What Is NIL in College Sports? The NCAA Rules Explained.

One year into the name, image, and likeness era, the NCAA and college athletes, coaches, and boosters are jockeying to define the parameters of the policy.

June 30, 2022 · Updated on June 30, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
What Is NIL in College Sports? The NCAA Rules Explained.
College Sports Opinion & Analysis

  • College athletes have been able to profit off their name, image, and likeness since July 2021.
  • College athletes can now make endorsement deals, cash in on social media, and get paid for such things as making personal appearances and signing autographs.
  • Moving forward, the NCAA is looking at new rules to limit recruiting and the influence of college boosters.

It has been one year since the NCAA implemented its policy allowing college athletes to make money off their name, image, and likeness (NIL). But as the NIL era enters its second year, the policy — and what it means for college sports — remains fluid.

NIL allows athletes to make endorsement deals, cash in on social media, and get paid for such things as making personal appearances, signing autographs, and even endorsing political candidates.

However, NIL doesn't allow pay-for-play, and the NCAA continues to forbid improper inducements intended to attract students to a particular school.

Here's what you need to know about the NCAA’s name, image, and likeness policy, how it's played out in its first year, and how it will impact college sports in the 2022-23 season.

The NCAA Was Forced to Implement NIL

Before June 30, 2021, the NCAA considered college athletes amateurs, and they were forbidden to compete if they'd taken pay for endorsements or to play.

One year ago, the governing boards for all three NCAA divisions approved what they termed "a uniform interim policy" that suspends previous rules regarding endorsements for all incoming and current student-athletes in all sports.

"This is an important day for college athletes since they all are now able to take advantage of name, image, and likeness opportunities," NCAA President Mark Emmert said at the time.

The NCAA’s decision on name, image, and likeness was announced one day before laws in more than a dozen states were set to take effect that provided the same standards as the new policy.

The decision also came weeks after a unanimous Supreme Court decision in NCAA v. Alston that found the NCAA cannot bar colleges from making education-related payments to college athletes. The decision affirmed two previous rulings by lower courts that held that such actions by the NCAA were in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

"The NCAA is not above the law," Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a June 21, 2021, opinion. "The NCAA couches its arguments for not paying student athletes in innocuous labels. But the labels cannot disguise the reality: The NCAA's business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America."

Here's How the NCAA's NIL Policy Is Playing Out

The NCAA's name, image, and likeness policy allows for individuals to engage in activities that are in accordance with the law of the state where a school is located.

As of June 17, 43 states have enacted or are considering laws in compliance with the NCAA's NIL policy. If a state doesn't have laws addressing college sports, schools are responsible for creating their own rules.

"The new policy preserves the fact that college sports are not pay-for-play. It also reinforces key principles of fairness and integrity across the NCAA and maintains rules prohibiting improper recruiting inducements," Division II Presidents Council chair Sandra Jordan said in a release that announced the NIL policy. "It's important that any new rules maintain these principles."

Student-athletes are required to report name, image, and likeness activities consistent with state law or school and conference requirements to their school, according to the NCAA. They're also allowed to hire a professional services provider for NIL activities.

In year one, a wide range of college athletes got paid for a wide range of endorsements.

University of Tennessee at Martin quarterback Dresser Winn inked what is believed to be the first NIL agreement between a college athlete and political candidate. Drew Timme, Gonzaga University's 6-foot-10 mustachioed forward, linked up with the Dollar Shave Club to serve as the company's first "chin-fluencer" during the NCAA basketball tournament.

University of California, Los Angeles gymnast Samantha Sakti earned $10,000 from Sam's Club simply because her name is Sam.

Women college athletes have benefited greatly from name, image, and likeness, with some crediting it for further forging gender equity in college sports.

University of Oregon basketball star Sedona Prince told a virtual panel discussion hosted by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy that she and other athletes are benefitting from the opportunity to run their own lives.

"Without NIL, I would not have as many opportunities," Prince said. "I would kind of be forced into this path of going to the WNBA, earn about $60,000 a year, and just run my body down until I'm not able to walk in my 50s, which is so sad that it is such a reality that we have to face as women athletes.

"So now I have that freedom where I can just live the life that I want and invest my money correctly, doing well and get money to put to the future. It is incredible," she added.

Not every college athlete can make money through name, image, and likeness deals, however. More than 21,000 international students are included in the NCAA's interim NIL policy, but because most of these athletes are in the U.S. with F-1 visas, their opportunities to earn an income are strictly limited.

Students with F-1 visas are only allowed to work on-campus jobs for up to 20 hours per week and are barred from all off-campus jobs in their first year. After the first year, these students are only allowed to do practical training related to their study, like a paid internship.

Duke University's men's basketball team, meanwhile, is embracing the NCAA's new name, image, and likeness era by creating a new position to help players capitalize on it.

The team this month announced the hiring of Rachel Baker as its first-ever general manager. She's tasked with helping players market themselves and profit from their fame and apparently the nation's first NIL general manager.

Other schools are likely to follow Duke's lead. Purdue University, for instance, recently posted a director of NIL engagement position on the NCAA's job website.

Regulations on Recruiting, College Boosters Required

During the first year of the NIL era, the NCAA issued several guidelines limiting college boosters and recruiting, and it appears fine-tuning rules over recruiting activities will be a priority in year two — especially for big-time sports such as football and basketball.

In May, the NCAA took the first steps to crack down on booster-led collectives that use name, image, and likeness deals to recruit high school athletes and transfer students to their schools.

Under the new guidance, boosters — anyone who donates time or money to a school's athletes or athletic department — are not allowed to make contact with prospective student-athletes, their families, or their representatives.

Jere Morehead, president of the University of Georgia and chair of the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors, called the new guidance a significant step to addressing some of the challenges and "improper behaviors" that exist in the NIL policy.

"While the NCAA may pursue the most outrageous violations that were clearly contrary to the interim policy adopted last summer, our focus is on the future. The new guidance establishes a common set of expectations for the Division I institutions moving forward, and the board expects all Division I institutions to follow our recruiting rules and operate within these reasonable expectations," Morehead said in a statement.

Current football recruiting controversies show why the NCAA is keen on shoring up its policy for the future seasons.

For instance, in May, University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban said Texas A&M manipulated NIL to pay players. Texas A&M beat Alabama for the country's No. 1 recruiting class in 2022.

"A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image, and likeness," Saban said. "We didn't buy one player. I don't know if we're going to be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it."

Texas A&M head football coach Jimbo Fisher denied Saban's accusations.

Meanwhile in South Florida, University of Miami mega-booster John Ruiz is part of one of the NCAA's first inquiries into NIL and recruiting practices, according to CBS Sports. Ruiz said he voluntarily met with NCAA enforcement staff this month to discuss mega deals he helped broker for the university.

According to the Miami Herald, Ruiz has struck name, image, and likeness deals with more than 115 Miami athletes, including Jaden Rashada, who's poised to become the second-highest rated quarterback recruit in the school's history.