From Zero To NIL: Impact On Amateur Sports

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Sydney Williams August 30, 2021 Founders Corner

For years college athletes contested schools profiting from their name, image and likeness (NIL). Universities and the NCAA countered that scholarships and preferential admissions afforded athletes a special status, which included among many other benefits introductions to employment opportunities after graduation.

Then came social media’s whirlwind ascent. In short order, athletes garnered tens and hundreds of thousands of followers. No one could deny the massive earnings potential in all those eyeballs. Even universities quickly realized just how far blue checks could extend their brands.

On June 30th, the NCAA made it official. The board of governors approved a temporary rule change that allows athletes to profit from NIL rights. A US Supreme Court opinion nine-days earlier precipitated the board’s action by removing the NCAA’s legal protections.

Already in 2019 California had become the first state to pass a law allowing athletes to sell rights. Since then, 30 other states have passed similar rules or have legislation pending.

So now what?

Athletes Cashing In

Athletes can cash in. All those social media ‘likes’ will translate into dollars—same with autograph signings, business start-ups, and participation in advertising campaigns.

Athletes can freely hire agents or other representatives to help them find deals.

Many athletes will add NIL potential to their list of criteria in schools. (What will schools do in turn to distinguish themselves?)

But with profit comes uncertainty. A high school athlete considering ten different schools might have to navigate ten different sets of NIL rules.

In hopes for at least a somewhat level playing field, the NCAA is encouraging Congress to enact uniform rules. Until or whether that ever happens, schools will either have to conform to state law or form their own sets of rules.

Not all state laws are the same. Some states may allow athletes to use their school’s logos or other copyright material in endorsements. Others will not. Some states may allow athletes to receive payments from booster clubs. Others won’t.

What about those schools left to decide their own rules? More than a few might allow personnel to help athletes find deals, even if states where competitor schools are located prohibit this.

Varied rules across states and schools could pressure athletic conferences. Imagine the infighting if member schools are competing for the same five-star recruit.

The NCAA states that it wants to avoid pay-for-play deals, payments used as recruiting incentives, and schools paying athletes directly. Sounds promising. At this point, however, it would need to test any enforcement guideline in court.

How NIL plays out might resemble something like speeding down a winding road at night without headlights.

Sports agents will certainly test how strong the guardrails are. Athletes could be 14 or younger when agents first approach them and their parents. Not every agent will act in bad faith. At the same time, not every agent will act in good faith.

Individual Over Team?

One fear is that payment disparities among team members could blow apart team cohesion. Without a team, however, a top player can’t be a top player. Formerly amateur college teams would be wise to turn to once exclusive professional teams for guidance.

Sports such as swimming, golf, tennis, and skiing that already spotlight individual performance could see increases in participation. Other sports may move towards individual performance to the extent possible. Rowing, for example, could partly shift from nine-person boats that schools have raced for generations to one- and two-person boats.

No matter where and how the road goes, the one constant in all of this is coach-athlete interaction.

Athletic performance doesn’t just magically appear. Even the most gifted athlete gains from productive interaction. That person, in fact, has more to lose from interaction that’s unproductive, or expectations that break apart.

Coach-athlete interaction underlays all competitive sports. It’s the source code. Strengthen it and you improve performance.

Invest in it and you, too, go from zero to NIL..

Sydney is Stride’s Founder.