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Can College Athletes Get Paid? All You Need to Know About NIL

For the entire history of college athletics, there has been considerable debate about whether or not college athletes should receive payment. Both sides have made compelling arguments. The athletes bring in money for their schools, so some argue that they should benefit from a cut of that money. Others worry that introducing salaries into the picture will throw off the balance of college athletics. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, has settled on NIL as a solution. Here’s what you should know about Name, Image, Likeness:

Also see: What does being a D1, D2, & D3 athlete mean?

What does NIL mean?

NIL stands for Name, Image, Likeness. As a substitute for receiving a salary, it allows college players to profit off of the use of their name, image, and likeness. So, although they are not receiving money directly from their college, they can make some money based off of the reputation they have established by playing through their school.

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How can athletes make money through NIL?

Here are a few examples of ways that students can profit off of their name, image, and likeness:

  • Autograph signings
  • Product endorsements
  • Public appearances
  • Business partnerships
  • Use of their character in video games
  • Selling custom merchandise
  • Monetizing social media accounts
  • Working as sports instructors
  • Starting their own business adjacent to their sports career

It’s worth noting that not only the top college athletes can take advantage of this; many athletes have found partnerships with local businesses and earned money in addition to free products from the business. So, although the pay will definitely be more substantial for the big stars, there are still opportunities for other players to take advantage of NIL.

Also see: Top athletic scholarships

Why is it controversial to pay college players a salary?

In some sense, it seems intuitive that college players should earn a salary. They put in a great amount of work towards their school’s team, and oftentimes, these games are central to a school’s reputation and pull in a lot of money in ticket sales. But it’s not quite that simple.

Although the players do contribute something substantial to their school, there would be many implications in changing the rules to allow schools to pay salaries. The schools with the biggest budgets would end up with the strongest teams, and student athletes would end up making different decisions based on this salary. The dynamics of the league would be thrown off and the financial component of the sport would become weightier. 

Additionally, the NCAA considers it important to maintain the league’s “amateur” identity. The league is not a professional league, and they believe it remains more open to students in its current form.

Does the NCAA’s NIL policy extend across all 50 states?

Until 2021, profiting off of NIL was legally prohibited as well as a violation of NCAA policy. But when the NCAA suspended their rule in 2021, a wave of changes to state legislation followed. Profiting off NIL has already been legalized in a handful of states, and there are more to come. There is also action on a federal level to legalize it in all states, but it is likely that many state laws will have passed before this goes into effect.

Here is a list of states that have already legalized NIL as of June 2022:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

And here are some states that have passed laws to legalize NIL but whose laws have not come into effect as of June 2022:

  • California (Begins January 2023)
  • Colorado (Begins January 2023)
  • Louisiana (Begins July 2023)
  • Maryland (Begins July 2023)
  • Michigan (Begins December 2022)
  • Montana (Begins July 2023)
  • Nebraska (Begins July 2023)
  • New Jersey (Begins September 2025)
  • Oklahoma (Begins July 2023)
  • South Carolina (Begins July 2022)
  • Washington (Begins January 2023)

All other states have yet to pass a law legalizing college athletes profiting off of NIL. Nevertheless, it seems as though the policy is moving in favor of legalization, so stay tuned for federal or state-wide changes in your state!

What does it mean for me if my state has legalized NIL?

If your state allows college athletes to profit off of NIL, there’s still one rule to check. Some universities still have rules regarding this practice, and the state laws only dictate that it is up to each university to determine whether they want to allow it. So, make sure to check with your university before you begin monetizing your NIL.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • It is still prohibited for NCAA schools to pay their players a salary
  • However, at many schools, players can now profit from their name, image, and likeness
  • This means that they can profit from brand partnerships, selling merch, and any other endeavor that monetizes their image
  • The rules regarding this new rule vary by state and school. If you are a college athlete, make sure to check with your school before monetizing your NIL
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions

How much can you earn as a college athlete?

Although college athletes cannot earn a salary from their school for playing, many states now allow athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL. So, college athletes can make substantial sums by endorsing products, appearing in video games, signing autographs, using social media, and selling merch.

Do college athletes earn a salary?

College athletes do not earn a salary; this practice is prohibited by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA. However, in many states, college athletes can now profit off of their name, image, and likeness, or NIL. So, if you monetize your reputation through brand partnerships, selling merch, monetizing social media, and other forms, you can make money as a college athlete. 

Who is the highest paid college athlete?

Since college athletes do not earn salaries, there is no database of college athlete earnings to find an answer to this question. College athletes can earn money, but only through monetizing their name, image, and likeness. 

To give you an example of one of the highest paid athletes, in July 2021, college athlete Hercy Miller signed a $2 million contract with a company called Web Apps America. If he is not the highest-paid college athlete, he is certainly among the highest.

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