By Ken Reed

Well, we’ve reached college football’s bowl and playoff season and college football — as we’ve long known it — didn’t collapse due to N.I.L. (name, image and likeness) deals college athletes are now allowed to make.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has long argued that the foundation of college sports MUST be amateurism (read: everyone involved with college sports is allowed to make money except the athletes who create the product) or the entire concept of college sports would simply fall apart.

NCAA executives, college presidents, athletic directors and coaches have long told us that college athletes are simply students who participate in extra-curricular activities for the love of the sport. This despite the billions of dollars involved in the college sports enterprise, the long hours college athletes must put in to remain on their teams, and the short and long-term health risks involved. They told us that fans would go away if college athletes were able to use their NILs to make some money. They told us the distinction between college and pro sports would blur and that college fans would simply switch to watching pro sports where the athletes are better.

Uh, no. The reality tells a different story. Despite lingering pandemic fears, college football attendance and television ratings were strong in 2021. College sports revenues — aside from a few pandemic setbacks — haven’t dampened simply because some players are making money off their NILs.

A couple years ago, state legislators started to step into the college sports scene by passing laws forbidding universities from punishing, or disciplining in any way, athletes who took NIL deals (e.g., endorsements, licensing contracts, autographs signings at the local auto parts store, etc.). The NCAA tried to fight this development in Congress and at the state level but finally saw the writing on the wall and decided to allow athletes to cut NIL deals without losing eligibility.

And it’s not just men’s college football and basketball players who are benefitting from NIL deals. Athletes of both genders and across all sports have signed NIL deals.

The bottom line is, college sports are as popular as they’ve always been. And 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 are being compensated for the use of their names, images and likenesses.

They can now be entrepreneurs, just like any other students on campus.

It’s a nice win for economic justice.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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