LEFT TO RIGHT: Paige Bueckers, Matthew Boling, Katelyn Tuohy, Kumar Rocker
STUDENT ATHLETES

With NIL Just Days Away, the NCAA Braces for Impact

After decades of debate, college athletes are about to be able to be paid for their name, image, and likeness. But several question marks remain.

The era of college athletes making money off themselves is nearly here, and the NCAA faces a ticking clock.

Several states have name, image, and likeness (NIL) laws going into effect July 1 — regulations that finally allow college athletes to secure the bag through endorsements, influencer partnerships, and more.

In recent weeks, NIL discussions have gone to Washington, with both a congressional hearing and a Supreme Court decision, and the ongoing debate has only gotten more interesting.

After stalled Congressional talks and a monumental Supreme Court decision was passed down on Monday, the NCAA is scrambling to determine what’s next. Regardless, some college athletes are getting paid as soon as next week.

THE NIL DEBATE GOES TO WASHINGTON

With the morning of June 21 came a major breakthrough. By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court handed a win to amateur athletes in NCAA v. Alston. The plaintiffs accused college sports’ governing body of violating antitrust laws by limiting education-based benefits athletes could receive.

Justice Neil Gorsuch put it simply but scathingly: “The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

Over on Capitol Hill, the US Senate has kicked around proposed legislation that would lock in NIL at the national level and open the floodgates for amateur athlete compensation. But a partisan divide is emerging, and it doesn’t appear Congress will have anything finalized before July 1.

That means the spotlight reverts to the individual states–and to the NCAA. So far, 19 state governors have signed NIL legislation into law.

Unfortunately, not every state’s rules are the same, a fact that’s likely to create some serious confusion and legal headaches — only underscoring the need for a unified, national NIL law now more than ever. In the interim, the NCAA is trying to identify an overarching solution that will provide requisite guidance to colleges across the country.

As of June 23, they’re settling for a temporary guidance.

A NEW INDUSTRY EMERGES

Across the country, colleges have been hard at work building new foundations to prepare for seismic NIL shifts. As a result, there’s a rising wave of new programs, products, and platforms meant to support schools, athletic departments, and athletes themselves. 
 
A recent study of 23 Power 5 schools found that they have spent nearly $2 million to prepare for the NIL rollout to date. 

But with so many question marks still outstanding regarding how the rules will be implemented at the national level, plenty of schools remain hesitant to make sizable investments until further clarity is provided. The apparent stalemate on Capitol Hill doesn’t help matters, either. But in the meantime, let’s identify some of the prime movers within this emerging ecosystem:

  • INFLCR & OpenSponsorship
    • Co-venture to help athletes manage their content partnerships all in one place while maintaining compliance
    • Helped athletes earn over $2 million in 2020 
  • Opendorse & Twitter
    • Joins Opendorse’s endorsement marketplace with Twitter Video Sponsorships, allowing advertisers to run pre-roll ads within athletes’ video tweets 
    • Allows brands to browse, book, and activate endorsements
    • Brands can browse through student-athletes based on customized criteria and send them direct invitations
  • Schools creating their own NIL programs
    • Focused on teaching athletes about entrepreneurship, dealmaking, financial literacy, brand development, and legal/NCAA compliance
    • Programs include Texas A&M’s AMPLIFY, Nebraska’s NILbraska, Wisconsin’s YouDub, Cincinnati’s IMPACT, UTSA’s Runners Go Bold, Texas Tech’s Beyond Verified, Ole Miss’ Next Level, Auburn’s SPIRIT, UNC’s LAUNCH, Kentucky’s The Kentucky Road, and many more.
    • The University of Tennessee is working NIL into its business school curriculum
    • Some are even hiring “Personal Brand Coaches” like Duquesne University’s Jordon Rooney

WHO WANTS TO BE A NIL-IONAIRE?

College sports are notoriously big business, and the biggest potential winners of the changing NIL landscape are the student-athletes themselves. And everyone from all-stars to end-of-the-benchers will have a chance to get in on the action.

It just comes down to savvy. Hustle. Imagination.

Football and basketball are the most frequently cited in the NIL conversation, but recent studies suggest that despite their “non-revenue” status, sports like swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field, and field hockey have hyper-loyal fanbases. That means super high engagement rates — the gold standard of social media metrics.

This makes them a no-brainer for local and niche partnerships.

Let’s take a look at a few athletes we can expect to take full advantage of NIL starting on day one:

  • Paige Bueckers, Basketball, UConn Huskies
    • 829,000 followers on IG
    • Earning potential: $663,200*
    • If the WNBA didn’t have an age minimum, she almost certainly would have been the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft
  • Matthew Boling, Track and Field, Georgia Bulldogs
    • 210,000 Instagram followers
    • Earning potential: $168,000*
    • The Olympic hopeful first gained attention in high school when he was featured on ESPN, and his YouTube highlight clips have netted over a million views
  • Kumar Rocker, Baseball, Vanderbilt Commodores
    • 75,600 Instagram followers
    • Earning potential: $59,920*
    • Projected top-10 pick in July’s MLB Draft
  • Katelyn Tuohy, Cross Country, NC State Wolfpack
    • 80,300 Instagram followers
    • Earning potential: $64,420*
    • The star freshman has an insanely high engagement rate of 37%, and is a 5K record-holder to boot

*Based on estimates from AthleticDirectorU and Navigate Research that value social media reach at 80 cents per follower

Looking ahead to the next few years, however, many of the biggest potential stars of the NIL era haven’t even stepped foot on a college campus yet.

From top prep stars like No. 1 overall football recruit and USC signee Korey Foreman (44,500 followers on IG) to rising UConn Lady Huskies freshman baller Azzi Fudd (159,000), to Harvard football recruit and viral video sensation Caden Woodall (over 2 million followers on TikTok), there will be a whole new class of super savvy Gen Z wunderkinds to keep an eye on this fall. 

But inevitably, most of the biggest potential stars of the NIL era are still years away from stepping foot on a college campus at all.

Five-star New Orleans quarterback Arch Manning doesn’t graduate from high school until 2023, but his Super Bowl champion uncles, Peyton and Eli, combined to make more than $500 million in salary and $150 million in endorsement deals during their NFL careers. You can bet they’ll have more than a little advice for the young QB along the way.

Oh, and another member of the high school class of 2023? A kid named LeBron James Jr.

With new NIL rules now ready to take effect in several states in mere days, present and future generations of amateur athletes can look forward to having more than just memories to remind them of their glory days on campus. There will be bumps in the road regarding implementation and compliance, but it’s more than clear that the NCAA is finally getting with the times after years of dragging its heels.

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