Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
Leave your feedback
The college football season gets into full swing this weekend. Players are returning to the field for what they hope will be a more normal year after a COVID-plagued 2020 season. But there’s another difference for student athletes this year. As John Yang reports, it has to do with their financial opportunities off the field.
The college football season is getting under way this week. Players are returning to the field for what they hope will be a more normal year, after a COVID-plagued 2020 season.
But there is another difference for student athletes this year.
As John Yang reports, it has to do with their financial opportunities off the field.
On the football field, D'Eriq King has a high profile and a big name.
D’Eriq King, Miami Hurricanes Football Player:
It's a big responsibility being the starting quarterback at the University of Miami, right? So, just me trying to do everything right.
But until this year, King, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, couldn't earn a penny from his fame.
We couldn't make money off anything. I couldn't go to a local restaurant and get a free meal, but a regular student, they can go make a TikTok and get famous off of it and make a lot of money. We couldn't do that.
That all changed this summer, when the NCAA, under pressure from new laws and court rulings, rewrote its policies to allow college athletes to sign paid endorsement deals.
Now King is a leader in the new field of college athletes profiting from their names, images and likenesses, what's called NIL.
I think it was a long time coming. When I first got in college, I never thought I would see this day.
I know people talked about it a lot and this and that, but I never thought it's actually come to — come true.
The day the new rule went into effect, King signed a $20,000 deal with a moving company and a car dealership. He's partnered with a sports memorabilia company, and became the first college athlete to sign a sponsorship deal with a pro sports team, the NHL's Florida Panthers.
He will appear at games and have a concession stand meal named for him. He's also co-founded Dreamfield to help athletes connect with NIL opportunities and navigate this new landscape.
College football is — college athletics, in general, there's so much money going through it. And I know people want to say, like, you guys get free education and you get full-ride scholarship.
And we understand that. But for us to make money, I think, just makes sense. It's no other industry in the world where you don't make money for what you do.
Being an athlete in a major sport at a major university is more than just a few months of competition. It's a full-time, year-round job, training, conditioning, practicing, all on top of being a full time college student.
The pressure on the NCAA has been building for years. In 2014, a federal judge ruled that NCAA policies against name, image and likeness violated antitrust laws. In 2019, California enacted the first legislation giving athletes NIL rights.
NCAA President Mark Emmert called it an existential threat to the collegiate model. But more than 20 states followed California's lead, forcing the NCAA's hand. The rule change took effect July 1.
Dan Matheson, University of Iowa: This year, money spent on NIL deals could be above a billion dollars.
Dan Matheson directs the University of Iowa's Sports and Recreation Management Program. He's a former NCAA associate director of enforcement.
So many of these student athletes are not going to go on to lucrative professional playing careers. They're at the height of their fame.
And capitalizing on their NIL rights gives them a chance to pay for current expenses, but also potentially build themselves a nest egg for when they get out of school and are starting out as young professionals.
And more than just big-name football and basketball players are poised to benefit.
Any student athlete who is able to develop a following, a brand on social media is — has the potential to generate revenue for themselves.
University of Nebraska volleyball player Lexi Sun more than 75,000 Instagram followers put her in a good position to take advantage of NIL.
She partnered with a volleyball apparel company to launch a clothing brand. Her Sunny Crew sweatshirts sold out in days. Sun, who also signed a deal with a Nebraska-based jewelry company, is in a master's program for advertising. She says NIL is about more than just money.
Lexi Sun, University of Nebraska Volleyball Player: I'm just able to have these hands on and real life experiences and conversations with companies about negotiating deals and just having these business opportunities and getting this experience, because, as athletes, we're super busy and don't always get the opportunity to have a job before we end our sport.
And so I think just being able to get this experience is going to be something that I'm going to take away from it and continue to learn from.
The limits of the new rules are already being tested. A Utah-based protein bar maker offered deals to all 123 Brigham Young University football players. For players not on scholarship, the payment would be the equivalent of a year's tuition.
The NCAA says it's up to Congress to sort it all out.
Mark Emmert, President, NCAA:
We are urging Congress to pass legislation creating a single national NIL standard that would ensure that NIL payments are not a proxy for pay-for-play, that a national recruiting environment for college sports is maintained, and that students are not employees of their universities or their colleges.
The NCAA is at a crossroads right now.
Dan Matheson of the University of Iowa points to other challenges ahead for college sports.
There are questions about, what is the NCAA needed for? And how does it need to look different for the next generation?
The amateurism issues that are the center of discussion now have opened up a much broader evaluation of exactly what shape is the NCAA going to take going forward.
Lexi Sun and D'Eriq King say they're used to balancing busy schedules, so the new opportunities of NIL won't distract them from either the classroom or competition.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.
Watch the Full Episode
John Yang is a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Sam Lane is reporter/producer in PBS NewsHour's segment unit.
Support Provided By:
Additional Support Provided By: