By Ken Reed

As of July 1st, college athletes — from the lowest levels to the highest levels, and from the most obscure non-revenue sports to the highly commercialized sports of football and men’s basketball — can begin to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). In short, they can become entrepreneurs, just like any other students on campus.

More than a half-dozen states have laws that went into effect on July 1st which allow athletes to profit from their NILs. They also prevent the NCAA from interfering. The NCAA has fought this movement from the beginning. But even NCAA bureaucrats see the writing on the wall. The NCAA is now looking to Congress to step in and provide a uniform NIL law across the country. In the meantime, the NCAA is expected to unveil a stopgap plan any day now that will allow college athletes in all 50 states to be compensated for NIL usage. Athletes in states with NIL laws now in force would follow those rules, while universities and colleges in other states would set their own NIL policies.

Most of the conversation around college athletes and NILs in recent years has focused on the income potential of star athletes on big-time football and basketball teams. However, a surprising beneficiary of the new regulations will be non-revenue athletes.

As an example, many non-revenue athletes have developed huge social media followings that can be monetized. According to Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse, a company that works with colleges on NIL programming possibilities, the estimated value of a social media account is determined by followers. A tweet can be worth $10 per 1000 followers. Lawrence believes athlete Instagram accounts can be worth up to $20 per follower. TikTok followers are in the range of $3-$4 and YouTube followers range from $4-$7. Companies can measure likes, comments, retweets and shares. Soon, athletes, from all sports, will be paid to be influencers.

When it comes to college athletic departments, those programs that have prepared for NIL Independence Day will gain a competitive advantage from liberal new NIL rules. For example, the University of Colorado has already launched a “Buffs with a Brand” initiative which will provide all their athletes a comprehensive NIL program that teaches them how to benefit from a personal brand and entrepreneurial efforts. The University of Nebraska is also a leader in NIL programming for its athletes. They are helping their athletes understand the new NIL world and are offering advice on how to take advantage of potential new opportunities. For example, Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez has started a podcast with NIL in mind and is thinking about putting his name on a football camp and signing his autograph for money.

The road to economic justice for college athletes has been long, and there are many miles yet to travel, but July 1, 2021 will be a nice milestone along the route.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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