Last month marked two years since the NCAA granted collegiate athletes the right to profit off of their own Name, Image and Likeness, or NIL.
The NIL rule adoption succeeded a decade-long debate surrounding the concept of potential student-athlete compensation. Advocates took issue with the massive revenue generated by college athletic programs that was solely collected by the NCAA and universities, rather than the athletes. Meanwhile, skeptics feared this would cultivate a pay-to-play recruiting landscape, and blur the line between amateur and professional athletes without proper regulations.
Although the NCAA still prevents university athletic programs from directly paying athletes, the groundbreaking NIL gives student-athletes the opportunity to bring in the big bucks through personal brand marketing, endorsements and sponsorship deals.
With an immediate impact, NIL shifted critical dynamics within college sports — giving power to the players. Two years later, it is evident that the players have taken advantage of their new financial freedom.
Since the opening of the floodgates, student-athletes have undertaken various money-making methods, from a small to large scale. Recognizable athletes have partnered with local businesses, posted promotional content for companies and even started their own brand.
Business Insider collected data from Opendorse, a platform used to process and track NIL deals, to find that the single average brand deal for a collegiate basketball player was worth $3,837, while a football player makes just under $2,500 for an average endorsement agreement.
Those average dollar amounts do not quite depict the outrageous outliers on the top-end of the spectrum. Bronny James’ NIL valuation is estimated to be $6.3 million, according to On3 NIL — all before playing in a college basketball game. LSU gymnast Livvy Dunne is crowned in the runner-up slot with an estimated NIL valuation at $3.3 million, due in large part to her successful personal brand assembled via social media.
Cal’s student-athletes have also taken advantage of NIL opportunities. Women’s basketball guard Mia Mastrov leads the charge at Cal as a social media influencer. With over 667,000 followers on TikTok, Mastrov’s social media presence combines behind-the-scenes Cal basketball content, life off the court and sponsored posts.
“I try to stay true to myself in that sense, and pair and partner with brands that I think reflect my beliefs as a student-athlete, as a woman, as an entrepreneur,” Mastrov told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Although Cal’s NIL leader came in eighth place for average minutes played in her sophomore campaign, at 12.1 minutes per game, Mastrov’s savvy understanding of the lucrative world of social media has paid off — literally.
Beyond personal branding, the new NIL legislation has brought forth a shift in the athlete recruiting game. Essentially, recruits may be incentivized, not directly by the university, but by the market and opportunities of a particular athletic program.
Although certainly a smaller market given recent shortcomings in athletic performance, Cal football recognized the importance in NIL opportunity in re-recruiting standout running back Jaydn Ott back for a second season.
“(Ott) understands he’s going to get treated well, coached well, we’re going to support him. There’s opportunities to take advantage of NIL, like everyone else in college football,” head coach Justin Wilcox said at Pac-12 football media day.
Ott ranks just behind Mastrov in the Cal Athletics NIL leaderboard, and the second year running back that entered college football with NIL has the potential to further benefit his personal brand this fall.
The pace that NIL compensation has been working at for the past two years shows little sign of slowing down. With NIL’s impact deepening, college athletes will continue using their leverage to make their college careers a financial and educational stepping stone. Moving forward for NIL, there is likely more to come from athletes, agencies and NIL collectives in the next few years as the line between collegiate and professional athletics continues to blur.