July 1, 2021 is the day that changed the world of collegiate athletics forever, with new legislation being passed allowing athletes to use their name, image and likeness to accept compensation, or NIL for short.
It’s an important development in college sports and will lead to more legislation in the future. However, as Will Leitch of Intelligencer so eloquently put it, college sports are now the “Wild West.”
After receiving a losing verdict in the NCAA v. Alston case — a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court —, the NCAA was under heavy pressure to enact NIL laws for student-athletes. On July 1, 12 states, including Alabama, signed NIL bills into law. As of Sept. 21, 40 states have either passed or introduced a NIL bill, or signed an executive order to enact the law.
In Auburn, several student-athletes began to sign deals with companies right after the law was put into place. Quarterback Bo Nix partnered with Milo’s Tea and Bojangles (who could’ve seen that one coming?); golfer Mychael O’Berry became a “Barstool Athlete” after signing with the media company Barstool Sports; the entire Auburn offensive line became sponsored by Big Mike’s Steakhouse; and that is only the beginning. As this new era of college sports is only beginning, it’s important to remember that this is unprecedented territory and could prove to be dangerous if not gone about carefully.
It’s great that college athletes are able to see some sort of financial compensation for their athletic prowess on the playing field. The stories of Reggie Bush losing his Heisman Trophy for impermissible benefits or Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy being held out for the season for seeking money were disappointing to see, for many reasons. It’s easy to say that these athletes can find a job that doesn’t use their image as a source of income, but that is near impossible for college athletes, especially in the “big” sports that see a significant influx of money.
With practice time, offseason workouts and then being a full-time student, these student-athletes are already hard-pressed for time as it is. The concept of adding a paying job on top of that is absurd. If a player grew up in a low-income household, why should they be held to the same financial standard as a teammate who grew up in a high-income household?
The new NIL rules are a good start to changing the archaic mentality that student-athletes shouldn’t be paid, but they desperately need oversight. Academic institutions currently overlook the NIL deals, but cannot broker or pay the athletes directly. The only thing that they can do is accept or reject a deal.
It will be very interesting to see the future development of the new NIL rules in college sports. In the under three months since the new rules went into effect, there have already been some massive deals. Built Bar — a protein bar company based in Utah — paid the tuition of all 36 walk-ons in BYU’s football program, and gave them brand ambassador deals allowing them to earn up to $1,000. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne, who has 1.3 million followers on Instagram, signed a deal with Vuori, an activewear brand, for a deal valued in the “mid-six figures.”
Speaking of gymnasts, what will Suni Lee make when she begins negotiating for her NIL deals? The 18-year-old Auburn gymnast is fresh off a gold-medal performance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where she took home three medals in total. Lee, who is currently on the TV show “Dancing With The Stars,” is taking online classes and will come to Auburn in time for gymnastics season this January.
The big NIL deals were inevitable. Ohio State quarterback Quinn Ewers skipped out on his senior year of high school football to sign a deal worth $1.4 million to sign autographs. Texas doesn't allow high school students to profit off NIL, so Ewers enrolled early at Ohio State. Could this become the norm for top recruits in the country? Only time will tell.