Before COVID-19 upended life as we know it, student-athletes’ right to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) were the hot button policy issue in the college sports world. The US congress even got involved.
Things have obviously changed. With NCAA-wide revenue loss estimates upwards of $500 million for this spring alone–and over $4 billion for the Power 5 alone if the football season is cancelled– many institutions are simply trying to survive the fallout. Athletic departments will shrink and teams will be cut (this has already begun). With fall football in jeopardy, some athletic departments may be forced shutter permanently.
In the shifting landscape, I expect that we’ll see a change in the rhetoric and tone surrounding the question of NIL. Athletic departments and conferences that were previously vehemently opposed to extending these rights may now find them to be a valuable recruiting and cost cutting tool: without the budget to offer lavish perks to the best athletes, might they be better served to simply support them in the pursuit of their own opportunities? Student-athlete’s personal brands have long indirectly benefited schools, so this seems like the opportune time to move forward in a way that benefits the athlete and institution alike. Credit goes to Nebraska football coach Scott Frost, who-as far as I know- was the first big name to embrace NIL in the contentious pre-COVID moment. I expect that many will follow Frost’s lead as the new landscape emerges.
It will also be interesting to see how schools and the NCAA look to generate revenue, possibly including an expansion of the college football playoff.