Since July 1, 2021, college athletes have been able to receive monetary compensation for their name, image, and likeness (NIL).
While it sounds easy enough, the NIL policies and rules are still being fleshed out – and are still incredibly misunderstood.
The NCAA has its NIL policy – but what many don’t understand is that its policies don’t matter. Each state has its own NIL laws, so the laws differ from state to state. And this is something the NCAA is starting to have problems with.
NCAA President Mark Emmert held a news conference before Kansas men’s basketball championship and expressed his concerns with the current NIL model, saying:
“It is, unfortunately, a circumstance where we’ve got now 30-plus different states with different laws. We need to work with Congress to create one federal landscape. We’ve had a variety of legal actions in the courts with all of that.”
The NCAA will have a lot more money on its hands should legal sports betting in Kansas get signed into law. So it’s imperative the organization level the playing field when it comes to NILs.
State-to-state NIL variations create disruption
While each state’s laws differ, there are some general guidelines to NIL regulations that almost every state has:
- Student-athletes can receive professional representation as long as their agent is registered in the state
- NIL agreements cannot conflict with existing team contracts
- Schools, conferences, and associations cannot limit a student-athletes’ ability to be compensated
- Conferences and schools cannot compensate a student-athlete for their NIL
While most of the basic rules and regulations are the same, there are some obvious differences in NIL regulations from state to state.
For example, some states prohibit wearing the school’s logo or team colors in promotional deals, while others allow it.
In some states, universities can even broker NIL deals for athletes. While in other states, it is all up to the student-athlete.
Most glaringly, there is still a large portion of the country (about a third of the states) that don’t allow NIL deals at all. This is causing the potential for trouble in college sports, according to Emmert.
“We’re at a place of huge disjuncture around college sports. We’ve got a relatively, in my opinion, short window of time during which the schools, especially in Division I, need to decide what they want the relationship [with] student-athletes and their schools to be, what the governance structure around that can be in the current legal environment, and how the rules and structures at a national level, a divisional level, at a conference level could and should be made.”
Adidas’ new NIL program: Impossible is Nothing
Adidas announced in late March a new NIL initiative that will grant over 50,000 student-athletes the opportunity to profit off of their NIL. The new Adidas NIL network will be accessible to its 109 NCAA D1 partner schools. Through the program, student-athletes will be able to become paid affiliate brand ambassadors with Adidas.
With this new NIL program, Adidas will become the first-ever major sports brand to dip its toes into the NIL waters.
The new initiative is all part of Adidas’ “Impossible is Nothing” campaign, which is all about inclusion in sports. Adidas NCAA program lead Jim Murphy said in a statement to Sports Illustrated:
“We hope to uplift student-athletes by providing educational opportunities to learn more about the NIL and business landscape, which may include bringing them into brand moments and campaigns, partnerships with existing brand athlete partners and ambassadors.
But really we want to open the doors to a more equitable future outside of just unlocking monetary rewards. We want to help them grow as student-athletes and set them up for a future beyond college sports.”
Branded NIL initiatives lend structure to NCAA
While the NIL regulations vary from state to state, this Adidas initiative will become available in all states that allow NIL compensation.
Big sports brand NIL deals may give some structure to the very disjointed NIL/NCAA relationship. This is mostly because of the wide reach these major brands have.
For example, even if half of the Adidas-eligible student-athletes sign the NIL deal, that’s still 25,000 people representing the same brand. Instead of 25,000 student-athletes signing different deals.
Fewer hands in the pot always make cooking easier — so if other large brands like Nike and Puma follow suit, then the NCAA may have an easier time navigating current waters.
Photo by Travis Heying/Associated Press