Some form of name, image, and likeness (aka NIL) rights for student-athletes is likely coming to college football by the 2021-2022 academic year. That’s not to say that this is going to happen seamlessly. The NCAA is attempting to wrangle some control of the situation while bipartisan bills come in from state and local legislators. There are significant differences in the degree of control the NCAA would retain under these bills. Under the circumstances, no one is certain what the future will look like exactly.
With that said, schools within and without the Atlantic Coast Conference have begun partnerships to pursue monetizing these rights. FSU, situated in a state that has already passed NIL legislation, has partnered with a firm to allow its athletes to monetize their NIL rights. UNC has a program for ex-athletes in their elite men’s basketball and women’s soccer programs. Wake Forest has partnered with a company started by an alum to navigate the NIL waters.
Closer to home, the ADs of Clemson and the University of South Carolina spoke in support of a NIL bill in the state senate. Clemson University AD Dan Radakovich indicated interest within his program, saying of Clemson athletes,
“I think our student athletes are very much interested and intrigued. I think they want to learn more to see how this process will work and once they learn that they’ll look at ways that it will best benefit them.”
University of South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner went so far as to make a moral argument for the bill, saying that,
“It’s the right thing for all of our student athletes across the country to have this opportunity to engage in name, image and likeness.”
Schools aren’t pursuing these deals entirely out of the goodness of their hearts. Lost in the conversation about players profiting from their name, image, and likenesses is that conferences and universities will probably be getting some percentage of this revenue as well. There is also the belief, openly acknowledged in the SC state senate, that passing some form of NIL legislation can provide a slight recruiting advantage.
Athletes in the ACC sign the ACC Promotional Activities Authorization form. By signing this form athletes allow the conference to use their name, voice, image, photograph, likeness, right of publicity, or other image or descriptors in marketing materials. This rather extensive document does not include an expiration date.
The amount of money athletes could make off this is unknown as well. Tye Gonser, an LA-based attorney who worked with Josh Rosen to put together a NIL appeal estimated that Trevor Lawrence could have “conservatively” earned a quarter of a million dollars if allowed to sign national endorsement deals. Representing Duke basketball star Zion Williamson was valuable enough to become the subject of a multi-state legal battle.
Those elite players obviously represent the high end of the equation. There is a possibility that NIL liberalization will not lead to much money at all for many players on the depth chart. The marketing value of a backup tight end remains to be seen, but it seems reasonable to guess it will not be life-changing money.
There is also the double-edged sword created by allowing players access to agents. Namely, that some players will capitalize on agents’ relationships with brands while other players are taken advantage of.
As it often is in college sports, change is glacial. There has already been dialogue about name, image, and likeness for years. But sometime in the near future college athletes, schools, and conferences will begin to see a financial windfall from NIL legislation. Programs in the ACC have already begun partnering with firms in an attempt to navigate these new waters (as well as keep up with their peers).