three of those guys that are in the mix, they’ve all got a bit of different skill set so when they’re in the game we try to make sure we do things they can do well.”

NUTS AND BOLTS – Bell and his staff are focused on granular improvement with their spring film study. They watch every drill and repetition focusing on techniques and details.

“As you get into a real season all that stuff is expected and you’re more focused on the opponents,” Bell said. “That’s why spring is my favorite time of the year because you really get a time to focus on all those little things. Especially with your younger players, this is truly time to develop. We’ve got the time, we don’t need to rush. “

BUBBLE, SWEET BUBBLE – Despite recent warm temperatures, the Minutemen continue to practice in the bubble. They have leeway whether to go inside or out, but the possibility of rain later in the week has kept UMass indoors.

“When we get going about seven in the morning it’s quite chilly outside,” Bell said. “That’s one fo the cool tings about being the head football coach is we get to go where I want to.” 

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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