Imagine Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt in the NIL, transfer era | Adams

John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

Pat Summitt would have been 70 on Tuesday. And she probably would still be winning games if her life hadn't been cut short by Alzheimer’s six years ago.

She had won eight national championships and 1,098 games in 38 seasons as the Tennessee Lady Vols' basketball coach when the disease forced her to retire after the 2011-12 season. If she had continued winning at the same pace for the next 10 years, she would have been closing in on 1,400 wins by now.

The fundamentals of the game haven’t changed significantly since Summitt left it. The players are probably more athletic and taller. A few more teams might be capable of winning a championship. But the rules have changed more than the players or the competition.

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The NCAA now allows players to make money off their name, and likeness. It also permits players to transfer without having to sit out a year.

Some veteran coaches might have struggled with the changes, but not Summitt. She would have thrived. That’s not a guess, but a logical conclusion based on her track record. Debby Jennings, who knew her better than I, agreed.

“A lot of coaches stayed in their lane,” said Jennings, Summitt’s longtime media relations director at UT. “They didn’t change with the game.

“She was always able to change, but not just in X's and O's. She stayed up with what was going on. Not just in basketball, but in the world.”

I can’t imagine her being thrilled by the comings and goings in the transfer portal. She was a stickler for finishing what you started – for getting a degree from the same school that gave you a scholarship.

But she also was about winning games. And both the transfer and NIL rules would have helped her win even more.

“She would have embraced the changes, even if she didn’t like them,” said Al Brown, who was an assistant coach on three of Summitt’s national championship teams. “She would have gone with the flow. And the NIL for her players would have been very lucrative and beneficial.”

Summitt might have lost players who realized they could find more playing time elsewhere. However, she would have added even better players, some of whom would have been captivated by the opportunity to play for one of college sports’ all-time greatest coaches.

The NIL rule also would have worked in Summitt’s favor.

She didn’t just build a championship program. She helped build the entire sport. Her reputation transcended the game. Even non-sports fans knew who Summitt was.

Corporations paid her as much as $50,000 for a motivational speech. Businesses would have had no qualms about attaching their identity to the Lady Vols brand. Summitt’s players would have benefited, too.

“She would have helped them make good decisions (about NIL deals),” Jennings said. “She would have found a way to help them manage it. And help her team manage it.”

NIL deals in Summitt's program would have become another attraction for recruits and transfers.

As a result, Summitt wouldn't have just won hundreds more games. She likely would have won more national championships.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or Follow him at: