ARLINGTON, Texas – There is only one certainty expressed among conference administrators, coaches and athletes when it comes to the ability of student-athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness, and that is there is a complete lack of certainty.
When the NCAA had to concede the July 1 deadline for NIL after losing an appeal at the United States Supreme Court, the floodgates opened to athletes partnering with businesses.
But a few weeks into the new landscape of college sports, nobody seems to have a clear picture of why lies ahead with players profiting for themselves.
“There's a limited amount that we can do in concert on a national basis, and we're still finding our way. Our board has seeded a subcommittee to talk about what these packages ought to look like,” Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this week at the Big 12 Football Media Days. “And I think for in the near term, you're going to see some institutions comfortable with doing some things and other institutions not comfortable with that.
“We have two states that have state laws – Oklahoma and Texas have state laws in their states. Those laws are going to prevail, and the rest of it is left to institutional discretion. In other states where there's no state law, the NCAA's guidance on it is going to have to prevail, and schools are going to have to figure it out.”
Bowlsby does believe that there will eventually be a more consistent model to the NIL, “something other than a 50-state patchwork.”
But if the people who are paid to make the decision for the billion-dollar college sports industry don’t know what to expect, how are athletes excepted to know any difference?
That’s a concern for many athletes, even as they start to test the waters of the NIL.
“I’m just trying to be cautious at this point,” Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders said. “I don’t want to take any random suspension that could really tax me.”
It’s possible that athletes being able to monetize their name, image and likeness could prevent too many athletes jumping out of the college game looking to make money at the professional level when the scouting may say they are not ready for the next level quite yet.
TCU coach Gary Patterson even gave one of his recent athletes, Ar’Darius Washington, as an example of just that.
Washington was a redshirt sophomore safety and skipped his final two years of college eligibility to go pro after the 2020 season. He went undrafted and ended up signing as a rookie free agent with the Baltimore Ravens.
“He went early (to) the draft as a safety. He didn't have all the measurables,” Patterson said. “Probably if he could have some endorsement deals where he could have made some money that he could have given to his family, he might have stayed another year and then played at TCU right now.”
That’s easy to think and say on the surface, but Washington also wasn’t a skill position player.
A national name like former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence may not have any real limits to how much he could make off his NIL, but what about for athletes that are only known within their conference or just by the diehard fans of their team?
That’s something Oklahoma State senior linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez is already pondering as a defensive player.
“Just doing stuff around the Stillwater community – just doing little things,” Rodriguez said. “Want to put your name out there. If you can make plays every now and then someone’s gonna reach out or you’re going to reach out to somebody.
“I’ve learned it’s gonna be a lot of uncertainty on this thing, so you do your best, and the worst thing they can say is, ‘No.’ So I may just kind of keep reaching out.”
One thing Rodriguez, and other athletes are doing to start the process is simply building a brand.
From logos to trademarks, student-athletes are getting the chance to be part of the development of creating their own brand to market.
“I’m excited for that, because it’s something to fall back on rather than football,” Rodriguez said. “So, just putting your brand out there and getting that started will help.”
There are many questions still surrounding the NIL, and for fans and football players alike, one of those questions will be how it could relate to EA Sports announcing in the spring a future return of its college football video game.
The NIL could allow athletes and EA Sports the opportunity to work together, unlike anything before, including having the actual information – such as names, proper hometowns and likeness – of the football players.
“I can’t wait to play and buy it,” said Rodriguez, who will be out of college football by the time the game is released (which is likely a few years down the road).