It’s been nearly two years since the NCAA entered a new era of college athletics. For the first time, student-athletes were given the right to profit from their name, image, or likeness.
Now, new Ipsos data find that a majority of college football fans support NIL rights for college athletes. A similar percentage of fans report that allowing college athletes to earn money using NIL has a positive impact on college athletics by ensuring players are fairly compensated. With this broad support, it’s clear the NIL is here to stay, but concerns about the exploitation of student-athletes abound.
With former Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker assuming the helm as president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, he must prioritize universal standards for NIL and provide resources and guidance to student-athletes.
The NCAA has operated under an interim NIL policy since the Supreme Court’s National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston 2021 ruling that deemed the NCAA’s rules limiting player compensation unreasonable. While the NCAA promised that it would work with Congress to adopt federal NIL legislation, in practice, the NCAA has been hands-off, leaving much of the legislation in the hands of individual states and decision-making up to individual schools.
Thus far, the NCAA’s lack of leadership has turned the NIL landscape into a Wild West of shady dealings that has left many administrators uneasy. A 2022 poll of 80 athletic directors from the 130-member schools of the Football Bowl Subdivision found that 90 percent feared that NIL was used as a recruiting tool. Twenty-five states have already passed laws regarding NIL and more have introduced legislation.
Instead of debating NIL compensation, the NCAA and colleges should focus on the best ways to help student-athletes navigate these unchartered waters. So far it has been a mixed bag.
Many schools have what are known as collectives — organizations that pool funds together from boosters and businesses — that are technically unaffiliated with the university. They have been a big point of contention, but with nearly every Power 5 school having at least one collective, it is almost a necessity to stay competitive.
Because rules and regulations around NIL are murky, athletes can end up getting burned. For example, Jaden Rashada, one of the top football players in the class of 2023, signed with the University of Florida after signing a $13 million NIL agreement with a donor-backed collective. But after finding out that the collective reneged on the deal, he left UF. While the size of the deal is sure to grab headlines, most NIL deals are on a much smaller scale. The most recent data suggest the average NIL deal is less than $2,000.
What’s more important is making sure that other student-athletes do not run in to similar problems and get hurt in the process. The NCAA must ensure student-athletes have the resources necessary to navigate NIL and provide guidance to athletes starting as young as their freshman year of high school.
While stories like Rashada’s will continue to grab headlines in the absence of such guidance, it’s important to remember the potential for positive stories.
Take University of Connecticut women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers, whose partnership with the education platform Chegg will aim to raise awareness of student hunger. Or Michigan football star Blake Corum, who used some of his NIL earnings to donate turkeys to families in need for Thanksgiving the past two years.
There’s a lot of uncertainty and murkiness in the land of NIL deals. But one thing is certain: Most Americans have accepted this new era of college sports and want it to be a fair system for athletes. Now, it’s time for new NCAA leadership to focus on protecting student-athletes.
Johnny Sawyer is a research manager and Bernard Mendez is a data journalist at Ipsos US Public Affairs.