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New NIL Deal Possibilities Strike Student Athletes

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Throughout the past few years, so much has changed about college football. Conferences were combined, the transfer portal became easy and popular to enter, and new NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) laws enabled athletes to start their brand early–and profit from it. NIL laws are controversial and widely discussed in the sports industry, which isn’t changing anytime soon. A recent ruling by a federal judge in Tennessee ensures that NIL rights aren’t going away for student-athletes.

Before June 2021, a student on scholarship couldn’t sell their likeness, preventing their brand growth and publicity outside of the game. However, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in NCAA v. Alston that the NCAA couldn’t limit any educational-related payments to student-athletes. The NCAA deferred to states that created their own NIL laws, and if schools don’t pass a law relating to the deals, it is up to the individual school to make guidelines for their players. This historical ruling made it legal for student-athletes to receive payment for their name, image, and likeness.

Through these laws, players can appear in advertisements, sell merchandise, sell advertisements on their personal social media accounts, arrange autograph signings, make paid appearances, start their own businesses, and more. Players can sign with agents and lawyers who help sort endorsements, contracts, finances, and public appearances. The only catch is that a student cannot sign a deal based on their athletic performance or a deal contingent on the student attending a particular college. 

“It feels like now we can be recognized as people and not just athletes in a jersey,” then-Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shough said, following the ruling, “We really do have a lot more to offer.”

Courtesy of John E. Moore III/Getty Images

However, only some were so optimistic. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said, "It will be different going forward. We're in a transformational moment in college athletics. Many of us have to reconsider what we expect from college sports and how it's going to be administered."

Much of the controversy has stemmed from a fear of the over-commercialization of college athletics and athletes, making it more about the money than the game. However, steps have been taken to help prevent athletes from getting taken advantage of and ensure that the focus stays on the right thing: the sport. In January 2024, the NCAA Division I Council voted to create standard terms for all NIL contracts so that no athlete is unfairly treated. 

So, what is this new commotion about? In January of this year, the Attorney Generals of Tennessee and Virginia sued the NCAA, saying that the NCAA was illegally and unfairly restricting student-athletes' rights by barring them from negotiating NIL deals while in the transfer process or being actively recruited. This followed a letter to Charlie Baker, the NCAA president, by the University of Tennessee chancellor, Donde Plowman, who revealed that the University was under investigation for violating the NCAA's NIL rules. Plowman denied all of the claims and stated that even though the investigation was ongoing, the University was never notified.

Courtesy of Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

 US. District Judge Clifton Corker said in his ruling statement that the NCAA’s rule prohibiting student athletes’ rights to negotiate NIL contracts during the recruiting process or while they transfer schools “likely violates federal antitrust law and harms student-athletes.” He commented on the attorney general’s lawsuit by stating that he believes it could succeed in court, as student-athletes could suffer “irreparable harm” if restrictions remain. 

If the attorney generals win the lawsuit, things could change once again for college football and college athletics as a whole. It will be exciting to see what the NIL and NCAA hold in the future, as it could change how the country views sports. 

Edited By: Juliana Long

Social Media Content Created By: Brianna Huffmaster

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