What is Name, Image, and Likeness ("NIL")?

At this point, we are about two years to the date of a breakthrough in college sports that will ultimately send shockwaves across the amateur sports world for years to come.

NIL simply means Name, Image, and Likeness.

Those three things make up what is known as the “Right of Publicity”. And all of those things together empower college athletes to monetize their personal brand, creating new opportunities and challenges for both athletes and the world of collegiate sports.

Even after two years of this new game sweeping the college sports world you’ll still hear it called the “Wild West”. An ever changing landscape of push and pull between college athletes, the Universities they attend, and the proverbial giant in the room, the NCAA.

Traditionally, college athletes have faced restrictions on profiting from their personal brand while competing in collegiate sports, all in the spirit of protecting amateurism. While those rules were put in place to prevent unfair advantages in recruiting and competition, calls for reform and recognition of athletes' rights have intensified.

As a result, in recent years, the NCAA and various state legislatures have taken steps to allow college athletes to benefit from their NIL, enabling them to engage in endorsement deals, brand partnerships, and other commercial activities. Without a true consensus on the rules that should govern NIL, the real battle between state legislatures and the NCAA is only beginning.   

Implications of NIL 

There will be plenty of other content in the coming weeks and months, but we wanted to use this initial blog post as a starting place for anyone who may be just starting their journey into the world of NIL.

There are a ton  of moving pieces and it can be overwhelming for players who are just graduating high school, parents looking to help them navigate this transition, or even coaches and other professionals who are dealing with something that just didn’t exist a couple of years ago.

With that lead in, let’s break it down:

1. Financial Opportunities:

Probably the number one thing on everyone’s mind when talking about NIL, the implementation of NIL rights has opened up significant financial opportunities for college athletes. Athletes can now enter into endorsement deals, promote products on social media, create their own merchandise, and generate income through various avenues.

This newly found financial freedom provides athletes with the ability to support themselves and their families while still pursuing their education and athletic careers.

While the majority of deals you see run across the TV screen or social media are the biggest NIL deals that exist, there are a ton of opportunities for athletes to leverage. Whether it’s an athlete’s hometown. college town, or even national brands, opportunities are out there waiting to be taken advantage of.

Now, collegiate athletes also have the ability to make use of agents to further create opportunities and expand their brand power beyond what they may be able to accomplish on their own. Agents can also provide the ability for an athlete to focus on their craft and their on-field success while having someone in their corner to help off the field.

The key thing to remember with all NIL deals is that that there must be some sort of quid-pro-quo.

An athlete can’t simply get paid for just being an athlete. They have to do something to earn that compensation.

Luckily, there are countless opportunities for college athletes to monetize their brand and can range from signing autographs and making personal appearances or social medial endorsements, all the way to selling merchandise that’s been created by the athlete through their personal brand.

2. Personal Brand Development:

NIL also offers a unique opportunity for college athletes to develop and enhance their personal brand.

Athletes can leverage their athletic success, charisma, and social media presence to build a strong personal brand that resonates with fans and sponsors. This brand development can extend beyond their college years, providing a platform for future professional opportunities.

Anyone remember Donald De La Haye aka Deestroying?

If you don’t, he was a placekicker for UCF back in 2017. While kickers aren’t usually the talk of the town, De La Haye made the national spotlight for his trick shot videos when he went to war with the NCAA over his YouTube channel.

He ultimately lost his scholarship and his eligibility because he refused to stop monetizing his likeness and athletic ability ON HIS OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL. While De La Haye has had a successful career following the end of his collegiate career, you can only imagine how things may have ended up if he didn’t lose his eligibility for something that would be 100% okay by today’s NIL and NCAA standards.

3. Educational Challenges & Benefits:

While NIL rights bring numerous advantages, they also present challenges, particularly in maintaining the delicate balance between academics and athletics. College athletes must now manage their time effectively, ensuring they fulfill their educational obligations while also pursuing lucrative endorsement opportunities.

On the flip side of that, because athletes can now be paid at the collegiate level, the incentive to go pro loses some appeal.

Sure, millions of dollars are going to be a draw that few can refuse but giving athletes the ability to finish out their collegiate careers, finalize a degree, and set themselves up for a successful future after their playing career is over, all while getting paid, isn’t a bad deal in itself. 

4. Fairness & Equality:

The implementation of NIL rights has raised concerns about fairness and equality among college athletes.

While star athletes from high-profile sports may attract significant endorsement deals, athletes from lesser-known sports or smaller schools may struggle to secure similar opportunities. Ensuring fairness and equal opportunities is critical for the success of NIL to flourish.

NIL has already shown itself to play a huge role in recruiting and while pay-to-play is still a big no-no, no one is going to deny that schools aren’t leveraging their ability to help athletes get paid as an incentive for recruits. For anyone to say otherwise is nothing more than being naïve to the situation or turning a blind eye.

There is inevitably going to be a crackdown on NIL in the upcoming years which is why maintaining good habits and establishing clear deal guidelines is crucial for both brands and athletes.

5. Legal & Regulatory Landscape:

As NIL rights continue to evolve, the legal and regulatory landscape surrounding college athletics is also evolving rapidly.

While the NCAA initially resisted NIL reforms, the pressure from state legislatures and legal challenges forced the association to change its stance. As a result, each state is developing its own laws and regulations concerning NIL, leading to a complex and sometimes inconsistent framework across the nation.

Each school has its own reporting requirements and rules surrounding NIL as well. While some larger schools may have dedicated compliance departments, smaller universities may have one or two people handling all NIL inquiries for their athletes.

A whole article could be dedicated to the current state of legislative affairs surrounding NIL (and don’t worry, it’s coming) but here’s what we’ll say for now.

States are going to do whatever is in their power to benefit the universities that exist in that State.

Take Texas for example, who just passed legislation that says the NCAA cannot penalize a school for participating in or allowing activities authorized by that Texas bill. Any wild guesses to what schools are going to benefit most from that? When the transfer portal is flooded with incoming players all headed to Texas, A&M, and TCU, remember this NIL law.

Tying it all together

The implementation of NIL rights for athletes represents a significant shift in the world of college athletics, offering new opportunities and challenges for student-athletes, universities, and the NCAA.

Everyone is still figuring it out.

The University of Alabama even disconnected their phones from their compliance department because they were overwhelmed with the number of questions they were receiving (trust me, we tried calling).

As athletes gain more control over their personal brand and learn how to monetize their NIL, the future of college athletics will be shaped by increased athlete empowerment, evolving sponsorship dynamics, and altered recruiting landscapes.

While there are hurdles to overcome and ongoing debates about fairness and equality, the potential for positive change in college athletics is immense, heralding an era where student-athletes can thrive both on and off the field.

Jace Williams

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