College Athletics Landscape Shifts Again With NIL Underway
Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) is here for college athletes, as Thursday, July 1 marks the beginning of a new era in which players can cash in on their high-profile status.
There are stipulations, however, and how this plays out over time remains to be seen. Without question, many answers are to come as the college sports landscape navigates its way through this massive shift from what has been the norm since the NCAA was established in 1906 “to reform the rules and regulations of college sports,” as its stated mission reads.
So, what does this mean, and how can University of North Carolina student-athletes and those from other schools gain financially in addition to what they get for cost of attendance, Pell Grants, and other related benefits associated with an athletic scholarship?
Many coaches across the nation have voiced support for this move by the NCAA, somewhat forced along by a recent 9-0 Supreme Court ruling, in which Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote, “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate. And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law.”
Until recently, though, many coaches have not fully understood what NIL would avail their players, even though they knew it was coming in some form. Some ambiguity remains. Even still, coaches were moving forward embracing NIL as they learned more about it. UNC Football Coach Mack Brown expressed this spring his program will do what it can to help athletes take advantage of this avenue.
“All of us are trying to help young people and we're trying to help their branding,” Brown said. “We're trying to help them when they get out of school. But what does name, image and likeness mean?”
Brown and the rest of the coaches have some answers now. Starting July 1, athletes can receive compensation by endorsing products or businesses via social media and personal appearances provided they are not also including their school’s name, logos, or trademarks. It also must be clear: Schools themselves are not allowed to pay athletes nor can their boosters. Direct cash payments are a no-no. This is not a clearance for pay-for-play deals either, those things remain violations under NCAA bylaws.
In addition, athletes cannot be compensated in their outside deals based on performance. That, too, is against NCAA rules.
Furthermore, UNC athletes, more specifically, will not be allowed to endorse anything through team-related activities or during UNC media availability. So, players won’t slip in a quick pitch for a candy bar, soda, or car dealership when answering questions in press conferences, post-practice interviews set up by the school, or postgame interviews. They can, however, do so using their social media platforms, as an example.
With this NIL era, university compliance will take on a whole new level of importance, as athletes are not required to report deals to the NCAA, but they must disclose them to their schools. To do this, some schools have beefed up compliance. UNC is prepared.
“We will have multiple people from our Compliance unit involved with NIL who will facilitate the proper review and direct services and support when and where it is needed,” A UNC spokesperson told THI. “Other Athletics staff members will be involved as well, and we will make every effort to help student-athletes participate in NIL activities.”
Off limits for UNC athletes are promoting any substances banned by the NCAA, anything to do with gambling and sports wagering, and anything related to adult entertainment.
So, in what mediums can Carolina fans expect to see their favorite Tar Heels taking advantage of these new opportunities? Autograph signings will be an important revenue vehicle for the players, but they cannot sell team gear, signed or not. Personal appearances at business locations or even on social media, which would include shows on YouTube channels, podcasts, and more, are already set up for athletes in some cases.
They will also pitch products right from their social media platforms. And expectations are that the best players might not necessarily be in highest demand. Social media following numbers on Twitter and Instagram, as examples, could more dictate how much money athletes make than who scores the most points or throws the most touchdown passes. With this understanding, market size where schools are located is essentially insignificant.
And now that the calendar has turned to July, many athletes are already prepared to strike with NIL formally in effect.
Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon recently announced he has an apparel line that kicks off Thursday. Southern California quarterback Mo Hason has signed an exclusive deal with a podcast network and will be paid for his appearances.
On Wednesday, Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz revealed he filed for a trademark on a personal logo on June 25 that he made public on his Twitter page. According to CBS Sports, the trademark will be for "wearable garments and clothing, namely shirts; sport caps and hats."
To assist its athletes, UNC put out a release June 16 announcing it had established LAUNCH, a “comprehensive Name, Image and Likeness program that will teach Tar Heels how to elevate their platform and provide tools to enhance their personal brand.”
LAUNCH will teach the athletes how to use their personal branding to enhance business opportunities, how to network, and to deal with whatever possibilities are presented.
“Carolina Athletics has long been committed to outstanding experiences for our more than 800 student-athletes across 28 teams, and that includes providing outstanding educational resources and programming related to Name, Image and Likeness,” UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said in the release.
“Our LAUNCH program will position our Tar Heel student-athletes for success in NIL as we all navigate this new era in college sports.”
College sports has undergone numerous seemingly seismic shifts over time from conference realignments to postseason expansions, but this could be the most earth shattering.
And that it is July 1, 2021, college athletes can now get paid.