Jake Mangum could often be found in front of microphones and cameras during his Mississippi State days. Credit: Rick Cleveland

Yes, says former Mississippi State baseball great Jake Mangum, he wishes he had been allowed to earn money from endorsements when he was hitting line drives, stealing bases and was the face of the popular Bulldogs baseball program from 2016-2019.

“There’s no doubt I could have made some money,” Mangum said. “Would have been nice.”

Mangum famously put off earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in professional baseball to play his junior and senior seasons at State. (Mangum was age-eligible for the Major League draft after his sophomore season.)

“It would have helped me make up for some of the money I lost,” he said. Mangum made it clear he thinks college baseball players, most of whom pay at least part of their way through school, should have an opportunity to earn money through endorsements.

Under separate bills passed this week by both the state Senate and House, college athletes would be allowed to contract with an agent for their names, images or likenesses to be used, for instance, to endorse a product and receive compensation for that endorsement. Mangum was one of the first athletes I thought of when the legislation was passed. He was the square-jawed, handsome darling of State fans. A car dealership or insurance company could have done a lot worse than have him endorsing their products.

Rick Cleveland

And can you imagine the kind of money a star football quarterback — a Dak Prescott or an Eli Manning — could have made on the side during their collegiate days?

But Mangum, a smart guy who has professed a desire to some day work as a college athletics coach or administrator, does see possible pitfalls of an open earnings market for college athletes.

“If this is going to happen, and it looks like it will, I don’t just think it should be allowed for underclassmen,” Mangum said. “It never should become part of recruiting. I believe it should be for juniors and seniors.”

Mississippi athletic directors and coaches privately fear they will be at a competitive disadvantage against colleges from more populous states with more and richer corporations that might seek endorsement contracts with collegiate athletes.

“Sooner or later, you know it will eventually become a recruiting tool,” one in-state athletic director told me. “I don’t see how that is going to help us.”

And it is difficult to see how it will help more than a few of the brightest athletic stars.

In other words, the all-conference quarterback could make thousands. But what about the guards and tackles who block for him?

Deuce McAllister rushed for more than 6,000 yards. Credit: New Orleans Saints

“The devil will be in the details,” said Deuce McAllister, the former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints standout running back, and one of the most popular players in Rebel football history. McAllister believes he could have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsements over his Ole Miss career when he rushed for more than 3,000 yards and scored 41 touchdowns for teams that won 30 games, including three bowl games.

What details?

“When do you become eligible for making endorsements?” McAllister answered. “What products can you endorse? Are there any limits? How do you keep it out of recruiting?”

Social media, McAllister says, will make it easy for college athletes to make endorsements. Many of the best known college athletes have Twitter followers in the tens of thousands.

The NCAA must decide those details. It is a task the organization has put off for years. But the clock is about to run out. At least four other states already have passed similar laws. Legislation is pending in many other states. Meanwhile, the NCAA has said it is waiting for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to provide guidance on the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a relevant lawsuit in March and is expected to rule on the issue later this summer. Clearly, change is coming.

In big-time college athletics, coaches and administrators make millions of dollars and often move from school to school for larger contracts. They are free to make endorsements, and coaches such as Nick Saban and Mike Krzyzewski make hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsements on top of their salaries, already large enough to make corporate CEOs drool. Meanwhile, college athletes, at least above the table, get only tuition, room and board, and a modest stipend, can’t endorse anything and have little, if any, free time to even hold a part-time job. College baseball players often don’t get full scholarships.

That’s not right.

But McAllister is right. The devil will be in the details. And there are so many. Here’s one more: If you limit endorsements to upperclassmen, what does that do to the many elite college basketball players who normally play only one or two seasons before going pro?

The NCAA should have gotten ahead of this years and years ago. It did not. And now it faces a devil of a time and momentous change.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.