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A Year of NIL - Here’s Where We Have Been and Where We are Going

By: Nick DiMeglio

While the NIL landscape has been evolving since endorsement deals became a reality on July 1, 2021, one thing’s for certain, collegiate athletes are receiving the much deserved compensation for their name, image, and likeness. We’ve seen it come in many shapes and sizes- collectives, paid social media content, signing autographs, and numerous other ventures. What seemed to occur in the very early stages of the 2021 summer was that many athletes set the bar too low. In July 2021 the average NIL compensation per Division 1 student-athlete was $471. Compared to the average compensation of $3,711 as of May 31, 2022. The difference between the two was the result of many athletes rushing into the marketplace and not being educated on where to set the price to allow brands access to their NIL rights. We saw the boom of product agreements where athletes gained free products in exchange for their NIL rights. As well as the numerous viral videos depicting businesses' surprising walk-on student-athletes with fully paid tuition. The real-life wild wild west was upon us. While it is still debatable who struck the first collegiate NIL deal, one thing is for certain, NCAA legislation and framework at the institutional level lagged behind for several weeks and many student-athletes were left to navigate this new frontier on their own. With limited resources and information present, the dreams of large paydays once NIL became a reality were not the case for most.

In fall 2021 we saw universities partner with platforms to help their athletes connect with sponsorship opportunities. It was the first time since NIL deals became possible in college sports that athletes were being given the resources they needed on a large scale. This was not just to assist them in seeking opportunities and resources but to do so in a more time-efficient manner. NIL has been noted to drive student-athletes to devote more time on their phones in order to stay up to date on the marketplace.

​December 6, 2021, marked what many consider the first NIL collective-“Horns with Heart.” The University of Texas sought to offer $50,000 in annual financing per offensive linemen in exchange for participation in charitable endeavors. This laid the foundation for dozens of NIL collectives to follow. This ultimately resulted in the NCAA looking to pump the brakes on what occurred during the first eight or so months. On February 18, 2022, the NCAA announced that they would be reviewing how NIL has affected recruiting and other aspects of college athletics. On May 9, 2022, the NCAA Division 1 Board of Directors released new guidelines aimed to restrict involvement by boosters that might entice athletes to commit or transfer to their institution.

While we are still in the early stages of NIL in college sports, it is amazing to see where we’ve gone in just under 12 months since the legislation became official. Many ask though, where are we going? An NCAA survey found that “39% of women’s sports athletes and 42% of men’s sports athletes are looking for more resources on “navigating NIL opportunities.” Education is still not mandated via the NCAA’s interim NIL policy and clearly a large portion of athletes are seeking guidance. The way forward for many athletes is to attempt to self-educate on NIL literacy and seek opportunities independently or to seek out access to a NIL platform or even acquire the assistance of NIL representation. Off-loading the time constraint of learning NIL protocols and sourcing deals to an agency has been the route chosen by many. The possibilities are endless and having a team or platform behind an athlete seems to be the way forward, especially for those who are not receiving the support they need from school admin and the NCAA. Regardless, many things remain unclear. Will the NCAA and member institutions become more involved in NIL regulation? Will we see the boom continue for collectives or an ultimate bust? Will more student-athletes signing to agencies be the ultimate solution to their calls for guidance and support? Who knows, but remaining present, engaged, and up to date on the ever-changing NIL market time will soon tell.

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