Wiedmer: MIami's Wong shows the selfish, ugly side of NIL

Reality bites.

Just ask Miami Hurricanes basketball player Isaiah Wong. Flush with a possibly inflated sense of his own marketing worth following his strong NCAA Tournament performance, Wong briefly decided last week that he would enter the transfer portal if his Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) financial package wasn't increased.

Or as his NIL agent, Adam Papas of NEXT Sports Agency, told ESPN last Thursday night: "If Isaiah and his family don't feel that the NIL number meets their expectations, they will be entering the transfer portal (Friday), while maintaining his eligibility in the NBA draft and going through the draft process."

Papas quickly added: "Isaiah would like to stay at Miami. He had a great season leading his team to the Elite Eight. He has seen what incoming Miami Hurricane basketball players are getting in NIL and would like his NIL to reflect that he was a team leader of an Elite Eight team."

Make of this what you will. Selfish? Perhaps. Threatening bordering on blackmail? Absolutely. Concerned about how this might play out in the locker room IF his demands were met? Yeah, right.

The problem was, Wong and his family had previously signed a contract with LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz, and he had no intention of tearing up or reworking that contract in any way, shape or form.

So right after Wong's threat to enter the transfer portal, Ruiz issued his own statement.

"He has been treated by LifeWallet exceptionally well," Ruiz told ESPN that same night. "If that is what he decides, I wish him well, however, I do not renegotiate. I cannot disclose the amount, but what I can say is that he was treated very fairly."

For those who are interested, LifeWallet is a software company that makes their clients' complete medical records available at the touch of a cellphone screen for medical personnel. More than one million people have bought the product. Ruiz also owns Cigarette Racing, which is a dominant powerboat racing business.

According to a Miami Herald article that ran last Wednesday, Ruiz has 111 deals signed or pending with Hurricanes athletes to promote his two companies.

While Ruiz remains mum about the amount Wong is making off his NIL deal, he did tell ESPN: "I can tell you he was treated very fairly. It's not a small contract. And I do give him my word that he's going to get more money. He's not going to get it from me, but he is going to get more money because he's very marketable."

According to Papas, at least one NIL deal Ruiz has funded for a Miami athlete is anything but a small contract.

The agent told ESPN that Kansas State basketball transfer Nijel Pack received a two-year deal worth $800,000 plus a car.

When a basketball transfer is receiving that kind of money from a football school supporter - and the LifeWallet website is covered with photos of Hurricanes and former Hurricanes - you know this NIL stuff is out of control at the Power Five Conference level.

Which brings us to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which while technically Division I - the Mocs did almost upset Illinois in the opening round of the NCAA tourney - is Division I in name only when it comes to NIL money for its athletes.

Merely consider this Monday afternoon quote from UTC athletic director Mark Wharton: "I'd say, on average, our student-athletes' NIL deals average about $125 a player."

That's not $125,000 a player. That's $125 a player. That probably wouldn't even buy you and a date a single dinner at any trendy South Beach restaurant. On the other hand, it wasn't all that long ago that Pack's $800,000 deal would be in the ballpark of the combined salaries of the UTC's head men's basketball coach and football coach over a two-year time period.

Naturally, the NCAA says it's starting to study these NIL deals, which have no uniform guidelines, or in the case of some states, seemingly no guidelines at all.

"We are in the business of trying to get this right," the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs Dave Schnase told ESPN, supposedly with a straight face."It really is about student-athletes and providing them an opportunity to be involved in NIL activities while promoting fair national competition."

And why would anybody even entertain the notion that there's zero fair national competion when Power Five programs are paying a fair number of their athletes six-figure NIL deals - and in some cases more than $1 million per year - while a Football Championship Subdivision school such as UTC is overseeing $125 deals.

Talk about the lure of the transfer portal.

As Wharton discussed his school's NIL issues and what they do to counsel kids through Opendorse, an online business devoted to educating athletes and administrators alike about NIL, he said of the Wong mess: "The public is seeing the ugly side of NIL."

And with the NCAA attempting to better and more fairly control it, it's all but guaranteed to get uglier and uglier in the months and years to come.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.