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April 29, 2022 3 min read

July 1, 2021: a date that marks sweeping changes across college athletics. The date that every student-athlete was granted permission by the NCAA to make money off their name, image or likeness. This policy is commonly referred to as NIL, and satirically referred to as the Wild, Wild West - for legitimate reasons. The policy was put into effect before a large majority of states had enacted their own laws. Some had bills on the table, caught up in state government bureaucracy, while others hadn’t even gotten that far. Oh, and by the way, colleges/universities also were forced to scramble to put their own rules in place, since NCAA NIL rules do not override those of the state, college/university, or conference. Are you confused yet? You’re not alone.


Some companies jumped right into the fray, throwing large amounts of money at high-profile athletes, whether by skill or social media presence. The media exposure carried as much, if not more, value than the athlete endorsement. This appears to have settled down as the buzz subsides and companies more carefully evaluate their ROI.


Confusion among the student-athletes remains high. While colleges/universities are doing all they can to keep the athletes informed and on the right track to remain compliant with the existing regulations, this is new to everyone and the landscape is constantly changing. With no federal regulations in place, the NCAA is calling on “Congress to create a uniform name-image-likeness model”. Meanwhile, some states still have not enacted legislation, and those that have continue to massage their existing legislation, such as the proposed changes in the State of California.


Then there is the tax issue. What percentage of college-aged students understand that they have to pay taxes on any income they produce? I’d bet the number is low.  


NIL is available to every college athlete, and many universities have signed up with companies that promise to offer opportunities to every athlete. Unfortunately, the reality is, not every athlete is marketable. The majority of endorsement money is going to more prominent football and basketball players, with social influencers getting a piece of the pie, as well. Many of the other athletes are benefitting from trade deals or small, one-time payments for social media posts endorsing certain products.


The latest buzz word in NIL is “collectives”. As described in a recent article by Business of College Sports, “… the basic premise of most [collectives] is that an alum, or group of alums, band together to form a company whose goal is to provide NIL opportunities to student athletes of that institution.” These collectives literally are writing checks to pay existing athletes or convince athletes to commit or even transfer to their respective university. As a result, the NCAA transfer portal now looks like a pinball machine.


At Strategic Sports Marketing, our sister company, they’re taking a more patient approach to working with college athletes. First and foremost, they start with compliance and work in coordination with the university compliance officers. SSM also places a premium on quality over quantity, keeping in mind that the worst thing any small marketing company can do is over-promise and under-deliver. SSM believes in building an athlete’s brand that is sustainable, long-term. That means not searching for the quick buck and instead, planning for the future. Kansas State Quarterback Will Howard is among those on the SSM roster. Will recently unveiled his new website so people and companies can get to know him: willhowardqb.com


Not even a year into NIL, change has been constant. Expect the same until there is federal legislation in place. In the meantime, the best advice you can give any college athlete is, focus on compliance before entering into any agreement with any company or marketing agent. Marketing agents typically need to be registered in whatever state they’re operating. Additionally, every college/university has a compliance office, which should be your first stop before contracting with anyone. Giddy up, this is certain to be a wild ride for the foreseeable future.