Inside the NCAA’s Name, Image, Likeness Madness

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  • Thousands of college athletes have signed deals during the first three months of the NCAA's NIL policy.
  • A hodgepodge of state laws has caused confusion as athletes and businesses look to benefit.
  • NIL rules are also making a huge impact on college recruiting programs.

As Q1 of the NCAA's "name, image, and likeness" era wraps this week, thousands of student-athletes are earning money while their schools and coaches are still trying to make sense of — and capitalize on — the new order in college sports.

A variety of new state laws and NCAA policies went into effect on July 1, freeing student-athletes and their schools to strike business deals and make money off their name, image, and likeness. Liberal interpretation of the new policies and confusion over state laws has led to a deal-making frenzy that is not likely to change until or unless Congress acts to establish national standards. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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The new markets created by nascent NIL policies will eventually become a $1 billion industry, said Blake Lawrence, CEO and co-founder of Opendorse — a company connecting athletes and potential business partners.

"The athletes are winning and, if the trend continues, there's going to be a lot more spending in the NIL market than we ever could have expected or predicted," Lawrence said.

Most of the activity on Opendorse's platform — 85.8% of all activity as of Aug. 31 — saw players using their social media accounts to promote a business, product, or service. The average compensation was $458.74 per athlete. The sports receiving the biggest payouts were football, followed by women's volleyball and then men's basketball. The Big Ten Conference topped all conferences in NIL compensation, with the Atlantic Coast Conference second and the Southeastern Conference third.

Supreme Court, Politicians Shape NCAA's NIL Policy

The NCAA had long been considering strict NIL rules to ensure the uniform treatment of student-athletes. However, last January, following two years of study, it postponed action on establishing rules. Then, last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against NCAA restrictions on education-related benefits for student-athletes, forcing the organization to issue the interim NIL policy now in effect.

State legislative action that began in California in 2019, as well as a Florida law that established July 1 as the effective date for NIL laws, also pressured the NCAA to issue the interim policy.

To date, 41 states have enacted or are considering legislation addressing NIL, adding to the confusion. For instance, Texas state law prohibits college athletes from using their respective school's marks, logos, and other institutional property in NIL deals. Alternatively, in Louisiana, state law allows athletes to use school marks in certain circumstances.

The U.S. Congress has never directly legislated the governance of college athletics, but proposed legislation may provide some certainty for student-athletes, schools, and businesses alike. Bipartisan bills making their way through the 117th Congress could set standards for athlete compensation, create an athlete's bill of rights, give athletes the right to collectively bargain, manage revenue sharing, and make the NCAA more responsive to student needs.

"The Rules Have Changed," in NCAA Recruiting

Aside from creating new riches, the first quarter of the NIL policy profoundly impacted the way colleges and universities recruit athletes.

"The rules have changed. There is no wrong anymore," Gary Patterson, the head football coach at Texas Christian University, told a gathering of local business leaders at an NIL 101 event hosted by the university this month. "In taxes, do you do short form or do you do deductions? I can promise you there's nobody in this room that does the short form. That's what I'm talking about in recruiting. Everybody lives in the gray area. Everybody in this room lives in the gray area. The bottom line is we're going to have to live in the gray area if we want to keep up."

Alabama's powerhouse football program provides a compelling example of Patterson's point. The Crimson Tide got a leg up in recruiting for next year when sophomore quarterback Bryce Young (pictured above) received more than $1 million in NIL deals before playing his first game. His success was announced by his coach, Nick Saban, who told The Athletic that Young got the deals because of the position he plays and "because of our brand." Saban didn't say "come play for us and get rich," but the message to recruits — and other big football programs — was clear.

The NCAA's basketball season has yet to tip off in the NIL era, but the University of Memphis and Memphis-based FedEx have already taken advantage of the new policy to land one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

"You can come to college now and get deals for yourself and learn and develop at the same time," University of Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway told ESPN. "You don't have to go to any other level to get that."

Schools have shifted from being compliance-driven to more of a coach-driven mindset, and a lot of that comes from the schools being able to make up their own rules, said Jim Cavale, CEO and founder of INFLCR — an agency that provides a platform for schools and athletes to create NIL strategies.

"Coaches are like, ‘What the heck, I've got to recruit,'" Cavale said. "So, with that comes mayhem inside the schools."

Feature Image: James Gilbert / Contributor / Getty Images Sport is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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