For years, student-athletes have protested their inability to profit off their own athletic skills while their colleges garner millions of dollars because of them. The universities’ athletes run the show for free, attracting the fans, selling tickets and playing every game with the risk of sustaining a significant, long-term injury.
The bill passed the House May 31 and was signed by Illinois Governor Pritzker June 29, marking a win for student-athletes as Illinois passed the new name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation, allowing them to be compensated.
Examples of what athletes can do to be compensated under the new legislation include making an appearance on behalf of a brand, selling autographed items and making commercial appearances. They can also be compensated by starting their own company, becoming a spokesperson, monetizing a YouTube or social media account, selling their own merchandise, giving private lessons and starting their own camps or clinics.
According to Tom Sorboro, Senior Associate Athletics Director in charge of the NIL Legislation at Loyola, compensation can also come in forms other than money.
“Compensation could be monetary,” Sorboro said. “It could also be product or services, gift cards, apparel, a car. It’s not necessarily a money thing though in some instances it is.”
To clearly understand the NIL legislation, it’s imperative not to confuse name, image and likeness with performance. Student-athletes can be compensated for using their NIL to benefit other brands and potentially one of their own, but not based on their performance or with the purpose of recruiting new players to their team.
This prohibits any compensation from the university itself, or performance-based incentives in contracts with sponsoring brands. Because of this, the universities’ level of involvement is limited.
“The brands have the ability to reach out to the athletes directly,” Sorboro said. “In fact, the way the law is written, we are not actively allowed to participate in connecting our student-athletes with brands.”
Athletes, however, are required to disclose any NIL-related activity to the university. Loyola’s office of compliance reviews all offers to make sure they are consistent with the law, NCAA guidelines and the university’s mission statement.
“The university has the right to deny a partnership if the category or the brand is not consistent with the mission of the institution,” Sorboro said. “Even though this is a state law, the NCAA has some guidelines in terms of which categories student-athletes are not able to partner with.”
Some examples of brands that go against NCAA guidelines and Loyola’s mission statement are those related to gambling, alcohol, tobacco and firearms. This is the only way in which the university can shut down a possible student-athlete endorsement. Conflicts of interest within the university are not an acceptable means — they can be monitored and limited, but not denied.
“If one of our student-athletes wants to partner with Adidas, that is permissible under the framework of the law,” Sorboro said. “If Nike is our exclusive shoe provider, we can keep our students from promoting Adidas during university-sponsored, university-sanctioned, athletic activities.”
Regardless of the university’s exclusivity deal, student-athletes can still promote their competitors’ products outside campus and university-sanctioned activities. They can remain personal ambassadors for the brand through social media and any other activity in which they are paid to promote.
Student-athletes are also allowed to hire an agent to help solely with the acquisition of NIL deals. However, exploring other opportunities in college athletics or any sort of preparation for going pro is strictly prohibited.
The NIL legislation is technically not allowed for recruiting purposes and isn’t supposed to affect student athletes’ college decisions. But Sorboro said he believes schools in the 13 NIL-approved states might have an edge on recruiting top players as an unintended consequence.
“I think we would be naïve to say that it won’t be a decision-making factor for student-athletes as they’re making their college choices,” Sorboro said. “They likely will be able to see what other student-athletes at any given school have been able to do.”
The future of college athletics remains uncertain as the NIL Legislation implies a major modification to the NCAA. Its impact on players and recruitment is yet to be seen, as the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year will mark a new era for higher learning athletics.