Money Smart Athlete Blog

Understanding the Basics: A Guide to NIL for College Athletes

By Vasilia Polycarpou, The Sports Financial Literacy Academy 

The recent developments in college sports in the United States, with the introduction of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rights, have led to a great shift in terms of monetization opportunities for collegiate athletes, who are now encouraged to build and capitalize on their personal brands; focusing on sports, academics but also personal achievements.

Specifically, NIL refers to the ways through which collegiate athletes can receive financial compensation, by taking advantage of their name, image and likeness, commercially, through endorsements, sponsorships and social media promotions. Before July 2021, college students were not allowed to profit off using their own name and likeness, beyond scholarships and basic expenses, due to the strict amateurism criterion set by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).

Therefore, this suspension in NIL rules has meant that student athletes can now utilize their NIL rights in ways that can provide them with generous income streams, diversifying their earnings, making money in unconventional ways, especially in the era of social media.

A great example is that of Spencer Rattler, former quarterback of the University of Oklahoma. His strong social media presence and fans, in addition to his football skills, ensured him great endorsement deals with various companies, earning him money through social media promotions and appearances.

In order to take full advantage of the opportunities that NIL rights can grant you, you first need to understand some core concepts. These include eligibility, since there may be certain restrictions based on your sport, division or institution. Therefore, it would be best to look into these restrictions with your school’s compliance officer. Always make sure that you stay informed and up-to-date with any policy changes.

It would also be helpful to look into the different types of NIL opportunities out there. These commonly include but are not limited to, sponsorships, endorsements, merchandise sales, autograph signings, and social media promotions. Putting in time and effort is key in boosting fan engagement on social media, making sure that you not only promote your sports achievements online but also parts of your personality you wish to share with the world, in a way fans can relate and look up to you.

These opportunities however, are closely tied with protecting the brand you have built. Specifically, you could seek legal advice when negotiating contracts and always act responsibly, keeping in mind that your decisions will not only reflect upon yourself but also your school’s reputation.

It is also a matter of significant importance that you disclose all agreements to your college institutions to ensure that you are fully compliant with NCAA and state rules, to avoid any wrong-doings that could otherwise cost you. It is also essential that you are fully aware of potential tax implications on NIL income, based on state laws, which may differ, even if that requires expert guidance.

Finally, maintaining a balance between academics and sports, could be quite challenging and overwhelming. However, being a collegiate athlete means that academic responsibilities should be your top priority, while you are also pursuing NIL opportunities in addition to that.

All in all, while the NIL landscape is constantly transforming and providing a plethora of monetization opportunities to student athletes, it also requires careful navigation of its rules and regulations, as well as an approach characterized by integrity and transparency.

The Money Smart Athlete® Blog is established and run by the Sports Financial Literacy Academy® (SFLA). Through its education programs, the SFLA has the vision to financially educate and empower athletes of all ages to become better people, not just better athletes.  For more information on our courses, our SFLA Approved Trainer Program®, and how they can benefit you and your clients, please get in touch with us at [email protected].