NCAA athletics remains alive and well. Into the first weekend of the NIL era, the sky hasn’t fallen, the ground hasn’t opened up, and college sports’ long-awaited return to business as usual simply will mean, well, more business than usual.
On Wednesday, the inevitable finally became the rule of the land in the NCAA, as student-athletes across the country finally gained the right to capitalize on name, image and likeness opportunities. Selling your own T-shirts no longer threatens eligibility. Athletes can be compensated as social media influencers just like their non-sport-playing classmates. An hour-long autograph session at the local mall no longer will derail an entire season.
In short, all the opportunities available to regular students are available to athletes now, too. And NCAA athletics will be better for it in the long run.
Name any of the major changes over the decades, and in almost every case naysayers believed it would spell doom for the “integrity” of NCAA athletics, from racial integration generations ago to allowing freshman eligibility in the early 1970s to the more recent conference realignments that shook up many traditional regional pairings.
In every case, the NCAA was better after the change. Such will be the case with NIL opportunities as well.
“As long as they’re doing things the right way, and we’re above board and we’re transparent, I’m going to support any of our players that want to make money off their name, image and likeness,” CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle said. “If they choose not to, that’s their prerogative. What I’m concerned about is the day-to-day focus on getting better in the weight room, on the basketball floor, helping our team compete for championships and get to an NCAA Tournament again.”
Inevitably, there will be issues. Particularly since the NCAA, unable to come up with a uniform policy even as state legislation across the country quickly paved the way for change, decided after years of hemming and hawing to punt the implementation and policing of NIL matters to the individual schools.
Using NIL ventures as a recruiting tool is supposed to be outside the lines. No one that follows NCAA football or basketball actually believes NIL matters won’t become a big part of the recruiting picture. Schools aren’t supposed to facilitate deals between potential sponsors/employers and the athletes but, again, that only seems like a matter of when, not if.
I asked Boyle this week if locker room jealousies could be a potential headache as NIL opportunities become more prevalent. He said it’s a concern, but head coaches in almost every sport deal with those internal matters all the time. The player in the past prone to getting jealous about the teammate getting put on the cover of the game program instead will have those jealousies pointed in a different direction.
Personally, I’m also not convinced NIL opportunities will widen the gap between the elite in college hoops and football and the rest of the packs, even in power conferences. Mega stars like former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence no doubt could bank millions, but there’s a reason those athletes are so appealing to potential sponsors. There’s not a Trevor Lawrence on every campus. The most common sort of NIL ventures, especially for current and future CU Buffs, are more likely to be along the lines of social media influencing. And those will be available to everyone, everywhere.
The can of worms officially is opened, whether the NCAA is ready or not.
“They (the NCAA) was brought into this thing kicking and screaming,” Boyle said. “There’s no way the NCAA and the enforcement staff can keep track of 350-whatever Division I teams and what’s going on with each individual campus. So it falls back on the institutions. I think a lot of people wanted it to fall back on the conferences, but even the conferences aren’t in alignment in terms of how they see this and what they want out of it. So it’s going to fall back on the individual schools.”