Is NIL keeping student athletes in school longer?


(NEXSTAR) — A Supreme Court decision in 2021 led to what is now known as name, image and likeness endorsements, or NIL, an NCAA policy that allows student-athletes to benefit financially from their fame.

While student-athletes are able to experience financial gain for appearing in commercials, merchandise and other forms of advertising, the amount of money coming in is now an incentive to stay in school longer, including stars with hopes of going pro.

NIL affords successful, but perhaps not superstar-caliber players the ability to “test the waters” in meetings with scouts and executives, gaining a feel for where they would land professionally.

“Particularly in men’s and women’s basketball, we’re seeing more athletes stay around one extra year or even two extra years, because there’s a little bit more of guaranteed money … because there are people working with [them] to help get those name image and likeness opportunities,” Charles Macauly, assistant professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts, said.

Staying vs Going Pro

For women’s basketball superstar Caitlin Clark, guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes, the difference between staying in college and going to the WNBA is drastic when looking at the raw numbers.

Clark, who became the all-time leading scorer in NCAA basketball history, will earn around $70,000 per year as a rookie at the professional level, while here NIL deals are valued at $3.1 million per year, according to On3.

“[In] women’s basketball, I think you’ll see far more examples of athletes maybe staying another year, because they can make more money off of their name, image and likeness opportunities in college than if they were to move into the WNBA,” Macauly said. “However, with that said, I think [Clark] probably has a strong community of people around her that have helped her develop a portfolio that’s going to carry with her into the WNBA.”

Macauly added that gaining professional status with the WNBA would not only help Clark personally, but her celebrity could help the league grow as a whole.

According to Front Office Sports, Gonzaga power forward Drew Timme withdrew his name from the 2022 NBA Draft, in part due to the financial possibilities with NIL deals.

Through NIL, Timme earned as much as a two-way contract player in the NBA. A two-way contract pays a player one salary for playing in both the NBA and the NBA’s developmental league, the G-League.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams entered his final college season as the favorite to be the No. 1-overall draft pick in the subsequent NFL Draft.

When it was solidified that the Chicago Bears would be the team making the selection, rumors began to circulate that Williams might stay at USC for another year to avoid being drafted by Chicago. The Bears drafted quarterback Justin Fields in 2021, and though he had promise, the results were not as positive as the team or player hoped.

“He’s got two shots at the apple,” Carl Williams, Caleb’s father, said to GQ in 2023. “So if there’s not a good situation, the truth is, he can come back to school.”

While Williams’ father did not mention NIL directly, the idea of staying an additional year in college hardly ever came to light in years before NIL. It did not matter what team drafted you, because signing a contract in the NFL was lucrative enough to warrant leaving college at the earliest convenience.

Impact on College Athletics

With more student-athletes choosing to stay in school longer, it can have an impact on roster availability and some argue it could limit the opportunity for athletes coming out of high school.

For example, if “blue blood” schools see more athletes staying an extra year, they will have less spots available for incoming heavily recruited freshmen.

Macauly believes that it would actually give high school prospects more opportunities and even the playing field.

“I think this is going to work to make college athletics even more competitive than it already is. I think we see the results of this already. You’re seeing more and more talent dispersed across the entirety of the field,” Macauly said. “That means there are going to be less blowouts and more competitive games from a game-to-game basis. Which is why we watch sports. You don’t watch for blowouts, you watch sports for these exciting games.”

Educational Benefits

Believe it or not, it’s not just money that these student-athletes are afforded.

For those who hold education in high regard, the ability to stay behind and finish their education program is the cherry on top.

“With NIL, players now have the option to continue their education and earn money, and many have chosen to do so. The full numbers are unclear at this stage, but the examples are many,” Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst, wrote. “For those that champion education, this is a major positive. To have any athlete choose to continue his or her education, for whatever reason, can only be seen as a positive if one truly believes in education.”


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