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How college athletes finally earned the right to make money

Student-athletes from across the country can now make money from their name, image, and likeness

Iowa v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

On July 1, for the first time, student-athletes can be compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). This is revolutionary, as rules around NIL have prohibited athletes from accepting compensation in order to maintain their eligibility. The rules kept them squarely under the NCAA’s “amateur” guise, but not anymore.

Originally, beginning on July 1, athletes in eight states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas) were going to be able to take advantage of these changes. Laws and executive orders were passed in each of those states, allowing their student-athletes to make money from their NIL beginning on July 1. Other states had similar laws and legislation coming out soon after. But following the devastating loss of the NCAA v. Alston Supreme Court case, and mounting pressure from the D1 Council to adopt NIL policy, the NCAA quickly made changes.

This resulted in the Division I Board of Directors agreeing on June 30 to allow college athletes from across the country to make money off their NIL. Leaders in Division II and III made similar moves as well. Just like that, the formerly unshakable NCAA amateurism rules came tumbling down. Let’s take a look at how we got here and what this means for the future of college athletics.

How did the NIL battle begin?

In 2019, California took the lead when Gov. Gavin Newsom signing a bill called the Fair Pay to Play Act. The bill was signed on an episode of LeBron James’ show The Shop.

Prior to putting pen to paper, Gov. Newsom explained what the signing of the bill would do. Gov. Newsom said,

It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation. And it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interest finally of the athletes on par with the interest of the institutions. Now we’re re balancing that power arrangement.

Gov. Newsom was right. The signing of the Fair Pay to Play Act started a spiral. As he predicted, states began to sign bills and executive orders allowing their student-athletes to benefit from their NIL.

But why then? Why were states finally energized to make this change?

I would love to believe that Gov. Newsom was the catalyst to help other states see the severe inequity and issues of the NCAA’s business model, but I believe it came down to the fact that California schools now had a major recruiting advantage over schools in other states. Recruits would choose to attend school in California because they had the opportunity to make money there.

Who will pay student-athletes?

Though the NCAA dragged their feet and was basically forced into allowing athletes to make money from their NIL, the NCAA is not the organization responsible for paying them. Instead, it is third-party organizations.

With NIL rights in full swing, athletes can now sign endorsement deals with companies who want to use their NIL to promote their products or services. In exchange, the athletes will be paid.

Prior to July 1, deals were already in the works as Iowa men’s basketball guard, Jordan Bohannon, struck a deal with Boomin Iowa Fireworks.

Other athletes like Graham Mertz, quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers, took the steps to launch their own brands.

But also schools have taken steps to support their athletes in various ways, from creating logos for each athlete like USC to launching specific programs to help student-athletes with their branding.

But while many people may be surprised at how much money top-tier athletes may be able to rake in with their newfound NIL freedom, another group of athletes will walk away as winners also. Shaylee Gonzales, a guard for BYU women’s basketball, is an excellent example of this.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Stanford Photo by Cody Glenn/Getty Images

Is Shaylee Gonzales a household name like Haley Jones of Stanford or Paige Bueckers of UConn? No. But she’s been building a brand since long before she got to college. Gonzales has had her YouTube channel for the past five years, and as she began her journey as a D1 women’s basketball player, she took people along for the ride.

She has grown her following on Instagram to 76.7K followers and her YouTube channel to 129K subscribers. For years, Gonzales could have made money off of her content like other influencers, but she was held back by her status as a student-athlete. Now the door is open for her to finally cash in. While a good player, Gonzales may not get endorsement deals solely for her athletic ability, but now she can monetize the brand she’s been building for years.

Are student-athletes still considered “amateurs”?

Yes. Student-athletes are still considered amateurs despite the introduction of NIL rights, but the definition of an amateur might change in the future as the NCAA begins to sharpen up its policies around NIL rights.

Are there other opportunities for athletes to make money?

Currently, there are not, but other opportunities are around the corner. There are seven NIL bills in Congress, but some cover more than the NIL rights afforded to athletes beginning on July 1. Two examples of the bills that could continue to give student-athletes rights are the College Athletes Bill of Rights sponsored by Sen. Cory A. Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL-9) and the College Athlete Right to Organize Act sponsored by Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT). Both bills propose additional ways for student-athletes to make money, from revenue sharing to collecting wages from the NCAA and their universities. You can read more about those bills here.

As a former college athlete, I couldn’t be happier that student-athletes are now able to benefit from their NIL. It’s been long overdue. As someone who could not take advantage of this rule change during my eligibility, I hope that the schools take the time to support their athletes in these new changes and that athletes take full advantage of this opportunity because it’s been a long road to get here.