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Current Sports Quick Take: The regulation of NIL and its complexities

Daniel X. O'Neil
Flickr Creative Commons

Current Sports beat reporter Zachary Urbin combs through the complexities of NIL regulation.

As a kid, playing the NCAA football video game was a confusing experience. I could not understand why the player names were not in the game. Other popular sports games like “MLB The Show” and “Madden” had the player names, so why were they not in this one? Until many years later, I did not know that this elimination of identity was a name, image and likeness issue between the NCAA and student-athletes.

In 2021, the NCAA approved name, image, and likeness (NIL) policy which allows student-athletes to profit from their identity and personality. Now, it has drastically changed the landscape of college athletics and how athletes choose where they enroll.

Beyond receiving scholarships, athletes can benefit financially and materially by providing services, advertisements and endorsements.

Athletes have the opportunity to use their name, image and likeness through advertisements, social media posts, product endorsements, autographs, apparel, corporate partnerships and many other ways. They can also hire professional service providers for NIL activities.

The major issue with NIL is that there is no federal legislation or specific NCAA NIL guidelines and stipulations.

The transfer portal has become synonymous with NIL. The transfer portal allows student-athletes to transfer to a different school they wish to compete at. Since the one-time transfer rule has been implemented, which allows immediate eligibility, transfer numbers have increased. Multiple times already, major recruits have transferred to take advantage of better NIL deals. Texas quarterbackQuinn Ewers and USC wide receiverJordan Addison are prime examples of this.

On the surface, NIL and the transfer portal are good for student-athletes. Student-athletes deserve more compensation than they get from scholarships, and the NCAA previously prevented them from earning it (cough, coughReggie Bush). They also deserve a choice of where they compete. However, NIL is not inherently good for college sports.

According to the NCAA, only 57% of Division I athletes receive some form of athletic scholarship. On top of that, schools are not required to give full scholarships for every sport. Schools are given a certain amount of full scholarships to give in “head count” sports like football, basketball, tennis, gymnastics and volleyball.

This leaves many athletes fighting for a limited pool of NIL opportunities, much of which will be offered to football and basketball players.

One aspect that gets completely altered by NIL is the recruiting process. The integrity of the recruiting process must remain in place. More importantly, giving the student-athlete the choice to select where they want to go to school. When discussing NIL, football and basketball are often the bold topics that get brought up due to the large amounts of money that are involved and the prominence of professional possibility. However, a majority of student-athletes will never play on the professional level. In this case, where a student-athlete wants to receive their education is an important topic. With the current NIL setup, many of the athletes will select the school that will provide them the best opportunity to make money, and completely disregard what the school will provide in terms of their education.

One decision that the NCAA recently made to help keep the integrity of the recruiting process was to not allow boosters and businesses to be involved in the recruiting process or in the transfer Portal. This way, student-athletes will be less directly influenced when it comes to their commitment to schools.

There is a way to harness NIL and make it fair.

A possibility that could be implemented to control NIL is to put a cap on the amount of NIL money that can be given to athletes. Specifically, limit how much an athlete can make in their first year. One thing that this will limit is the temptation to leave for a school with a better NIL deal. Multiple NIL horror stories have already occurred, specifically with football and basketball recruits, where they take the NIL payments and leave the school without ever playing.

Also, if money is limited for freshmen, more money could be spread among more athletes in sports that do not receive the same media attention. This would allow a more even spread outside of football and basketball.

As students stay with their school longer, the money could exponentially go up and reward participation and development. The limitations could be progressively lifted so a longer-tenured athlete has more possibility for better NIL deals. This rewarding process could be sustainable in comparison to the chaos that is currently going on.

This cap on NIL would also be an equalizer across schools. Many schools currently have a monetary advantage over other schools. This advantage comes from wealthy alumni. These alumni can feed money for NIL and the possible opportunities for NIL deals become more abundant. An initial cap would restrict the influence that money would have, and even the playing field between schools. Much like a salary cap in professional sports, a cap on deals for incoming freshmen would limit NIL spending.

One downfall of a cap is that successful universities will remain successful. This is also seen in professional sports. Despite a salary cap, good teams can continue to be good because they attract the best players that want to win.

Another element to help control NIL is to ensure that incoming freshmen have deals for the following year. If there was a guarantee that these deals would be multiple years, then student-athletes would also be less likely to transfer to find another deal. The student-athlete would feel more secure with this circumstance than they currently do.

Something that should also be considered is the NCAA directly paying student-athletes with no outside sourcing. This way, there would be an even spread among sports and athletes, while also maintaining the objectivity that is needed. Boosters and businesses would not be tempting players to pick a certain school.

Regardless of the solution, recruits should never earn more money than professional-level athletes.

As a whole, NIL should not be used to manipulate recruits to go to a specific school. The transfer portal should not be a crutch to find better NIL deals. NIL should simply be about players being able to profit and build their own brand. Student-athletes deserve this, yet it needs to be organized and regulated.

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