College athletes start cashing in as new rules 'fundamentally change' landscape

·5-min read

Student-athletes in various states are already profiting from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) after new state and national rules marked a massive shift in college sports.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) approved an interim policy that allowed college athletes to monetize their NIL for the first time beginning on July 1, 2021, following various states that passed legislation allowing the same.

“This is huge,” Kam Buckner, a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives who sponsored the legislation in Illinois, told Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “This will fundamentally change the landscape of college sports as we know it.”

The rules enable college athletes to earn money in various ways such as sponsored posts or advertisements on social media, autograph and memorabilia sales, YouTube channels and Twitter sponsorships, private training lessons, and endorsement deals.

Some of the newly eligible student-athletes wasted no time cashing in. University of Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon launched his own line of clothing while Fresno State women’s basketball players Hayley and Hanna Cavinder announced multiple deals.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 14: Ohio State Buckeyes guard CJ Walker (13) dribbles down the court during the men's Big Ten tournament college basketball game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Illinois Fighting Illini on March 14, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State Buckeyes guard CJ Walker (13) dribbles down the court during the men's Big Ten tournament college basketball game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Illinois Fighting Illini on March 14, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

'I lived out of my car'

On a national level, the fight to grant student-athletes the right to profit from endorsement deals has been long and arduous. 

For years, student-athletes have not been able to make money, despite college sports being a massive business that rakes in billions each year.

“I lived out of my car for a number of months because I did a cost-benefit analysis and it made more sense for me to have money in my pocket than to spend money getting an apartment,” said Buckner, a former football player at the University of Illinois in the 2000s. “And so I pocketed my scholarship money that was meant to pay for my housing for a number of months."

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The tide turned this year.

On June 10, NCAA President Mark Emmert testified before Congress and asked lawmakers to create a federal NIL policy because he believed that the various state laws would create an uneven playing field for student-athletes across the country. 

On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the NCAA's arguments that college athletes — officially characterized as "amateurs" — could be legally prohibited by the NCAA and other organizations from accepting compensation such as free laptops or other education-related perks for their labor.

And no matter what happens next on a national level, many states already have NIL laws that have either gone into effect or will in the coming years.

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'We were used as commodities'

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch penned the majority opinion in the recent ruling, explaining that he did not believe that relaxing current NCAA restrictions would not blur the lines between college and pro sports.

“Once again, though, we think the district court honored these principles," Gorsuch wrote. "The court enjoined only restraints on education-related benefits — such as those limiting scholarships for graduate school, payments for tutoring, and the like. The court did so, moreover, only after finding that relaxing these restrictions would not blur the distinction between college and professional sports and thus impair demand — and only after finding that this course represented a significantly (not marginally) less restrictive means of achieving the same pro-competitive benefits as the NCAA’s current rules.”

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Buckner marveled at how much the college sports atmosphere has changed for student-athletes.

"Looking back at how far the legislation has come, it becomes very clear to me that we really were left out of the economic conversation, that we were used as commodities, that we were used to bring in revenue," Buckner said. "We had no ability not just to be compensated for what we did on the field... [it's about] just having the ability to profit off of our very own name, our very own image, our very own likeness, just like every other American can do."

At the same time, Buckner believes that there's still a lot more to be done as revenue "is generated by athletes who are most likely Black and low-income in many cases, and they’re making a lot of people rich."

Buckner suggested that the NCAA, which resisted the recent changes until finally caving as state laws were about to go in effect, needs to act creatively.

"What we have seen, what we will see is the the economic model as we know it continue to be torn down," he said. "And so what this calls on the NCAA to do, the folks who are charged with protecting student athletes, ... is to be bold, be intrepid, and be creative, and find ways to most most importantly be fair.”

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami. Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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