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NCAA NIL Deals: Equity and Influencerfication

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

For just over a year now, NCAA athletes have been able to optimize their college sport careers and make money through their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals with brands and companies.


This blog will go over why and how NIL deals are changing the scope of NCAA sports and go over the current hot button debate about the equity of these deals based on who and how much they get paid, which often comes from the (often) necessary influencerfication of the athlete.


Why NIL Deals are Giving Opportunity to Athletes


Before the NIL rule change (and still for many athletes) NCAA athletes were not only unpaid by their league, but they actively missed out on money-making opportunities.


Karen Weaver, EdD, a professor at UPenn, and the host of the Trustees and Presidents: Opportunities and Challenges in Intercollegiate Athletics podcast, explained in a Forbes interview summarized by Insight Into Diversity that, while NCAA athletes need to maintain a specific GPA to stay in their program, these athletes have a lot less time to do things that lots of “normal” students do, including:

  • Get a part time/weekend job to earn money

  • Participate in their degrees to grow prospects of future education or career opportunities

  • Participate in internship programs for career building


It is well-known that athletes are extremely busy with their athletics: training, traveling for meets or games, and more. Borderline sacrificing their education for their sport.


“Athlete(s) can experience something we call ‘role conflict,’ where they feel torn. They think ‘What am I supposed to do here, miss my allegiance to my team or my future?’” - Weaver


Additionally, commitment to their sport will very rarely lead to long-term economic, financial and social security. The NCAA Recruiting Fact Sheet for Fall 2022 states that “fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes” will go pro after they finish their degrees.


This means that most of these athletes won’t be able to make a living off of their sport. Maia Russell, a track and field athlete at the University of Kentucky who has claimed to make around $100,000 per year from NIL deals, talked about this to VOA regarding the value of NIL opportunities: “I’m trying to play it out very smart…so that I’m pretty well-off in my later years.”


The Influencerfication of NIL Deals


NIL deals rest primarily on the popularity of the athlete, through their athletic success and their social media audience.


Like regular influencing on any social media platforms, athletes have essentially turned to growing their audience online to increase their financial viability for securing and maintaining NIL deals. This social media prerequisite involves the racial and gender equity issues and conflicts being brought to light about NIL deals.


How Do NIL Deals Impact Gender and Racial Equity in Sports?


To say there is gender inequity in amateur, NCAA, or even professional sports is an understatement.


Although only 2% of NCAA athletes will go pro, even fewer women athletes even have the chance to go pro and make fair wages playing professionally. However, the introduction of NIL deals has been argued to alleviate some of these issues in the form of financial compensation. One of the reasons is because of the ability for women to grow their online audiences more easily than men. Influencer Marketing Hub states that 84% of sponsored posts on Instagram are posted by self-identified women.


Additionally, racial inequity is entrenched into every system in our society, including who gets the bigger audience online. This is a hotly debated topic today, especially with prolific algorithm-based platforms like TikTok. It is clear that NIL deals are often based on follower count and online audiences, since that is often the metric that proves the popularity and prolificness of the athlete. These platforms are also where advertising deals will be most successful.


Therefore, any racial or gender inequity stemming from the follower counts online will influence racial or gender inequity in NIL deals. This has been spoken about before, including in Cat Ariail’s article on Swish Appeal.


Where Do We Go From Here?


Does NIL completely solve gender inequity issues in sports? No, it doesn’t. Do NIL deals reflect systematically entrenched racial inequities? Yes, it does.


Should there be deeper reflection into which systemic inequities are reinforced by NIL deals and efforts to mitigate and understand where and why these are happening? Absolutely.


Are these solved by criticizing the existence of NIL deals and calling for all athletes to make even less money? Absolutely not.


Working to better the state of NCAA athletics, NIL deals, and athlete compensation is a much better approach than to remove the opportunity all together. And what we’re not going to do is publicly criticize specific athletes (we’re looking at you, New York Times) for making their money and benefiting in the ways that they can, while they can.

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