The potential concerns and consequences of NIL legislation

Miami quarterback D’Eriq King — image via South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Two weeks ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced the passage of an interim Name, Image, and Likeness policy that will officially allow — for the first time ever — college student-athletes to be paid for promotional purposes.

For most, it’s a long time coming. The issue truly left its mark on popular culture for the first time in 2013 when EA Sports announced the cancellation of its famous NCAA Football video game series, which came as a result of lawsuits from student-athletes in the game who were barred from being reimbursed for their appearance in the game.

Now, eight years later, the game is in the works to make a return. This time with legality on its side. But as with most NCAA policies, the phrase ‘two sides to every coin’ rings true. While the benefits of this new era of college athletics are obvious, the drawbacks are complicated — and could be much, much more drastic.

Additionally, they leave many questions, including: How will this effect the on-field/on-court product? How will locker rooms and team chemistry be impacted? What will the variance be from sport-to-sport? Finding the answers to these will be key to the NIL legislation’s success long-term.

Taking into account my personal experience as a student-athlete, I feel the desire to take a crack at projecting how the new rules could impact college athletics at the ground level.

Preserving competition

For diehard college sports fans, this is the most pressing issue on their mind when the topic of NIL legislation is mentioned in conversation.

The impact the new rules will have on recruiting (specifically at the Division One level) simply can’t be overstated. There’s a myriad of reasons as to why this is, but I’ll spare you the reading time and focus on the main one: Bidding wars for top-tier athletes amongst schools.

Its arrival as a mainstay problem in college athletics is a forgone conclusion under the new rules, as schools being able to offer promotional opportunities to recruits (whether legal or illegal) will severely decrease the amount of parity that currently exists in the NCAA. Ohio State will compete with Michigan, Texas with Texas A&M, USC with UCLA, and so forth.

The programs that can dish out the most money will likely always win over the best recruits — thus keeping the ‘rich richer and the poor poorer.’

Keeping team chemistry intact

From a coach’s standpoint, this is where the new NIL legislation will have its largest impact. The reasoning behind this is straightforward and simple: When some players in the locker room are making $100-plus per appearance on Cameo while others aren’t making a single penny, it can create some unwanted friction.

That is, unless, profit-earners want to take the D’Eriq King route and organize events that would allow all their teammates to earn money. Otherwise, tensions may rise due to the long-awaited ability to earn money not benefitting all athletes equally.

What this could eventually result in is a mass exodus from college athletics of players who serve depth roles on their respective teams. If the name of the game has shifted to creating profit from personal brands, it creates a ‘there’s no place for you here’ environment for those who play strictly for the love of the game.

Creating fairness from sport-to-sport

Now, the big question for the institutions and the states they reside in that must enforce the new rules: How can we ensure that one sport doesn’t benefit from NIL absurdly more than the others?

It’s no secret that football will be the highest-earning sport. The key will be assisting — should the respective school/state choose to do so — other sports in staying close to on-par with it. The consequences of not doing so, at least from the on-campus standpoint, could be disruptive to student body morale as the old-as-time narrative of football favoritism would run more rampant than ever.

Additionally, in order to avoid a PR nightmare, it would be in the NCAA’s best interest to clear up this gray area and define how each sport could be ensured equal opportunity to reap the benefits of its new NIL legislation.

While the solutions to these potential problems remain to be seen, there’s no doubt that plenty of tweaks, fixes, and complete overhauls are coming to the ever-evolving concept that is Name, Image, and Likeness in college athletics.

And the sheer unknown leaves one fact to be true: This is either going to be a huge success… or the end of consistently competitive college athletics.

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Brett Esch

Brett Esch

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Native Texan. Communication Arts major at Bethel College. Sports and freelance journalist.