College Athletes Embrace NIL to Build Businesses, Brands

As the NCAA's name, image, and likeness policy enters its second year, athletes aren't just getting paid, they're becoming entrepreneurs.

July 15, 2022 · Updated on July 22, 2022

Edited by Alex Pasquariello
College Athletes Embrace NIL to Build Businesses, Brands
College Sports Featured
Photo by Image Credit: Alika Jenner / Contributor / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

  • 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.
  • An increasing number of college athletes are taking the next step to start their own wealth-building businesses and brands.

When Ohio State linebacker Teradja Mitchell takes the field this fall for his final season as a Buckeye, he won't just be a fifth-year senior leader with Academic All-Big Ten honors and a degree in hand. He'll also be a business owner.

In 2021, Mitchell graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in fashion and retail studies and launched his own clothing brand: Above the Realm.

His entrepreneurship is possible because of the NCAA's name, image, and likeness (NIL) policy. 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.

NIL was game-changing, Mitchell told BestColleges. As the policy enters its second year, he said he hopes more college athletes will embrace it as an opportunity to build their own brands.

"Don't look at it as a chance to make quick money," Mitchell said. "It's an opportunity to get business reps, build your brand, and set yourself up for years to come after college is over."

Mitchell was aided in his endeavors by another NIL-era entrepreneur: Zach Beebe, co-founder of Columbus, Ohio's NIL Management, which represents more than 40 athletes, most of whom are Buckeyes football players, basketball players and gymnasts.

The vertically integrated management company helps NCAA athletes monetize their value through business development, brand identity, social media strategy, and financial education.

“Don't look at it as a chance to make quick money. It's an opportunity to get business reps, build your brand, and set yourself up for years to come after college is over.”

— Ohio State linebacker Teradja Mitchell, discussing NIL with BestColleges

Beebe wants fans to understand that NIL deals aren't about "a kid being greedy." Instead, NIL is enabling college athletes to realize their value and create life-changing businesses and brands, he said.

"I think institutions as well as fans need to try to embrace NIL for the positives and lean in and understand it's no longer the circus and (college athletes) are the sideshow animals," Beebe told BestColleges. "These are real humans who are beating their bodies up for people to watch them on Saturdays."

When Tim Curran, founder of NIL management company Curran Media Co., surveys the current NIL landscape, he's surprised how few athletes understand the full scope of the opportunity available to them. His Los Angeles-based business represents 35 college athletes, including Mitchell's new Buckeyes teammate Carson Hinzman, a top offensive line recruit.

"A lot of people were like, 'Hey, it will be the star quarterback, the top basketball guy who will work with dealerships, and that's how they'll make money,'" he told BestColleges.

Instead, a wide array of athletes makes money on an even wider array of deals — and that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the opportunities available to today's college athletes.

As a result, Curran said he thinks name, image and likeness opportunities should be on the minds of high school athletes when they're selecting a school — just like how a high school student selects a college based on their major.

"You're a pro," he said of college athletes. "You can start a business; you can start brands. You can do whatever you want in this new world."