Understanding Name, Image, Likeness

Name, image, likeness (NIL) rights for college athletes have been the source of nationwide debate for decades. With recent multi-million dollar lawsuits, student-led campaigns, and state legislative action, the conversation has exploded. With over 30 states considering and passing laws to permit student-athletes to earn money with their name, image, likeness, what does this mean for the student-athlete experience?

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What is NIL? 

NIL is an abbreviation for name, image, likeness. The term is generally used to refer to the “Right of Publicity,” which protects the individual’s control over how their name, image, and likeness are used, as well as the right to receive compensation for their commercial use. Outside of the obvious use of video or photographs, NIL can expand into the realm of voice, staple catch phrases, and even nicknames. The most often use case for this right is when college students leverage to monetize their social media to earn extra cash from ads or doing product endorsements.

However, during the recruiting process, student-athletes forgo this right prior to even joining a collegiate roster. This is in part to the NCAA's historically strict rules regarding any type of compensation for student-athletes in attempt to distinguish them from professional athletes. Even though name, image, and likeness compensation is different than a salary model and differs from more controversial models like pay-to play, NIL has been grouped into compensation limits. The student-athlete's influence and platform is believed to be derived from their status as a college athlete, which prevents student-athletes from running ads on their YouTube channels, creating sponsored TikTok posts, or monetizing SoundCloud accounts. Recruits must follow these same rules to preserve their NCAA eligibility. 

This is set to change. Major college sports’ actors have joined together on the idea that a NIL industry for collegiate athletics can be both regulated and transparent such that it will be differentiated from pay-to-play compensation. Student-athletes and their advocates are thrilled that the players will be able to exercise the same rights as their classmates, and brands are already lining up to work with some of the nation’s favorite athletes in anticipation of the rule change. 

As more states begin to pass their own legislature for name, image, likeness in the near future, we are excited to offer every athlete the access to the best technology, resources, and endorsement opportunities to success in the NIL era with NOCAP Sports.

Why are NIL rules being talked about?

Over the past year and a half, multiple laws have been introduced at the state and federal levels that would allow student-athletes to be paid for commercial use of their NILs without sacrificing NCAA eligibility. This shift began in 2019 when California governor Gavin Newsom took a seat next to Lebron James and signed the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” which opened the door for collegiate athletes to enter into endorsement contracts, be paid for the use of their NILs, and retain professional representation beginning in 2023. After the bill was passed, a number of states rushed to implement copycat laws to avoid losing any 5-star athletes to the irresistible pull of NIL compensation in California. This recruiting imbalance is what inspired the NCAA to announce its own policy change shortly thereafter that would grant student-athletes nationwide the right to earn NIL compensation. A public statement released in response to Senate Bill 206 reads:

"As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide."

California’s bill galvanized the NIL conversation, and Florida’s “Intercollegiate Athlete Bill of Rights” was the gun that started the race. With an effective date of July 1st, 2021, this bill created a ticking time bomb for the NCAA and out-of-state competitors to catch up to Florida before July 2021. The Association planned to vote on their proposed NIL rules in January 2021, but the time came and went with no decision - instead, the landmark legislation was indefinitely postponed. This is largely due to a letter sent directly from the Department of Justice to NCAA president Mark Emmert urging him and the organization to postpone the vote because the Association’s approach “may raise concerns under the antitrust laws,” as quoted in USA Today

What does name, image, likeness mean for student-athletes? 

While the exact guardrails are not clear yet, the exciting bottom line is that every student-athlete has the potential to profit off of their own personal brand. It's no secret that navigating this new industry is going to be a little more compliacted for the Trevor Lawarences and Paige Bueckers of the world. There are already marketing agencies, attorneys, financial advisors, and other professionals eager to sign on with top-earning student-athletes. Fortunately, the pressure really falls on the school to provide the appropriate guidance and resources. Whether it be through financial literacy curricula or other third party partnerships, coaches know they need to have a good answer ready for when recruits ask “how will you help me maximize my NIL value?” 

What’s next for NIL rules? 

Despite postponing the vote, the NCAA “remains fully committed to modernizing Division I rules in ways that benefit all student-athletes,” according to Council Chair M. Grace Calhoun. This commitment is echoed by the other divisions, and new NIL rules are expected to go into effect around August 1st, before the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Sports fans can expect an intense battle between Congress and the NCAA for control over the national NIL guidelines in the near future. In the meantime, all eyes are on Florida, New Mexico, South Carolina, and a handful of other states as July 1st approaches, bringing with it a new era of collegiate athletics.