Kim O'Reilly, CBS Sports

CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent a month surveying 100-plus Division I men's basketball coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled across the sport's landscape: some of the biggest names in college basketball, but also small-school assistants in low-major leagues. Coaches agreed to share unfiltered opinions in exchange for anonymity. We asked them 10 questions, and will post the results over a three-week span.

There is nothing more talked about in college athletics these days than student-athletes finally securing name, image and likeness rights around the same time the one-time transfer waiver became a thing. Those two developments have combined to change college basketball in a variety of dramatic ways.

Recruiting high school prospects is no longer as important as it was in previous eras. Roster-building and developing a team over a span of two or three years is increasingly difficult. Organizing collectives to more or less buy or keep desirable players is very much a part of the game at pretty much all levels.

But what are these players really getting?

What's fact? What's fiction?

We've all heard stories -- big and small. But it's often difficult to sift through the tales and figure out exactly what's exaggerated or even made up. So, with this in mind, we decided to go straight to the men who are operating in this world every day and ask roughly 100 college basketball coaches the following question:

Based on your experience recruiting via the transfer portal, approximately what NIL price is a projected starter at the high-major level looking for in college basketball?

Less than $100,0007.5%
Somewhere between $100,000 and $200,00025.5%
Somewhere between $200,000 and $300,00040.4%
Somewhere between $300,000 and $400,00014.9%
More than $400,00011.7%

Quotes that stood out

  • "Like anything, there are outliers in both directions. But I would say an average would be about $150-250,000. There are a lot of schools who are driving up the market where it is getting out of control. [But I'm] not complaining because if I was them I'd be doing it as well." 
  • "I lost [an OK] player to a [power-conference] school for $200,000."
  • "You have bozo-schools offering insane numbers, and typically those coaches get fired. We lost a guy when we offered over $200,000 -- and he would have helped us. But we were blown away by the offer a Pac-12 school made."
  • "I do know between $200k-$400k were numbers talked about when our former player [at the mid-major level] transferred [to a high-major]."
  • "We have (at the mid-major level] been asked for as little as $30,000, and for as much as $400,000, [for a transfer]."
  • "I don't think everybody is getting what they tell people they're getting. That's why I think it would be better if all of this had to be documented and made publicly available. That would stop a lot of the bullshit. But, yeah, the number is about $200,000. If my staff targets a good transfer, we know we better be able to tell him we can get him at least that -- or we're just wasting our time."

The takeaway

We wanted to be very specific with the way we phrased this question, largely because we were surveying coaches at all levels of the sport, and the so-called price for a transfer at one level is obviously different than it is at another. Beyond that, most fans care mostly about what's happening at the tip-top of the sport. So we decided to ask specifically about transfers who project as starters at the high-major level.

What are they really getting?

Some low-major and mid-major coaches politely declined to answer because they said they simply do not swim in those waters and don't have a good grasp for the market. We appreciated the honesty. But roughly 100 coaches did answer to the best of their ability, and we came away with the impression that transfers who project as high-major starters are typically looking for something between $200,000 and $300,000 -- and often getting promised around $200,000 in NIL deals to enroll at a new school.

Are some getting more? Yes. Are some getting less? Yes.

There are outliers on both ends.

But most coaches told us the floor for transfers who project as high-major starters is around $150,000 -- and then what amounts to a bidding war can and will take things much higher. For what it's worth, many coaches told us SEC schools -- and a few other big brands from other conferences, but mostly SEC schools -- are the ones that tend to drive up prices. (It just means more and all that.) And one other tidbit coaches offered up is that good transfers are almost always more expensive than good high school players because good transfers are usually proven commodities who are older and more likely to make an immediate impact than 99% of high school graduates entering college.

Do all coaches love the current state of things?

Absolutely not.

They now find themselves having to do things they did not get into this profession to do -- like rally boosters to donate to collectives and then use that money to negotiate with parents or grassroots coaches or whomever needs to be negotiated with. And it's especially hard for mid-major coaches who sometimes have their best players bought straight off of their campuses deep in the calendar. A perfect system, this is not.

But the smartest coaches have mostly stopped complaining about NIL deals, at least publicly, and started evolving and adjusting to their new realities. They don't all think it's sensible that somebody averaging 11 points and seven rebounds for a middle-of-the-pack power-conference team is getting hundreds of thousands of dollars. But most of them seem to understand that there's no going back now, and they know that unless they're working off the court to ensure they're competitive in the NIL space, at least relative to their conference foes, it's going to be difficult to turn around and be competitive on the court when things tip off each November.

Previous Candid Coaches questions