The off season is in full swing. Players are on the move. New multimillion dollar contracts are being signed, but we aren’t talking about the NFL or NBA. We are talking about the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). College sports isn’t usually in the headlines this much during the summer, but that is all changing because now athletes have the ability to cash in on their name, image, and likeness (NIL). While many people view this as long overdue, a lot of coaches and fans are mad.
For the vast majority of time, college sports has existed, athletes have only been compensated with tuition, room and board. A fair deal economically speaking for most athletes in most sports. Most sports aren’t profitable. However, if you were a football or basketball player, this deal is WAY below market value for your skills, especially if you are one of the top players at a prominent program. Zion Williamson was a superstar freshman at Duke in 2019 before NIL rights came into existence. He could have signed multi-million-dollar shoe deals right out of high school. His value to Duke University was estimated to be around 5 million … well above the cost of his tuition, room and board. While he couldn’t get paid, his coach, Coach K, made around 7 million that year which is only a portion of the actual revenue Duke brings in each year. None of this even touches on the free publicity and advertising a school gets from having a competitive athletic program.
College sports is a multi-billion-dollar business in total, but that money didn’t always trickle down to the players. Several states, led by California, passed legislation that gave athletes the right to make money from their name, image, and likeness. This forced the NCAA’s hand, and they eventually adopted a similar policy nationwide. This means that outside companies can pay athletes for endorsements like shoe deals or commercials, similar to what you see in the pros. It also allows for athletes to make money by doing things like hosting summer camps or even selling promotion on TikTok.
To say athletes have taken advantage of the newfound freedom is an understatement. All over the country athletes are signing deals worth thousands and sometimes even millions of dollars. It’s not just football and basketball players either. High profile athletes in non-money-making sports who have a large following due to their participation in the Olympics or even just because of their social media clout are also getting in on the action. Imagine if Simone Biles was able sign lucrative endorsement deals and still participate in NCAA gymnastics after her triumph at the 2016 Olympics? The all around winner from the 2020 Olympics, Suni lee, is doing just that at Auburn.
This has even trickled down to high school. Many states already had laws in place allowing high school athletes to make money. The only thing ever stopping them was the fear of losing their college eligibility. With that concern out of the picture, many of these student athletes are rolling in cash before they even step foot on a college campus.
Not everyone is happy about this. A lot of fans who bought into the myth of college sports being amateur athletics feel like players shouldn’t get paid. Any social media post that has to deal with athletes making money is riddled with fans demanding they pay back their scholarship. But fans aren’t the only ones who are salty. Coaches have been complaining too. Recently Alabama football coach Nick Saban called out conference rival, Texas A&M and HBCU, Jackson State for paying for players. The optics of a coach who makes almost 10 million dollars a year complaining about players getting paid and a Historically Black College landing a top recruit predictably didn’t go over to well.
To be fair to coach Saban his specific complaint was not about NIL in general but a specific loophole that allows for a school’s boosters to pay players.
NIL rights stop just short of allowing schools to actually pay players salaries for being on the team. NIL money is essentially just money on the side for players. The only compensation players get directly from the school is still just tuition, room and board. However, if you have a lot of wealthy alumni and boosters, who care enough about sports, there is nothing stopping them from coming together forming a “collective” and paying players for simply being on the team. Critics say this creates a de-facto “pay for play” system where smaller schools can’t compete. Those critics are clamoring for federal legislation or an NCAA policy to limit the scope of NIL laws to prevent such collectives. The NCAA is reluctant to do so because such a policy could open the door to another lawsuit destined for the supreme court, and if the most recent case is any indication, the supreme court justices seem to be hostile to the current NCAA compensation model.
The landscape of college sports has completely changed. No matter how mad fans or coaches are it will be difficult to fully but the genie back in the bottle. If the NCAA tries to, they may lose even more power than they already have.