The Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously that the NCAA cannot continue it’s current revenue model where “student athletes” can basically only receive scholarships in exchange for playing sports at a school.
Educational benefits are at the forefront of the ruling, meaning students can get things like laptops for school and tutors – after all, they are students first… right?
Secondary in the ruling, and possibly more impactful, is that the door has been opened on Name, Image, and Likeness benefits (NIL).
The effects of NIL are already being seen.
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler immediately signed an endorsement deal with Raising Cane’s chicken and already has his own web store where you can get a t-shirt with his logo on it for just $27.99 or, if you’re in a colder climate, a hoodie for a mere $42.99.
In Miami, a local MMA team is offering every one of the football team’s 90 scholarship athletes $500 per month contracts. That’s over half a million dollars for players just from one source.
Sure, this seems great. Athletes are finally getting compensated for fueling the multi-billion dollar college football machine.
But, dig a little deeper and we’ll see that this is just another case of the rich getting richer.
There’s an idea floating around that the NIL payments will make the world a better place because student athletes can now be paid for their likeness. While it’s a great (and long overdue) opportunity for college athletes, it’s clearly going to be a case of the rich getting richer.
The guys who are going to get the big bucks in college are the same guys who are going to get the big bucks in the pros.
Yes, it’s great that Miami players can get $500, and there may be more deals that emerge in the future where all players get something. However, they won’t all get Raising Cane’s deals and $42.99 hoodies. That will always be reserved for the Spencer Rattler’s of the world.
It’s nice that Spencer Rattler is getting paid now, but make no mistake about it: he’s a top-tier guy who is going to get paid in the NFL.
Last year, Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Pitts were among the first players selected. They were celebrated in college and would have had huge NIL endorsements had this ruling occurred a year earlier. However, neither is shedding a tear. They both signed record deals for rookies as soon as they were drafted and have enough singing bonus money that they could live comfortable lives if they were never paid another dime.
The players who are destined to get paid in the NFL will get a disproportionately NIL contracts in college – even if they don’t end up being good NFL players.
Sure, Johnny Manziel flamed out as a total bust in the NFL, but he still got a $4M signing bonus and made nearly $8M in his career. He made that because of the promise he showed in college, not because of his NFL production. He would have got a ton of NIL money to go with his fat NFL contract, even though he was an utter failure in the pros.
Jachai Polite was a big name in college who could have capitalized on NIL. He did everything in his power to ruin his draft stock. Because he had 11 sacks in college, he only fell to the 3rd round, where he got a signing bonus over $1M. He didn’t even make the roster, he never even played a single down for the team that drafted him, but he still got paid over $1M! He’s the poster child for showing that the guys who get NIL are going to get paid anyways.
NIL is basically an advance on future endorsements earnings for top college athletes.
While some players who will never go pro might get a few bucks (the Miami deal is nice, but amounts to a similar level of compensation as non-athletes with part-time jobs), the rich are getting richer.
Now that companies can invest in college athletes, where will they funnel their dollars?
We don’t know exactly, but you can bet that Alabama will get more attention than Austin Peay.
The big programs, who already have created barriers for the have-nots through their booster programs and recruiting machines are only going to get a bigger advantage in the talent marketplace.
Nick Saban is a master recruiter and now when he sits down with high school kids and their families, he will also be able to brag about how much more NIL his players get than rival schools do.
Bigger programs will also have more funding for better “educational resources” for their “student athletes.” It’s only a matter of time before we see schools start pushing the boundaries on the definitions of some of these while trying to offer athletes more enticing packages.
Super programs will also have a bigger draw for more NIL and that draw – along with more enticing “educational resources” packages – will keep them ahead of the game in talent, leading to more stratification at the top and few teams with a realistic option to win a title.
I personally think it’s great that college athletes can finally get NIL benefits. This should have never been an issue and it’s a welcome correction to a great injustice.
But there is no way around the fact that this is a capitalist environment.
That means you can work hard to get ahead.
It also means the rich will get richer.
This is no different.