Have you noticed this year’s Dr. Pepper FANSVILLE spoofs on TV, featuring Alabama’s reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young?
These spots are NIL taken to the national level, which highlights the most revolutionary development in college athletics since the forward pass in football and three-point shot in basketball.
For those who haven’t been following closely, NIL stands for Name, Image and Likeness. It’s the fairly recent relaxation of the standard which ruled that receiving any kind of sport-related financial benefits terminated one’s amateur status and made the monetized individual a professional.
Bryce Young is one of hundreds (possibly thousands) of college athletes now being paid to promote or endorse products and services—in some cases, receiving the kind of money previously reserved only for pros.
Factual information is hard to come by, because: a) most advertising costs are proprietary; b) colleges and universities would rather not divulge just how much their athletes are raking in; and c) the athletes themselves have reasons to keep their income private.
But none of that has discouraged numerous websites and sports reporters from taking their best shots at what likely is going on. Here’s a little of their assertions:
Rayquan Smith, a running back for Norfolk State, has been called the “King of NIL.” Despite playing for a Division II HBCU (Historically Black College or University), he went into his senior season with more than 70 NIL deals.
Hanna and Haley Cavinder, twins on Fresno State’s women’s basketball team, found themselves on a Boost Mobile billboard in New York City’s Times Square. Since NIL took effect in July 2021, women’s college basketball has ranked third among NIL-compensated sports.
Quinn Ewers, who committed to Ohio State then transferred to Texas after playing only two downs on November 20, 2021, reportedly locked up more than $1.4 million BEFORE he enrolled at Ohio State—graduating a year early from his high school in Texas. Recognized as the first amateur athlete to land an NIL deal worth more than a million dollars, he’s added to that figure since becoming the Longhorns’ starting quarterback as a freshman.
And then there’s Young and his nationally televised ad campaign, which subliminally promotes Dr. Pepper’s sponsorship of the national championship football playoffs. His deals are estimated to be worth more than $3 million.
Dr. Pepper isn’t the only major brand to tap college athletes through NIL. Mercedes Benz, Degree antiperspirant, WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), Gatorade and various sports marketing firms are among others that have jumped at the new NIL freedom.
Built Bar, a national leader in protein bars, went so far as to pick up every BYU walk-on’s tuition AND to pay up to $1,000 to every Brigham Young football player (as many as 136) who wears the “Built” branding on his helmet and participates in company events.
Boosters at many universities also have recognized NIL’s potential as a recruitment tool, forming “cooperatives” that arrange deals for prospects—if they sign.
Most NIL beneficiaries, of course, are not in Bryce Young’s league.
For example, defensive lineman Josh Paschal, now a rookie with the Detroit Lions, starred in a hilarious commercial for a Lexington children’s dentist while a senior at the University of Kentucky last season. Safe to say he didn’t get Dr. Pepper money to do it. But he got paid.
Is NIL a good thing, long overdue?
I must admit, I’m torn.
On one hand, I liked it when college stars played for the love of the game and the glory they could bring to their schools, when a full-ride scholarship meant four years of going to class and maybe earning a degree in addition to possibly playing at the next level. When freshmen weren’t eligible to play on the varsity.
Of course, that was a long time ago.
Today, looking at it as any parent would whose son or daughter is one of the reasons a given university is reaping big dollars from its successful sports teams, I have a hard time saying athletes should be denied that opportunity to cash in on their undergraduate sports prominence.
Perhaps you’re wondering about Colorado-based athletes.
Well, Colorado and Colorado State—combined—won two football games this season through Week Seven. Demand for Buffs or Rams “stars” has been, shall we say, underwhelming.
But sports-betting company MaximBet offered an NIL deal to every female athlete in our state—no matter the size of the school or the collegiate classification in which it competes.
What about Air Force, which could win the 2022 Commander-in-Chief Trophy and go to a football bowl game?
Well, the Pentagon doesn’t recognize NIL. Athletes at the service academies are not allowed to share in the largesse.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at firstname.lastname@example.org.