NIL Pros and Cons - The College Game Is Changed Forever

NIL Pros and Cons | The College Game Is Changed Forever

In the ever-evolving landscape of collegiate athletics, the emergence of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals has sparked a profound shift in how student-athletes navigate their careers and capitalize on their talents. These groundbreaking changes allow collegiate athletes to monetize their personal brands, opening the door for endorsement deals, sponsorships, and other opportunities. While hailed as a victory for athlete empowerment, NIL deals have also come with a set of complexities that merit careful consideration, such as the differences in value across sports and amongst players, the incentive (or lack thereof) to go pro in their respective sports, performance on and off the field, and changes in the dynamic inside locker rooms. As with any transformative development, NIL deals come with many advantages and drawbacks that demand thorough examination and discussion. This is a NIL pros and cons piece–and while we share three pros and three cons, each pro and con is complex; each of the topics discussed brings about the potential for counterarguments, and this is just the start of the NIL pros and cons. Ultimately, no one knows what will happen with NIL and the future of college sports.

NIL Pro: Financial Empowerment

Perhaps the most prominent benefit of NIL deals is the newfound financial empowerment they afford to college athletes. Student-athletes have always been restricted from profiting while their universities and athletic programs reaped the rewards of their labor and talent. In the few years NIL has been around, the top earners have already received life-changing sums of money. Some argue that the compensation is long overdue and well-deserved, while others say the payouts are too big and could lead to irresponsible decisions and a loss of passion.

One example that has sparked a lot of media attention is Shedeur Sanders. Shedeur is the second-highest NIL earner, with an estimated $4.7 million, and he has not been shy about showing it. Shedeur created a big wave in the sporting world with his “watch flex” celebration, where he holds up his wrist to the opposing team or crowd and shows off his $70,000 Audemars Piguet watch coated in 30 carats of VVS diamonds. Fans are split on their feelings towards the watch and Shedeur’s actions, some calling it excessive, while others feel it is a masterclass in marketing and perfectly fitted to the family brand (his father, Deion Sanders, a Hall of Fame cornerback, has always turned heads. Recently, Sanders’ “Prime 21” sunglasses made an estimated $4.5 million in sales, and he still boasts that same swagger he carried in the 1990s).

But it would be wrong to conclude that all successful college athletes splurge in the same way. Some athletes probably discuss their new wealth carefully with advisers and loved ones.

NIL Pro: Recognition of Athlete’s Value

It can be argued that the NIL deals are not even about the money. Rather, these deals acknowledge the revenue these athletes bring to their universities and sports programs and the sacrifices they make on the way to greatness. Many start as young as three, four, or five, putting in thousands of hours of practice and games throughout their childhoods. They may love their sport and might have played happily without NIL deals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve recognition and reward.

NIL Pro: Professional Development and the Incentive for Academic Success

Engaging in NIL deals provides athletes with valuable real-world experience in marketing, branding, and financial management. In the past, this would not have been a part of athletes’ lives until they reached the professional level. While most professional athletes have agents, financial advisors, and other representatives to manage brand deals and speak to companies on their behalf, many of these young athletes have to learn to represent and sell themselves to gain brand deals or negotiate larger pay from companies wanting their business. They also face very difficult money-management decisions. By navigating endorsement contracts and sponsorships, athletes gain insight into the business side of sports, equipping them with skills that can prove invaluable beyond their athletic careers whether they become professionals or not.

The potential for lucrative NIL deals may serve as a motivating factor for athletes to excel both athletically and academically. By maintaining high performance on and off the field, athletes can enhance their marketability and attract more lucrative endorsement opportunities for these potential sponsors. No matter how talented someone is as a player, many companies will care more about how good of a person they are. They would not want to attach their brand and image to someone who doesn’t fit their culture, especially in today’s era of social media, where people will find any mistake someone has made and use it against them.

NIL Con: Inequities and Distractions

While NIL deals promise newfound opportunities for athletes, they also risk exacerbating disparities and distractions within collegiate athletics.

Of the top 100 athletes in NIL rankings, 98 are either football or basketball players. There is also a clear imbalance between men’s and women’s sports. For example, Caitlin Clark became the all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball history. And then she broke the all-time NCAA record for men or women—Pete Maravich’s record of 3,667 points scored. However, Clark ranks 38th in NIL rankings. Another kind of disparity involves players on the same team who are similar in skill but differ in social media flare. For example, the two leading scorers on the USC basketball team are Boogie Ellis and Isaiah Collier, both averaging just over 16 points per game. Ellis is not even in the NIL top 100, while Collier ranks 94th. There’s no denying there are clear discrepancies so far in NIL.

And when a freshman in college is given millions of dollars, there’s a high probability that it can become quite the distraction, whether it is a direct distraction, as some have claimed about Shedeur Sanders, or a result of applying more pressure to perform and maintain this level of popularity online. Many of these players now have obligations to fulfill as a part of their NIL deals which can take time away from their academic and athletic obligations, which should be priorities one and two.

NIL Con: Impact on Amateurism and Competitiveness in the NCAA

The introduction of NIL deals raises fundamental questions about the traditional principles of amateurism and collegiate athletics. The introduction of NIL has shifted the environment between college and professional sports as college sports are now being viewed more as a business for these athletes rather than a school. Some argue that college sports will lose its unique feeling as we move into the NIL era.

College rosters change every year, creating an exciting situation where any given year could see new rankings in the top 25, new Heisman Trophy winners, and an opportunity for a new National Champion. This is in contrast to professional sports, where often there are just a few teams that are contenders, and it’s much easier to predict who will win MVP and championship. So, the argument is that if NIL continues to dominate in the way that it already has so far, we will see something similar happen where a handful of schools that generate the most revenue will also have the most to offer and spend on NIL deals, leading to predictable seasons and repeat champions.

NIL Con: Less Incentive to Compete and Progress

The last major issue that comes to mind is that NIL deals can reduce the incentive to compete and grow as a player. The argument is that if athletes are given money to take care of themselves and their families right out of high school, they will lose that drive and competitive edge that got them there in the first place, decreasing the incentive or even the need to aim for the pros. If a player receives millions of dollars while in college, why would he or she not stay as long as possible before progressing? We’ve witnessed for decades some of the best players in college sports never being able to recreate that same success when they get drafted, whether it is due to weak performance or injuries. Players like Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, Greg Oden, and Anthony Bennett are some of the most memorable in recent years who have won Heisman Trophies or ended up getting drafted first overall and never made it in the NFL and NBA. Could you imagine the NIL deals that Manziel or Tebow would have been offered had it been around in their time?

The College Game Is Changed Forever

NIL deals represent a groundbreaking development in collegiate athletics, offering athletes newfound autonomy and financial opportunities. However, they also bring challenges and complexities that necessitate careful navigation and oversight. To harness the full potential of NIL deals while limiting their drawbacks, those in power must prioritize athlete education, access, and consistency. By providing a supportive and transparent environment, collegiate athletics can evolve into a more inclusive ecosystem for athletes of all backgrounds. Ultimately, the successful integration of NIL deals into the world of collegiate sports will require a balanced approach that prioritizes the development and well-being of student-athletes, ensuring that they can thrive both on and off the field.

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