SDSU’s Rising Tide Lifts All Boats—But Will They Sail Away for NIL Riches

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In San Diego, this year has been one of the wettest weather seasons in recent memory. Known for it’s usual fair-weather days and drought resistant landscapes, when rainfall hits the levels we’ve seen so far—things get messy.

I mean have you ever attempted to drive through Mission Valley after a rain storm? The multiple detours to your planned destination are enough to make your GPS have a meltdown.

When the San Diego River takes on more rain than it can hold, the flood waters cannot just disappear—it needs to find a place to go. Often times the overflow creates a new and unexpected path, leaving all those that work around it having to adjust on the fly in order to make things work—again.

That’s exactly where SDSU athletics find themselves after a steady down pouring of unprecedented success in both football and men’s basketball programs. All the winning that has rained down from up on the Mesa has ‘raised the tide and lifted all the Aztecs boats’.

But is SDSU prepared to create those new pathways? The kind where the waters of success guide all their boats gently back into harbors of their own?

This week some of those Aztec boats have ventured off to other harbors in an exodus. These SDSU student-athletes have left Aztec Nation behind and all asking that very same question to themselves.

Announced this week were the departures of familiar, and up & coming, names from SDSU’s two big sports. First, basketball sensation Keshad Johnson announced his entry into the NBA draft, but also made it clear he was entering the transfer portal regardless. This move, by such a fan favorite, left no doubt he was looking for more than what SDSU could offer.

Soon to follow on the football side, team captain and super-senior defensive back, Patrick McMorris was reportedly no longer on the team. The move was surely a surprise, but even more shocking were the multiple names additionally leaving the program later that same day.

In both McMorris and Johnson’s case, we see two veteran players in their respective sports, as well as two outstanding student-athletes. The time spent by both on the Mesa have built connections to the fans and alumni that will last a lifetime. We here at Sons of Montezuma wish them nothing but success in their future landing spots.

The notion that either made a folly decision is completely unfounded. After all, not everyone desires to stay at a single University for as long as Van Wilder. And besides, young men want to explore their options in potential new environments. It’s their very right to do exactly that.

The same applies to the younger, no-longer Aztecs who have left—WR Jacoby Kelly, OL Laakea Kapoi and WR Hassan Mahasin (the missile). We can all only speculate the motivations behind their individual decisions. After starting offensive lineman and hometown hero 4-star prospect Josh Simmons entered the portal, we hope there is not a trend here. Still have yet to put a finger on where Simmons winds up.

In the world of athletics, ask any head coach and they will recite the phrase, “recruits are the lifeblood of any program”. The athletic window for these young men’s bodies to perform at their peak is only open for so long. Can we truly blame any young man for wanting to get all that they can while that window is wide open for giving and receiving?

The answer, is no.

And that brings us to exactly what this is all about. Opportunity.

Some opportunities given too early perhaps, have the potential to go wasted if not handled properly. But that’s the world we live in unfortunately.

The departures of Johnson and McMorris don’t sting so much, as they’ve given and received as much as possible from their opportunities at SDSU. For the younger ones who never put their talents on display for Aztec Nation to witness, the lingering shock is certainly going to be there for a hot minute.

Would SDSU fans loved to have built upon the legacy of Aztec football with those young men—surely. But let’s make no mistake about it, this is not those young men’s problem. This is an SDSU problem.

Amid the spectacular NCAA tournament run for the Aztecs basketball program, that concluded with their first ever trip to the National Championship game, the team’s beat writer for the San Diego Union Tribune, Mark Zeigler wrote a perfectly timed article. The focus was on the name, image & likeness (NIL) methods of two participant programs in the Final Four—San Diego State and the University of Miami.

The two couldn’t have taken more contrasting paths on the road to get to Houston. To Zeigler’s credit, he noted the achievements for both programs brought them to nearly identical conclusions. Both suffered overmatched losses to the eventual National Champion UCONN.

But to give both Aztecs and Hurricanes the same amount of credit in their NIL performance & outcome is where Zeigler’s article shows it’s flaws.

The main ingredient in Miami’s Final Four run was their deep pocketed benefactor, whom Zeigler properly detailed. Millions spent on their student-athletes brought in top talent from all around the country. The expectation was to be the best of the best.

The main ingredient for SDSU’s National Championship run was the round about blessing of a global pandemic. The amazing culture built by Steve Fisher and continued by Brian Dutcher showed strong when he was able to motivate four super-seniors to return for one final extra COVID season and boy did they take advantage of it.

Without the age, experience, maturity and skill supplied to the depth of the team, no doubt we are not talking about the program’s first ever Final Four run. But this will never be the case again—God and the CDC help us.

We will never see another Aztecs basketball team with a similar age range as a BYU team again.

Speaking as an NIL generator and proudly the first San Diego based company to offer SDSU student athletes their own clothing merchandise, I realize the struggles companies may face when dipping their toes into the NIL waters.

Now let’s be honest. Sons of Montezuma’s NIL offerings are completely dependent upon you—the fans. Our sales are generated only if you—the supporters—actually like the creations we make for Nathan Mensah, Adam Seiko, Lamont Butler, Jesse Matthews, Caden McDonald and others.

Your purchases directly put revenue into the accounts of our student-athletes!

But this model is limited and as shifting as…well, fashion. Being a media company as well, our Sons of Montezuma Podcast had the pleasure of highlighting the MESA Foundation, the new NIL non-profit organization who’s mission is set towards SDSU basketball student-athlete revenue.

In our 1-on-1 interview with director Jeff Smith, we learned all about what the MESA Foundation stands for and how they represent the basketball culture and legacy that was instilled on campus many years ago.

This kind of model is a terrific standard to set for the foundation of San Diego State’s NIL. We completely encourage you to champion together with MESA and help raise that standard in an honest and equitable way.

However, unless the biggest of the big SDSU donors join-in, in a significant way, there will still be plenty of ground to gain as SDSU falls further and further behind the ridiculous amounts many collectives at rival institutions have been reaching. After all—there’s only so many times the fan driven donation plate can be offered around in circulation.

The undertaking of building the new Snapdragon Stadium has rightfully taken precedent above many other visions and plans. The soon to come surrounding housing, commercial and research campus will also require as much, if not greater attention and resources. But now is also the time to turn over every stone to bring in SDSU Alumni-founded corporations to come be a part of the NIL world.

Great synergy can be made between young student-athletes on the rise and the fresh brands that are SDSU founded. Wether through food & beverage, fashion, or services, SDSU has graduated some of the brightest minds to develop businesses on the national and international scale.

To this point, SDSU has not claimed a star quality athlete that has been able to take headlines and grab the attention of those big San Diego corporate dollars. That all ended in Houston, Texas on April 1st when the shot of the NCAA Tournament was made by one Lamont Butler.

The Butler Did it AGAIN. With his second buzzer beater victory on the year, Lamont Butler made not only a name for himself, but cemented the SDSU brand in the global sports consciousness. With millions of eyeballs watching, Lamont in that white Aztecs #5 jersey did all that.

New opportunities have come his way, as well as for others on the basketball team, since that heroic victory. It truly is a beautiful thing to witness for this Aztec fan.

But is it enough to safeguard this precious team that we all love? The record setting team that has instantly grabbed all of San Diego’s imagination with one ‘Mad March’.

Coach Dutcher’s mantra of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ has now come to pass. This required the sacrifice of the individual for the greater good of the whole.

As a result, the SDSU brand has risen up to heights never seen before. It is only right the individuals to rise along with it after their success & sacrifice. All the boats appear to be ready to run some more—we hope they run it back into SDSU waters.

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