The Intercollegiate Student Magazine

How NIL has Forever Changed College Athletics

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman addresses the media in State College, Pa. on July 12, 2021. His state was one of the first to allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL).

July 1, 2021 marks a turning point in college athletics.

On that day, Florida became the first state to adopt name, image, and likeness (NIL) legislation. For the first time, NCAA student-athletes would have the opportunity to make money off of their personal brand. Many states immediately followed, and most have passed legislation to date. Bills have been drafted to create legislation at the federal level, though none have passed just yet. The specifics vary by state — each has its own law regarding NIL deals — but they all pretty much say the same thing.

Before this new enterprise, being a college athlete was all about the product on the field. If you were good, you likely played at a good school. Sure, if there was a family connection at an institution then you’d be more inclined to play there, and your dream of playing in your home state might overcome any offers from other elite programs. But most often, if you were a great high school player, you went on to play for a great program.

But it’s not all about your skill anymore. Schools can now use NIL as part of their recruiting pitch to high school kids — a component that many never realized would become so important. This creates a massive opportunity for lower-profile schools, which now have potential leverage in convincing student-athletes to commit to them over better programs. 

Take Travis Hunter, a 2022 five-star cornerback out of Suwanee, Georgia and the No. 1 high school recruit in the country. Throughout his recruitment, Hunter was linked with elite programs like Florida State, Auburn, Georgia and Alabama. He verbally committed to Florida State over two years ago, but on National Signing Day, Hunter shocked everyone by tossing his Seminoles hat to the side and putting on a Jackson State cap. Jackson State! He became the highest-ranked player to ever commit to a historically Black college or university (HBCU).

Why would the best player in his class play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference over the SEC?


Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders denied initial reports that Hunter had signed a deal with Barstool Sports worth $1.5 million; But on Feb. 16, the Black-owned coffee company ‘J5 Caffe’ announced a deal with Hunter.

“J5 Caffe’s partnership with Hunter was paramount because both express the mission of making a difference in HBCU colleges,” the company said in a press release.  “But more importantly the Black community. J5 Caffe, [sic] is one of many companies owned by parent company, J5 Solutions. Like Hunter, J5 Solutions is dedicated to raising awareness and the importance of supporting HBCUs across the nation.”

This brings up an interesting component to NIL: the NCAA never considered that programs could use NIL in their recruitment pitches. “We have 550 student-athletes,” University of Missouri Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois said. “We have 550 entrepreneurs. We have 550 young people who recognize how important their brand is and how important the Mizzou brand is. Our legislators did a great job in our bill here in our state, so we’ve been working very hard to make sure that we’re taking advantage of those opportunities.”

Reed-Francois isn’t the only one who sees the entrepreneurial potential this has for student-athletes.

“Part of their education can be learning to be entrepreneurs and learning how to market themselves, and also learning how to operate in the business world and learning how to speak in public,” said Jay Wright, the head coach for Villanova men’s basketball. “The positives are a simple thing, like a basketball player in the summertime going to speak at a camp. Speaking in front of 400 campers and doing a presentation and a skill instruction and getting paid. To me, that is a great lifetime experience. It’s a great educational experience.”

The possibilities for NIL deals are limitless. Any business can strike a deal with any student-athlete, as long as the deal fits within the legislation of the state that his or her school is located. UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers signed a big deal as a brand ambassador for StockX, an online store for reselling shoes. Doug Edert, who turned into a household name during St. Peters’ magical run in last month’s NCAA Tournament, struck a deal with Buffalo Wild Wings. Alabama defensive back Ga’Quincy McKinstry, whose nickname is ‘Kool-Aid,’ signed an NIL agreement with — you guessed it — Kool-Aid. 

And since this new wave of opportunity for college athletes is still so fresh, it will continue to change the way schools recruit and how high school athletes make their decisions. They have the potential to build their own brand in college, and that brand now carries cash with it. How much will they value money over the playing time they may receive, or the facilities of a particular school? It’s too early to tell, but the next few years will reveal a lot.

Michael Howie studies journalism at the University of Missouri.

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