July 1, 2021 will forever be a day that lives in infamy to cranky, old school college sports fans. It will also be a day remembered for the opportunity it provided to collegiate athletes to benefit from their ability to monetize their name, image, and likeness. In order to get a handle on what’s happened, what’s happening, and what very well may happen in this chaotic industry, let’s start from the beginning…
While the origin of NIL technically dates all the way back to 2009 when UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed a suit against the NCAA because he did not grant permission for his likeness to be used in a video game (which lost in court), the Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling in the case of NCAA v. Alston made it officially legal for collegiate athletes to profit off of their name, image, & likeness. This specific case dealt with the NCAA’s restrictions on providing collegiate athletes with non-cash academic-related compensation, such as computers or internships.
More importantly however, the Alston case brought the issues in the O’Bannon case back to the surface. With the support of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it was ultimately determined that the NCAA would not be allowed to hide behind anti-trust regulations when it came to collegiate athletes and their ability to profit off of their name, image, and likeness.
July 1, 2022
Let the chaos begin…………..the Wild, Wild West (I’m so sick of that phrase…) in collegiate sports is officially here. Social media posts from college athletes announcing their first NIL deals began at midnight. The level of excitement across this new landscape was at a fever pitch. School officials/employees could not be involved in facilitating deals, but the level of media exposure surrounding this day - and honestly, the first month - was something we had never seen before with regards to a topic that had nothing to do with player performance in actual competition.
NIL as a recruiting tool
During this same month, Nick Saban announced that quarterback Bryce Young had NIL deals adding up to seven figures………….obviously a brilliant recruiting tactic in a space that doesn’t allow coaches to use directly to recruit players. In other words, a coach cannot walk into a recruit’s home and state that there are already NIL deals set up with specific companies for that recruit IF they decide to sign with that university. The same is true when communicating with someone in the transfer portal.
However, coaches and school officials can discuss and announce deals that are being done with players currently on their roster - something recruits are definitely paying close attention to when making their decision. Which leads us to……………….
The most exciting, and scariest, word in the NIL world to date. For those not up to speed, collectives are organizations composed of individuals willing to pool money together with the purpose of creating NIL partnerships with the athletes currently attending the university they are supporting.
The first one of note announced was the University of Texas in December 2021. The Clark Field Collective launched claiming it had $10 million waiting for current UT athletes in the NIL space. You think potential UT recruits or those looking to transfer weren’t paying attention to that headline? What about the report that stated that Texas A&M has paid between $22-$30 million in NIL deals to solidify the highest rated recruiting class in college football history?
While some of these figures and the methods described are probably not completely accurate, the truth always lies somewhere in the middle. Fact remains that collectives are here, and until legislation is created to regulate how they are used, they’re not going anywhere.
What does the future hold?
I could honestly type four words and leave it at that: Who the hell knows? But since it’s far too entertaining to speculate, let’s not let the opportunity pass us by.
The NCAA is coming out with a re-draft of its current constitution. While that sounds great, please understand that it will probably create more chaos than currently exists. Ultimately the new constitution will pass the power down to each division, and there’s even talk of creating a fourth division……..
When the power to create policies is in the hands of each division, it will more than likely simply be passed down to each conference……………..think about that for a second. For instance, if the SEC, far and away the most powerful conference in college football (and probably college basketball now - both men’s and women’s), gets to create their own policies for what’s allowable in the NIL space, does that not simply give them an even greater advantage? Do we really want to widen the gap even further, especially considering Oklahoma and Texas are already soon to join?
Dabo Swinney recently said he can see a separation of the elite football programs from the NCAA, with their own division and government. And if you didn’t already know, major college football doesn’t really need the NCAA for financial reasons anyway. What happens if those programs separate altogether, causing a rift within their own universities over who belongs to what?
Ultimately, federal legislation is a must. And while there are those who will say that the federal government has more important fish to fry (and they most certainly do), this fish is becoming much larger than expected and the size of the frying pan has to match. There must be set rules across the board that create an equal playing field in a business that claims it wants exactly that but promotes everything but.
After all, we are dealing with the education of today’s youth, our country’s future. Or are we? Has that noble concept been completely eradicated by the business collegiate athletics has become today? Sure seems like that’s where we’re headed……scratch that…….it’s where we already are……
All that said, the ability for collegiate athletes to benefit from THEIR OWN name, image, and likeness is a good thing. We just need some clear guidelines so it doesn’t interfere with what those very athletes are in school to do - get a quality education and play the sport they love.