By Ben Prescott, Columnist
When the NCAA conceded in the summer of 2021 to allowing Name, Image and Likeness endorsement deals for its student-athletes, I was ecstatic. Not because at the time I was a Division III athlete suddenly anticipating rolling in money from my endorsement deals, though this did not stop me from trying. But, because I knew that big-time athletes could start rightfully profiting from their respective brands. It doesn’t seem fair that only schools and networks can make millions from young adults putting their bodies on the line on the field of play.
Playing sports can take a toll on your body. Even the average sports fan knows how fragile the human body is.
One of the more prominent examples of this is Marcus Lattimore, a former University of South Carolina running back. As a freshman, he ran for 1,197 yards and is the current record holder for most career touchdowns in his junior year with 38. Lattimore’s career was full of promise until he severely dislocated and tore every ligament in his right knee a month after he set the school record.
Lattimore declared for the NFL draft that year, selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round, which was a steep drop from where he was predicted to go prior to the injury. He would play for just two seasons, citing his knee injury as the main reason for retirement.
Because of this tragic example, NIL deals are great for college athletes. In one swift movement or big collision, an athlete can lose everything for which they worked. If college athletes can profit off the “personal brand” they create while in school, they can at least save that endorsement money and use it to continue building wealth.
Even though Lattimore signed a rookie deal valued at $2.5 million, only $300,584 of that deal was guaranteed. That is still a lot for anyone to make in two years. Unfortunately, however, out of football Lattimore is unlikely to find an income stream that pays over a quarter million a year. He could have made that much, if not more, in his three years at South Carolina, money he could have set that aside for his family.
What I did not see coming, but probably should have, is how NIL deals are already impacting recruiting.
After they officially enroll into the colleges of their choice, high school recruits across the nation are already being approached about signing NIL deals. While families of the athletes are likely happy about this, second-tier colleges and universities are losing out.
The big “name” programs and institutions in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York or even Atlanta have the advantage in recruiting athletes due to the number of endorsement deals these athletes can expect.
Although Alabama football is the standard for every school in the nation, does Tuscaloosa have the market to support the big-time recruits that want to sign million-dollar deals every year? Probably not. Hey, Georgia State is looking pretty good.
Here’s another alarming scenario: A sponsoring company – let’s say, Nike – that promises a seven-figure deal to a college athlete, but only if the athlete signs with a Nike school, such as the University of Michigan or the University of North Carolina.
Schools can work behind the scenes to set these deals up through either donors or their own athletic programs. These schools already receive so much money each year that it is almost impossible to spend it all (but they still manage). What is there to prevent these same schools to work with the sponsors to ensure that they both snag the five-star recruits?
Don’t get me wrong, NIL deals are still beneficial to student-athletes. Many of these athletes come from households that struggle to make ends meet, and their families could no doubt use the money.
But, to keep college football great, there needs to be regulation that better strives for a level playing field for all schools. NIL has the potential to be great for so many student-athletes, but we should not create new disparities in the name of recognizing those athletes’ brand equity.
Specifically, there needs to be regulation of the roles that schools play in these deals to prevent contact that high school students may receive from companies interested in signing a deal. In the interest of both parties involved, maybe a student-athlete should not be allowed to sign an NIL deal until mid-way through their freshman season.
I’ve got more ideas, but I need to take this call from my agent. Maybe Powerade wants me for their next ad campaign.