Name. Image. Likeness.
In July 2021, three words converged into landmark legislation that has had widespread implications in the entire sports landscape. In fact, you could make the argument that this landmark is one of the biggest things to shape the college sports landscape, and one of the year’s biggest sports stories.
For as long as there’s been college sports, there have been strict rules that have centered around the concept of amateurism and the NCAA’s belief of what constitutes a student-athlete. Athletes taking monetary compensation for anything proved to be a serious infraction, resulting in loss of eligibility or even suspension because the NCAA believed that an athlete should remain an amateur and that receiving monies would cross into “professional” territory. Before the arrival of NIL, athletes were compensated with scholarships and stipends and they could face penalties or loss of eligibility for doing many of the things that are now acceptable with NIL, including selling merchandise, receiving free products, or even accepting a free lunch.
Let’s put a contemporary spin on this topic. A few years ago, UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi completed a floor routine that went viral, garnering more than 100 million views. She didn’t make a single penny off of that but with NIL, she would have had the green light to work out sponsorship deals on social media channels or sign endorsement deals that could leverage the virality of that video.
Origins of NIL Started Years Before
If you’re a college basketball fan, you’ll probably recall Ed O’Bannon. A power forward for UCLA, he led the Bruins to a National Championship in 1995 and his success on the court led him to become the ninth pick in the NBA Draft, selected by the New Jersey Nets.
While O’Bannon only played two years in the Association, it was his role as lead plaintiff in the landmark court case O’Bannon v. NCAA that started to pivot how athletes are compensated not only for their success playing, but how they can leverage their likeness. O’Bannon filed the lawsuit on behalf of all Division I football and basketball players, arguing they should be entitled to compensation for how the NCAA makes money off of their image and likeness.
August 8, 2014, a judge ruled that the NCAA withholding payments to players was a violation of anti-trust laws.
Essentially, O’Bannon started the legislative path forward for everything that encompasses NIL today. Although he is the primary face behind the lawsuit, he credits a 2019 episode of “The Shop” with LeBron James as a pivotal moment when the discussion of the lawsuit helped catapult many of the recent NIL movements.
O’Bannon also seems happy that athletes are able to profit off their likeness, but doesn’t want to savor the credit despite his unique role in helping move it forward. "I know people are excited for college athletes to be able to use their NILs. I'll keep up, check them out and see what they're doing, but again, my job is done," he said.
What is NIL?
Broadly, NIL allows for college athletes in any of the three major divisions to take advantage of opportunities to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness.
Types of NIL Activities Athletes can Benefit From
There are a number of ways athletes can earn money based on their likeness including:
A number of savvy marketers at restaurant and retail chains reached out to athletes to sign NIL deals. Popular chicken chain Raising Cane’s partnered with LSU quarterback Myles Brennan and Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller to promote their famous chicken fingers and Texas Toast.
What the NIL Policy Allows for Collegiate Athletes
According to the NCAA, the NIL policy stipulates these guidelines for college athletes, recruits and their families and member schools:
Notably, there are some rules and regulations in place that are guidelines of what an athlete cannot do with an NIL, including:
NILs in Action
Now that you have a little understanding of what NILs are, let’s check out some in action.
Here are some college athletes that are making the most of NIL deals:
Future Looks Bright for Athletes & NIL
According to a platform that manages compliance for NIL deals, the average division 1 athlete is compensated $1,256.
This is a watershed moment for college athletics and has opened the doors for innovative and creative ways for athletes to make money and brands to capitalize on the popularity and social influence of athletes.
The NCAA has always prided itself on seeing the thousands of athletes who will not go pro graduate from school and head into the professional world. With NIL opportunities, the vast majority of these athletes will be able to think about their professional career now, and build the foundation for the work they’ll be doing long after their playing days are over.
Progage came to life in early 2021, when NFL football player Kaden Smith and entrepreneur Kyle Fenner came together to create a sports marketing agency focused on helping brands win via creative storytelling and social media marketing.