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Tweet from NIL booster exposes the seamy underbelly of UVA Basketball recruiting

Chris Graham
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A D1 college assistant texted, earlier this week, a link to something that was troubling to him, and after I saw what he was texting about, also to me, about Virginia Basketball and NIL, and I need to note, this before the news broke about the NCAA bringing down the hammer on Florida State for offering a potential transfer $15,000 a month in NIL money.

What was sent to me was a link to a tweet from a Richmond businessman, Jonathan Cotten, who owns more than 20 Good Feet Store locations in Virginia and throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

Cotten has also made himself a very visible UVA Athletics money guy. He touts his status on a Twitter feed that is a mix of running commentaries on current events in UVA Athletics and photos showing the inside access that writing big checks gets you – a courtside snap of Tony Bennett at a practice with a caption including a Bible verse attributed to the coach, another snap of men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany at the upscale Aberdeen Barn steakhouse addressing a small gathering of fellow heavy hitters.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that; Cotten, a graduate of Western Albemarle High School and Piedmont Virginia Community College, seems to be living every hardcore UVA fan’s dream.

But this tweet from Cotten, a reply he posted on Jan. 9 to a thread started by Hooz Got Next, an account associated with a blog called Locker Room Access, which was co-founded by UVA hoops alums Justin Anderson and Ty Jerome, kinda, sorta felt like it might be at least toeing the line, perhaps going over it a smidge.

“To say that Tony and staff does not embrace NIL at all is not true,” Cotten wrote. “He does not lead with it. He has specifically used our company in recruiting trips and Kyle Getter told me that he also did when recruiting. What @Mikeysurf says is true. UVA is not a pay for play school.”

Getter is a former Bennett assistant who is now an assistant at Notre Dame; @Mikeysurf is Mike Lewis, a UVA alum who is active on Twitter as a UVA Athletics superfan.

This was Cotten defending Bennett, which Cotten does regularly on social media – he also defends, vigorously, UVA Football coach Tony Elliott, whose teams have compiled a middling 6-16 record in his first two seasons, but Cotten is the kind of monied fan/booster who won’t let anybody get away with saying anything remotely critical of his favorite teams.

This post from Hooz Got Next is what appears to have set him off:

“UVA basketball players do pretty well on average with NIL from what I understand. It just isn’t used as a recruiting inducement, at all. And by refusing to play that game, it does take recruits off the board. Especially in the transfer market.”

The point Cotten appeared to be trying to make is, Sorry, Hooz Got Next, you’re wrong, Bennett does play the NIL game, and I know, because he uses my company in recruiting.

It’s almost as if he ran the post by compliance, though, with the line about “He (Bennett) does not lead with it,” and the closer about UVA not being a “pay for play school.”

The message felt a little slimy when it was first brought to my attention by the D1 assistant, who felt the same way, earlier in the week.

And then, after the news about FSU hit on Friday, I felt a pit in my stomach.

To recap the FSU story, an NCAA investigation found that offensive coordinator Alex Atkins drove a prospect, reportedly Georgia offensive lineman Amarius Mims, to meet with the head of the program’s most prominent NIL collective, Rising Spear, who then offered Mims $15,000 per month to transfer to Florida State.

Mims ended up taking his name off the transfer portal, staying at Georgia, and you have to imagine that he told somebody there about the offer from Florida State, and that’s how the NCAA came to know about what had gone on here.

Funny, then, that FSU and Georgia ended up being relegated to the Orange Bowl when it had seemed until the final Saturday of the regular season that they had both been destined for the College Football Playoff.

Among the sanctions from the NCAA, the FSU football program will have to disassociate itself from the NIL collective for a year, Atkins will have to serve out a three-game suspension at the start of the 2024 season, and the football program will lose out on some scholarships and on-campus visits during a two-year probation period.

So, what’s different about the FSU situation and Jonathan Cotten standing up for his buddy Tony Bennett as being serious about NIL by telling the world that Bennett uses Cotten’s business in his recruiting pitches?

Well, notably, the absence of a smoking gun, in the form of a substantive offer from Cotten to a recruit.

What Cotton played up in his tweet was the more nebulous notion that Bennett has “used” Cotten’s company in recruiting, leaving open to interpretation what “used” means.

You want to believe that “used” means Bennett telling recruits, If you sign an NLI, there are NIL opportunities for you at UVA, and the Good Feet Store is one of them.

I have to admit, though, that even this, just this, gives me a different impression of Tony Bennett than I’d had before seeing this tweet from Jonathan Cotten.

Yes, it’s probably naïve, but I just assumed that Bennett was above – way above – engaging directly in the NIL game, and that the players that he recruits, good character kids that I wanted to believe were attracted to wanting to play at UVA because of the academics and the chance to play for a guy who emphasizes his Five Pillars, wouldn’t make their college choice based on whether or not they could make a few bucks schlepping comically overpriced shoe inserts to their social-media followers.

I can’t unsee this now that I’ve seen it, unfortunately for me.

Even Tony, bastion of virtue and all that is good about the world, lowers himself to playing the money game; the issue being, apparently, based on how the current season is going, that he needs to just play it better.

We’re only just a tiny step to the other side of the line better than the Florida States of the world.

Another hero, demythologized.

What a letdown.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].