Last Thursday was one of the most significant days in the almost 200-year history of college athletics. Athletes in every NCAA sport can now be compensated for their Name, Image and Likeness. If you don't understand why this is a massive deal, don't worry! It's time for a history lesson on the matter.
The NCAA has always maintained the athletic scholarship is valid compensation for the athlete's work. While the argument over whether or not athletes deserve an additional salary based on their on-the-field performance (like professional sports) the rules prohibiting athletes from benefitting from their name, image and likeness have created far more predicaments. Essentially, the NCAA ruled that an athlete's name, image and likeness belongs to them, and any money an athlete makes on behalf of his or her status as an athlete, belongs to the NCAA. So while professional athletes can participate in ads and endorse brands like Nike and Subway for additional compensation, student athletes could not... until now.
In 2010 Georgia receiver AJ Green sold a jersey he wore in a Bowl game for $1,000 and was suspended four games. The jersey didn't belong to the team anymore. It was Green's property. But because the jersey held value because of his status as a star football player, the NCAA swung the hammer. This is a straightforward example, but there are more egregious ones. Donald De La Haye was a punter at UCF. He posted vlogs on YouTube about his life. Some videos were about his kicking ability, but it was not the bulk of the channel. He began to make ad money off the channel, but the NCAA told him to demonetize the channel or he would be kicked off the team. He chose the channel.
These rules contained slews of problems. Athletes were severely handcuffed by the organization giving them the opportunity to perform on the largest stage. But thankfully all of that is in the past. With athletes now able to use their names, images and likenesses, all kinds of possibilities are available.
The most obvious new opportunity is endorsements. Despite being young and on the amateur level, college athletes have a huge sphere of influence and having them endorse your brand can be extremely valuable. Two months after leaving college Zion Williamson signed a $75 million deal with Nike. He probably would've gotten something similar while he was at Duke. Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, a preseason Heisman favorite, has already launched a logo for his endorsement platform. These athletes exceed on the highest level and their voice carries as much weight as some professionals. They earned these deals with their exceptional play on the field and deserve the opportunity to cash in.
But the thing about being a young person on the internet in 2021 is you don't have to be a Heisman winner or projected first overall pick to have a following. Some of the biggest names in the NIL game are more known for their presence online than on the court. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne is the most-followed athlete in college sports with more than 5 million followers between Instagram and Tik Tok. Last week she posed in front of Times Square with her handle on it. Haley and Hanna Cavinder are identical twins who both play basketball at Fresno State. Their unique skills combined with their humor earned them 3.3 million Tik Tok followers. They signed endorsements deals at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning.
What's important about NIL rights is that it's not always the status as an athlete than helps these students profit. Just because these students play sports doesn't mean their worlds should revolve around their sports. Fewer than two percent of all college athletes play that sport professionally after college. They should have other ways to utilize their talents and make money. A Marshall football player can now play live country music shows for profit. The fact that he also plays football should never have prevented him from being able to capitalize on this talent. Thankfully it doesn't anymore and college sports are better for it.