Athlete endorsements: boon or bust for student-athletes?

Photos courtesy U of M Athletics Gadiva Hubbard

Name, image and likeness (NIL) has since July 1 allowed male and female college athletes to sign personal deals. Now that nearly six months have passed, has the new NCAA rule lived up to its original billing?

NIL means that any business can approach a student-athlete and ask if they can use their name, image or likeness in endorsing their products. Ithaca College Professor Ellen Staurowsky told us a better term than NIL is “athlete endorsements.”

Open Dorse, a national organization that provides support for athletes and NIL, reports that “tens of thousands of college athletes” since July 1 have inked NIL deals and disclosed activities.  Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC are among the top three conferences where football (65% of deals signed), men’s basketball (14%), and track and field are the top three men’s sports, and basketball (8%), volleyball (3.7%) and softball rank among the top three women’s sports.  

The average athlete compensation per deal depending on contract length is almost $700 (Division I), about $70 (Division II), and a little over $35 for Division III, Open Dorse also noted. Axios recently published a spreadsheet of University of Minnesota athletes and their NIL deals: At least 80 players in 18 sports have around 150 NIL deals.

“They have to disclose any deal that they enter into [with] our compliance department so it can be documented for NCAA policies and standards,” explained U of M Sr. Associate AD External Affairs Mike Wierzbicki. “It is documented and we know what kind of deals we are entering into.”

Social media make up the majority (66.4%) of Minnesota athletes’ NIL deals. “It does not have to be cash,” continued Wierzbicki.  

“There are deals out there that might be product-related where we might compensate you with apparel or equipment. For example, if you are a golfer and you do this deal, we’ll give you a golf bag. There’s also other sorts of compensation whether that be through food or apparel or equipment.”

Most schools have open NIL approval departments such as Minnesota’s. Staurowsky expressed her concern about this, seeing it more as a possible conflict of interest or, at best, another way to control things. “Clearly there’s a lot more money in the system that could be going to athletes,” she pointed out. “I think there are just so many things that are unsettled right now.”

Gopher guard Gadiva Hubbard told us, “I know there’s a lot of rules that go into it, and that is something that’s keeping me from actually doing it.” She noted that several teammates have NIL deals, which she says is mostly based on their social media presence.  

Photos courtesy U of M Athletics Mike Wierzbicki

“They want you to have a following,” she added on what most companies’ preference is in linking up with college athletes. “They want you to bring more traffic to their staff,” said Hubbard.

“I think it’s way too early to tell” if these NIL deals will be a boon or a bust for college athletes, said Karen Weaver, adjunct assistant professor at University of Pennsylvania. “We all know that some are going to get so-called big deals because they are considered stars.”

According to Wierzbicki, “I think things are running smoothly here in Minnesota. It’s not just about athletic performance. They can now do things and monetize those skills that they have. They’re able to go do things more in line with the general student population, which we see as a great benefit for them.”

Wierzbicki pointed out that NIL is not “pay-for-play.”

“It’s really about your individual name, image, and likeness. Our focus is gonna continue to be to make sure our student-athletes are prepared and getting the education they need to be successful.”