Few institutions in American life have changed as much as college sports in recent years, and the beneficiaries have been players like Bumper Pool.

The two biggest changes are the creation of the transfer portal and the allowing of players to earn money from their name, image and likeness, or NIL.

The NIL reform allows players to profit from their skills and fame legally, openly and as much as they can. Previously, coaches, universities and TV networks could profit plenty off the athletes while the athletes could make money only secretly.

The transfer portal allows players to switch schools without having to sit out a year, as required in the past. It’s turned a generation of college athletes into free agents, with NIL opportunities a consideration.

The quaint notion of amateur student-athletes playing for the love of the game and school pride – there’s going to be less of that. The other downside is that when player recruitment and retention is based on cold, hard cash, then it benefits programs with the most cold, hard cash to distribute.

A number of Razorbacks made themselves eligible for the portal last week, including two major defensive backfield contributors, Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks, and speedy backup quarterback Malik Hornsby.

And that brings us to Pool, who announced he was remaining at the University of Arkansas to play a fifth year of football (allowed because of COVID) rather than make himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

For Razorback fans, Pool’s announcement was welcome news after the disappointing announcements by his teammates. This past season, he was one of a trio of gutsy senior linebackers, the others being Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry, who shared two spots in the rotation. Pool, in fact, was third in the Southeastern Conference in tackles.

Pool is a very good college football player. He’s good-looking, has an engaging personality and has a memorable name. In fact, he legally changed his first name to his nickname, Bumper, at age 16.

He is not, however, a can’t-miss future NFL talent. If he had made himself eligible for the draft, he would have been picked in the later rounds or gone undrafted. He could do well in the league, or he could find himself risking his brain on a practice squad for $11,500 a week over 18 weeks. Or he might not make it at all.

On the other hand, Pool can return for his fifth year of eligibility as one of the faces of the Razorbacks. He can improve his draft stock while making very good money now.

How much? At the start of the season, Alabama coach Nick Saban offhandedly mentioned his new quarterback, Bryce Young, would pull in around a million dollars in endorsements. And that was before Young set the world on fire and won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding player.

No Razorbacks linebacker will make the kind of money a Heisman-winning Alabama quarterback will make, no matter how good-looking the linebacker is. But Pool will be a very big fish in a pond where he has room to swim. He’s one of the more famous people in Arkansas, and he’s also known throughout the Southeastern Conference and indeed nationwide. So yeah, it can be a very profitable year for him.

If all goes well for Pool, he’ll do well this season, financially and on the field, and then he can enter the NFL Draft and try to get really rich. Whether or not that works out, he can follow in the footsteps of other famous Razorbacks who enjoy the benefits of their athletic fame long after their playing days are done.

None of this is to say Pool is making purely a business decision. He clearly loves being a Razorback, and he may appreciate that he may never again have more fun than he’s having now.

But his NIL opportunities no doubt made his decision easier. Like past Razorbacks, he can make good money openly off his skills and fame. Unlike them, he doesn’t have to wait until his college days are over.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

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