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Saturday, May 18, 2024

If You Can’t Beat ’Em, John ’Em: Calipari Adapts to NIL Era

  • Kentucky’s coach is headed to Arkansas, which had already grown much more active in its fundraising efforts.
  • One of college basketball’s foremost recruiters is now a prominent face of the sport’s NIL era.
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

For some time, John Calipari (above) was one of the most prominent voices lamenting the fast-changing state of college basketball. Now he’s becoming a poster child for how the sport operates in the name, image, and likeness era.

Calipari is poised to leave Kentucky after 15 years to become the coach at Arkansas, where he will seek to revive a program that won a national title 30 years ago and reached the Elite Eight in both 2021 and ’22 but this season sank to 11th place in the conference, with a losing record. 

At Kentucky, Calipari grew increasingly vocal about how old college basketball became in the more transactional and transfer-laden NIL era, contrasting strongly with his own legendary prowess in traditional recruiting and his heavy reliance on freshmen and sophomores. 

But with the Razorbacks, Calipari’s own deal was developed with the aid of chicken magnate and billionaire John H. Tyson, a significant backer of Arkansas sports. According to multiple reports, Calipari will also now have an NIL budget of more than $5 million per year, ranking among the best in college basketball.

Tyson, whose family is estimated to be worth $2.8 billion, is part of the namesake Tyson Foods, which was founded by John H.’s grandfather, John W., and the family name is on Arkansas’s indoor track facility. (Other prominent backers of Razorbacks athletics program include Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and the Walton family, which built the Walmart empire.)

Even before the Calipari deal began to materialize, Arkansas boosters grew more serious about participating actively in the emerging NIL landscape. Arkansas Edge, the official NIL collective for the Razorbacks’ athletic program, formed last fall and is now in the midst of a supplemental membership drive.

On Monday afternoon, Kentucky freshman Aaron Bradshaw, a former McDonald’s All-American, became the first Wildcat to enter the transfer portal since talk started about Calipari’s imminent departure.

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