NIL Is A Win That Gives Student-Athletes What They Deserve

This isn’t your granddad’s sport anymore — the potential for student-athletes to get compensated the way they deserve has dramatically increased for the better

Photo by Thomas Park

We’ve bought schedules with their faces on them and jerseys with their names on the back. They never saw a red cent. We talk about them like they’re professionals, even though we clearly understand that student-athletes are maturing adults who still have so much life left to live. The reward for their efforts has been nonexistent.

In the last decade, we’ve seen dramatic changes across the country in almost every single way that humans interact. The pandemic changed how we live. Meme stocks became the heists of the century. The name, image, and likeness talks surrounding collegiate athletes ramped up and were no longer fantastical “what ifs” in water cooler conversations.

Governor Newsom of California got the ball rolling for the Fair Pay to Play Act and states began to sign bills and executive orders allowing their student-athletes to benefit from NIL. California schools were looking to have the edge in recruiting, but states started passing laws and there was nothing California or the NCAA could do about it.

And that’s a good thing. After many failed attempts, there was absolutely nothing the NCAA could do to stand in the way of the snowball from rolling downhill.

Now I know there are a litany of people who have taken up residence on the fence about whether this is a good thing or not. I can answer that for you. It is.

How many times have you watched a professional athlete fumble the bag, get in trouble, tarnish their name, image, and likeness, and followed that up with, “What is their problem? Why can’t they get it together?”

But think about where that starts. If we agree that people are products of their environments, good or bad, why do we think that somehow that changes after they’re given several millions to compete at a professional level with no real guidance or foundation to tell them how to maneuver through the world responsibly? That’s where college should step in. It’s the gateway to everyone else’s career. Why shouldn’t that apply to collegiate athletes as well?

This isn’t to say that everyone who becomes a professional athlete was cut from an insecure background. What it does say is that it has been long overdue for schools to be involved in helping their athletes have a firm grasp on important things outside of 60 minutes or 9 innings.

These student-athletes need education on financial literacy, to know how to create, protect, and promote their brands, to learn the ins and outs of contracts and negotiations, and to challenge the way that they make choices and business decisions in their present and in their future.

Imagine the impact this will have on athletes who come from communities where they never had access. NIL will change “I wish I could” to “I can” and that’s what matters most.

And make no mistake, there will be players and coaches who fall short and there will be companies who do bad business. We’ll hear about it. They’ll make headlines. People will reconsider their support of NIL, but without the risks there is no reward. NIL will be providing thousands of college athletes with the resources to improve their quality of life and hopefully unlock new passions all while they sacrifice their bodies and manage their schooling.

Universities have made billions off of athletes, with very few of them, if any seeing a return on their investment from that. Yes, scholarships give these students who’ve worked hard for their spots the chance to participate in team sports. What the NIL does is open the door for a new era of accountability, where the colleges that recruit these athletes have no choice but to be mindful of the athletic cultures they’ve created, the people they’ve hired in leadership and administration, and even more so the tools that they can offer on and off the field. Soon it won’t just be about sports or sticking to them. It’ll be about practical education they receive as much as the chance to make it to the next level if that applies.

It goes back to access, the most key ingredient to success next to knowing how to use it. NIL will expose which universities have bought in and which ones don’t have a clue. As 247 Sports’ Josh Pate says it — time will tell and money will expose everything.

This is a path to entrepreneurship that can’t be understated. Not only is it going to help underserved athletes see that there can be reward for working hard at their craft, but it’s going to emphasize extra value on their brand as they put their bodies on the line for mass consumption. Shannon Terry, entrepreneur and founder of several sports franchises including the new future sports powerhouse ON3 Sports, sees the entrepreneurial possibilities that NIL has for student athletes.

Regardless of how you feel about what these athletes do with their money and endorsements, you should want them to succeed at this. You should want the parties and schools and people involved in the decision making process to work to get this right.

You can already see the benefits. Athletes are already starting their own brands and companies, selling NFTs, landing endorsement deals with companies, and making professional business moves that will lead them to completely rethink the way go through college and what they can do after it.

There’s concern that the top tier athletes are the only ones who will be inking the biggest deals and capitalizing on their highest earning potential, but that’s not necessarily true. Once again, everything revolves around one thing: access.

Schools looking to recruit and retain top talent will have to change their strategy, offer more development, and nurture their current athletes or get swept away in a sea of other universities who will take advantage of these tools, their unique locations, traditions, and networks, and newfound opportunity for parity.

Places like Auburn University, who berthed their new SPIRIT curriculums to support their athletes as they enter this new era, will thrive.

The tide is turning. NIL will be the movement that spearheads an entire overhaul of an old and antiquated “wait until you’re a professional” mentality. There’s a lot to hypothesize, a lot to go wrong, and so much more to go right. NIL will certainly change over time, but as for now, we should think of this as a win. It is. This has been long overdue. As the college sports landscape changes, amateurism should change with it and how we see it as a whole. NIL marks a new generation and a way of doing things.

In the meantime, don’t get caught up in the bad, which will come. Mistakes will be made, but think of all the good this will do. We’re one step closer to seeing athletes take even more control of their situations, and most importantly, their futures earlier than ever.

It’s about time.

A writer and singer-songwriter centered around perspective and diversity. Words found on Medium’s Level and Marker. Follow me @JoshuaDairen on Twitter and IG.

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Joshua Dairen

Joshua Dairen

A writer and singer-songwriter centered around perspective and diversity. Words found on Medium’s Level and Marker. Follow me @JoshuaDairen on Twitter and IG.

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