Brief # 57 – Education Policy

College Athletes Can Now Earn Money

By Lynn Waldsmith

July 7, 2021

Policy Summary

For the first time, college athletes can profit from their name, image and likeness (known as “N.I.L.), now that the NCAA decided to allow the historic change in a surrender to growing pressure from states and the Supreme Court. While student athletes still cannot be directly paid by the schools they represent, the sweeping change to the NCAA’s longstanding policy that student athletes not receive any form of payment, other than scholarships that cover tuition, room and board, opens the door to that possibility in the future.

The decision means college athletes have the potential to make millions from endorsement deals, selling autographs, social media business opportunities, etc. The NCAA’s announcement on the interim N.I.L. policy was made on June 30, just 9 days after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the NCAA may not place limits on education-related benefits, such as laptops, paid internships, study abroad opportunities and post-graduate opportunities.

The NCAA, which earns more than a billion dollars a year, “is not above the law,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion. He added that the NCAA amateur model of not paying student athletes “would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

In addition to the Supreme Court decision, the NCAA has been in the cross hairs of numerous states that have passed laws to allow student athletes to earn money from N.I.L. opportunities. Alabama, Florida and Georgia have such laws that took effort on July 1. California, New Jersey, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, Michigan and Colorado are among the states with similar laws that will soon follow.

The interim N.I.L. policy from the NCAA applies to universities in Division I, whose members are the most well-known in college sports: the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences. NCAA officials in Divisions II and III are expected to approve similar policy changes.

Policy Analysis

Many student athletes will earn only a modest, if any, income from N.I.L. opportunities, while others – most likely star football and basketball athletes – could earn tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars. And unless Congress comes to the aid of the NCAA, which is considered unlikely, the seismic shift in college sports prompts further questions about what changes may be forthcoming in the quest to achieve fair and equitable compensation for student athletes.

While some have suggested paying student athletes with salary caps to create a level playing field, Justice Kavanaugh suggested that collective bargaining be used “to provide student athletes a fairer share of the revenues that they generate for their colleges, akin to how professional football and basketball players have negotiated for a share of league revenues.”

Sen. Cory Brooker (D-New Jersey), has introduced the College Athletes Bill of Rights. It would require revenue-generating sports to share 50 percent of their profit with the athletes from that sport after accounting for the cost of scholarships.

“I know firsthand that college sports can open doors of opportunity that most young people never knew existed—but the unfortunate reality is that the NCAA is also exploiting college athletes for financial gain, and disproportionately exploiting Black athletes who are over-represented in the revenue generating sports,” Sen. Booker said. “Under its current operation, the NCAA is preventing college athletes from earning any meaningful compensation and failing to keep the athletes under its charge healthy and safe, and that needs to change.”

University of Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins opposes the idea of colleges compensating their student athletes, but he advocates for the creation of national policies that he says would reduce the exploitation of African-American students, in particular. These include allowing a scholarship to stay with a student athlete through graduation, regardless of injuries or performance on the field, and limiting the number of days during any academic term that a school may require its students to be away from campus for athletic purposes.

Engagement Resources

The NCAA’s new name, image and likeness rules and resources:

College Athletes Bill of Rights:

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