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Mike Boynton Discusses OSU Basketball’s Struggles in the NIL Landscape, Stresses Need to Play Better

Boynton provides context on NIL limitations while maintaining his team needs to perform better.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

STILLWATER — Back when I was in college and Gallagher-Iba Arena’s attendance and product began to dwindle, I made a comment that it was like a chicken-and-egg scenario. Well, Oklahoma State basketball is apparently dealing with a greater game within that same scenario now.

The argument back in my college years (2014-18) was: Would fans packing GIA help the team win? Or would the team winning bring more fans to GIA? Attendance is still an important aspect, but OSU coach Mike Boynton said this week that the modern-age game of chicken-and-egg is being played in the NIL world.

Boynton this week responded to a column written in the Tulsa World about him, spawning another column. In column No. 2, Boynton gave quotes on the NIL landscape surrounding OSU basketball. According to the Tulsa World, he said there are six Big 12 programs operating above $2 million in NIL resources and another three or four between $1 million and $2 million. He said OSU is operating around $500,000.

So now the chicken-and-egg scenario returns. Would there be more money around the program if the Cowboys were winning? Or would the Cowboys be winning if there was more money around the program?

Boynton had his weekly media availability Thursday, where he discussed the topic further.

“I appreciate that our fans aren’t happy,” Boynton said Thursday. “I don’t want them to feel good that we’re 10-14. I want them to be like, ‘Yo, what the hell is going on? Why aren’t we better?’ I want to help give them some perspective while they think. Like, this isn’t 1995. The Thunder is here. We allow for college athletes to make money now. They can transfer any time they want and be eligible. Those things are all real things that exist now that would’ve made Coach (Eddie) Sutton’s job just a little bit harder — as great a coach as he was. He might’ve won a national championship with all this in play. It also might’ve been a little bit harder to do it.”

Throughout his 20-ish minutes discussing NIL and roster retention, I counted seven times where Boynton clarified that he and his staff need to coach better and the team needs to win more. He isn’t hiding from that fact.

“Part of it is we’ve got to play better,” Boynton said. “I think the better you play, the more people are willing to invest their time and resources into the program. That’s totally fair.”

Two years in a row Boynton and OSU have lost a player to Big 12 rival TCU. It was that first transfer when Boynton said he realized OSU was behind in the NIL space. In two seasons with OSU, Rondel Walker averaged 6.3 points a game, but despite being an in-state kid, OSU wasn’t able to keep him as he transferred to Fort Worth (he is now at North Texas).

Roster retention seems to be a major sticking point with Boynton as it pertains to NIL. It’s something that fans on social media have started using against him as of late.

When Boynton brings up how young his current roster is, people point to him losing so many guys to the portal last season. Avery Anderson left for TCU. Moussa Cisse jetted for Ole Miss. Tyreek Smith left for SMU — despite, according to Boynton’s comments to the Tulsa World, Smith coming to Boynton multiple times to try to figure out a way to stay in Stillwater.

Now it’s about Boynton trying to find a way to keep his young group against another onslaught of the portal attackers.

“I know people are probably contacting Brandon Garrison,” Boynton said. “It’s a reality.”

“… Do we want him? If you don’t want him because you don’t want the coach, then OK. He’s gonna go somewhere else. I’m not saying you keep him because you keep the coach. I’m just saying, those things are not mutually exclusive. You gotta take care of your kids. Otherwise they leave, and if your kids leave sometimes what it does is it sends a message that your kids can be taken easily.”

His call to action from Thursday seemed to be for fans to “invest in the kids” because that’s the modern landscape of college athletics. And he said not to wait until the players are out the door.

Recruiting high school players has been one of Boynton’s biggest booms as a coach since taking over ahead of the 2017-18 season. OSU has brought in 10 McDonald’s All-Americans in its history — Boynton has recruited three to Stillwater (Cade Cunningham, Bryce Thompson and Brandon Garrison). Now, those numbers could be up for debate because Thompson initially signed with Kansas, but another of those 10 is Gerald Green, who signed with OSU before jumping straight to the NBA. So, Boynton either has three of 10 or two of nine, depending on how you want to look at it. His 2023 class finished 10th nationally, according to 247Sports.

But without NIL backing, he said recruiting gets harder.

“What I had to do to get Cade Cunningham here was way more difficult than what it takes to get players on campus now,” Boynton said. “It’s not even the same thing. It took four years of making sure I was there more than Bill Self, and making sure I was there more than Roy Williams, and making sure I was there more than all of these other coaches that had national championships and Final Fours and NBA guys. I had never coached a guy that was in the NBA as a head coach. I hadn’t coached in the NCAA Tournament. But over time the relationship mattered enough that he believed that I was going to do the right thing by him.

“I can’t work that hard anymore. Not when you can say, ‘Hey, here’s $500,000 to spend nine months over here.’ ‘I like you, coach, but I might get hurt this year, man. And all you got is a scholarship for me, and I still gotta give those books back at the end of the year.'”

There is a portion of the fan base ready for Boynton’s tenure as OSU’s coach to come to an end — a portion that seems to have grown with this season’s struggles.

He has a buyout of $6.7 million after March 31, which adds another layer to the situation. If Boynton is right about OSU’s standing in the NIL space, spending about $7 million on a buyout for a coach this offseason probably isn’t going to help raise NIL support. The same donors who would likely pony up for the buyout would also likely have to fund NIL. Is there a world where maybe a new coach invigorates fan interest to the point that others step up in the NIL void? Maybe, but that’s undoubtedly a risk.

Boynton’s candidness to the Tulsa World then again Thursday was somewhat jarring. He usually calls it like he sees it, but it was jarring because for the first time, Boynton didn’t take being a punching bag and provided some deeper context to his teams’ struggles — more context than the Cowboys’ obvious youth. Will it gain him more support? More disgruntled fans? That will be determined over the coming days.

“I don’t sleep long … but I sleep peacefully just about every night unless I’ve done something wrong at home and my wife’s mad at me, which happens occasionally,” Boynton said. “But I’ve given this team every ounce of energy I have every day because I know that we’re asking some guys to do things that they’re not quite ready to do or they haven’t done at this level before. Because of that, there’s a level of peace that I have.

“… So many people, they just don’t know. They don’t know. It’s just the emotional fan in them that’s responding, so I’m not going to respond to that because I need to be a professional. But I had an opportunity to clear some misconceptions.”

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