Pandemic Accelerants: NCAA NIL Rights

More developments in one of the areas I suggested would be accelerated by the pandemic, as the NCAA has outlined their plan for granting athletes NIL rights. These are not the same as the federal and state level rules on the books or making their way through legislative processes. Why now? No surprise, as college sports have been financially brutalized and have come under fire for soldiering on with games despite all of the risks to athletes, coaches, and fans. It’s part of the classic NCAA playbook: claim that something is impossible and would destroy the fabric of the system– nay, American life– wait for the pressure to mount, then relent a bit while still maintaining control.

Great summary from Axios here and some key points to note:

Four ways to earn: Student athletes would be able to conduct private lessons or camps, endorse products, sell autographs and crowdfund for things like charities and family emergencies.

Restrictions: School logos must be absent from any of the above and athletes can’t endorse products that conflict with existing school sponsorships or NCAA legislation (i.e. banned substances, gambling).

Oversight: There will be a third-party platform for disclosure and approval of all NIL activities.

Pandemic Accelerants: Youth Sports In Danger

In what wasn’t a particularly bold prediction, I previously forecasted significant pandemic challenges for youth sport. This is not the type of thing that I’m happy to be right about, but some recent data confirms that there is reason for concern in this space. Excellent reporting from the New York Times.

From Front Office Sports, data from the always excellent Aspen Institute’s Project Play:

Some youth sports have returned to play, while others remain sidelined — showing the pandemic’s adverse effect on the future of the $19 billion industry. A new survey by the Aspen Institute has found 29% of parents reported their child is no longer interested in sports.

Among the findings was a widening opportunity gap, with wealthier families finding ways to keep their children active in sports. Also contributing to the lack of interest is the inability to gather for games — whether at an arena or in a communal setting — which promotes fandom that sparks children to take up sports.

Sports participation was at an all-time high in 2019, with 45 million youth program participants. With video games rising in popularity and live sports still paused in many communities, that upward trend is at risk.

More data from Aspen:

  • 28.9% of parents reported their child is no longer interested in sports as a potential barrier to resume. 
  • 63.9% reported fear of illness in children — 59.3% in parents — as a barrier to resume sports.
  • 28% of parents reported they would willingly spend more money on sports when they return.
  • Children went from playing sports 13.6 hours per week pre-pandemic to 7.2 hours per week in September.

The Power of Sports and Memory

My three year-old son, Gus, recently began his foray into organized (well, somewhat organized) sports with a great tee-ball program called Little Rookies. Newsletter readers may recall that the very first thing he did upon taking the field was to drop his little shorts and pee on home plate. I wasn’t there for that priceless moment, but the story from my wife filled me with a blend of horror and pride. This week, my afternoon class has a big project, so I’ve given them the week off from class to work, which meant I was able to go and see the action for myself.

It was a blast: a gaggle of 3-5 year olds running around and occasionally doing something resembling sports. Bless the coaches, who have the patience of saints and I’m pretty sure keep a smile behind their masks throughout the session. The kids seemed to have a great time playing, but the handing out of post-play stickers was clearly their favorite part. I was most impressed with how well they’ve trained the kids to support each other; every hit and fielded ball is met with a chorus of cheers from the crew and I hope they’ll always be like that. (I know they won’t, things will get serious all too soon, no matter how hard we try.)

I had a great time, but I wasn’t expecting the wave of emotions that came at the end of practice, after loading Gus up in his mom’s car and making my way to my own. I closed the door and pretty much broke down. In part, it was what all parents must feel when the kids begin to grow up. I still remember holding him for the first time in the hospital, absolutely terrified; now he’s taking big cuts and giving high-fives to his buddies. This feeling, I may have expected. But I didn’t expect the torrent of memories from my own childhood spent on fields and courts. The wins and the losses, sure, but mostly my folks, always taking the time to show up and support, to learn the rules and traditions of the American youth sports world. Taking my first home run ball to my mother, sick and in bed at home. My dad inscribed the ball with the date and field; it now sits in my top desk drawer at work, something to hold and fiddle with in distracted moments. A few years later: playing soccer the weekend after she passed away, my absolute legend of a coach, George Inyang, putting his big arm around me and saying “you’re going to be ok maaaan.”

I called my dad from the car. Twenty minutes earlier I had been live-streaming Gus at bat, marveling at the technology to broadcast the experience to the other side of the planet. I think he knew the call was coming. We had a good talk and he brought me back to neutral, as he has always done. I headed to our old house to finish up a move. Fittingly, the last boxes out were the old trophies and the old family photos.

This morning, I woke up, feeling peace and tremendous gratitude. For Gus’s coaches. For my wife and son and our families. For those who have passed and those who have their life ahead of them. Even when the world is upside down, life can be so, so sweet.