The NIL Policy and What the Future Holds for the Business of College Sports

April 11, 2022

Deestroying, also known by his real name Donald De La Haye, is a youtuber that has amassed over four million subscribers on the platform. He also happens to be a football player and has created connections with many big names in the entertainment and sports industries. But before he continued down his path of current fame, he had to make a choice between his love of the game of football and his internet career.

De La Haye created his YouTube channel in 2015, where he would post football-related videos as well as some behind the scenes content as he was a scholarship student at the University of Central Florida. In 2016 he played all 13 games as a kickoff specialist, all while posting videos to his channel. But in 2017, a problem arose in the eyes of the NCAA. Many of De La Haye’s videos were monetized and made money for the kicker, which was of course against the NCAA rules at the time. 

A student-athlete may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete’s name, photograph, appearance, or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business.

— NCAA Bylaw 12

According to the Amateurism bylaw 12 at the time, “A student-athlete may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete’s name, photograph, appearance, or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business.” 

The NCAA claimed that it told De La Haye that he could keep running ads on videos that didn’t include UCF football content or his status as a player. He could then keep his scholarship and place at UCF. But the NCAA rules also required him to remove ads on all videos on the “Deestroying” channel to keep his scholarship. De La Haye refused and ended up losing his scholarship and his place on the football team to continue his career online.  

Now, the world of college athletics has been through an unprecedented shift over the course of the last three years. With the NCAA’s definition of “amateur” sports labeling those who participate in college sports, it made it impossible for athletes to legally accept any form of payment, whether related to their sport or not, like they did with De La Haye. 

But in July of 2021, the NCAA adopted their new Name, Image and Likeness policy (NIL) which freed up a plethora of money-making opportunities for athletes at all three levels of collegiate sports tied to the organization. Since then, the NCAA has surprisingly taken a backseat to many operations regarding the policy and even celebrated these developments. 

Back in 2021, NCAA President Mark Emmert said, “With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level. The current environment — both legal and legislative — prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the level of detail student-athletes deserve.” 

In this sentiment, we’ve already seen a number of states structuring and amending their initial legislation laws around NIL. Such laws that were implemented when the switch was labeled as a threat rather than progress for college sports. The threat being that schools in states with more lenient NIL legislation would have easier times recruiting top talents as schools can now maneuver around the idea of paying their athletes through what is now legal, albeit indirect means. 

“It gives the athletes an opportunity to learn how to be entrepreneurs, learn how to manage money. But the student-athletes are required to find their own deals,” said former Gopher women’s basketball head coach Pam Borton. “The school can’t get them their own deals. You’re not supposed to do that but there are schools doing that. You know the NCAA.”

It gives the athletes an opportunity to learn how to be entrepreneurs, learn how to manage money. But the student-athletes are required to find their own deals.

— Pam Borton

Borton was a head coach at Minnesota much before the NIL policy came along. In fact in the time she was directly involved in college athletics, the big talking point was the under the table payments that almost everyone in college sports knew about, including the NCAA. Although incredibly illegal based on the legislation from past NCAA rules, major athletes and schools ran this practice for years, with the only major risk coming on the side of the athlete. 

Why would the NCAA bat an eye while athletes earned thousands under the table? Because these prices that schools were paying still vastly undervalued those players. Today, deals still need to be made aside from the eye of the NCAA; however paying athletes is actually easier for schools. All they need is a wealthy benefactor with a business who can strike up a deal with a potential recruit and it’s done. The school just attracted a top recruit with money, just like they’ve been doing for years but legal. 

In SB Nation’s video series “Foul Play: Paid in Mississippi,” recruiting analyst Bud Elliot said, “The NCAA doesn’t want to change. They don’t want to admit that their players have value that far exceeds the value of their scholarships.” This couldn’t be more true and to minimize the chatter, the NCAA would pick and choose when to strike rather than launching full investigations into schools deemed to be paying athletes. 

What we see now in a world with the NIL policy laid out is that even if schools have a “legal” route of sorts to attract athletes, the ones better protected are those athletes. They have always been the ones hit the hardest by fines, suspensions and other forms of punishment. With the amount of money that goes around college sports today, it seemed asinine that athletes weren’t getting a cut other than scholarships. But now with a legal pathway to funds, they can focus on what is important. Education and freedom. 

“When I first started coaching we didn’t have the Big Ten Network. So, I think when we first started everybody was getting a few million dollars [per year]. When I left, every school in the Big Ten was getting about $20 million to be a part of the conference. Today, it’s even up to $32-37 million per year,” said Borton. 

Without the necessary guardrails put up, the worry is college sports as a whole will dive too deep into the influence the NIL can have on student-athletes. This is certainly a valid argument to have. The hope is that more clarity will come as we go into Year Two of the NIL policy, starting with the NCAA’s revised constitution set to activate before August and the start of the 2022 college football season. 

Either way, with NIL in place, student-athletes are set up to benefit for generations to come. Athletes have just begun to strike the surface of what they can do and now they can do what De La Haye wasn’t able to, play the sport they love and do the things they love outside of sports.

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