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  • Writer's pictureDavid Sack

The PR win for Student-Athletes and the NCAA

Amid the seemingly endless barrage of PR blunders to come out of the NCAA’s headquarters over the past several decades, there’s one thing it’s gotten right on all fronts: its new name, image, and likeness policy (NIL).Provided it’s legal in their state, NIL gives collegiate athletes playing any sport at any level the right to profit off their likeness. Players can now earn money through endorsement deals, commercials, autograph signings, and other initiatives.With student-athletes able to make money with endorsement deals, autograph signings, and the like, criticism of the NCAA’s exploitation of collegiate athletes seems to have toned down. Instead, the focus has turned to the most valuable athletes, like Shedeur Sanders ($4M annual NIL valuation), Bronny James ($5.9M), and Livvy Dunne ($3.3M).

When Sanders followed his father, the legendary Deion Sanders, from Jackson State University to the University of Colorado, he followed the money, too. With the school's ranking surge early this season came increased buzz around the Sanders family, including Shedeur’s apparent fondness for expensive cars, with Tom Brady and Deion agreeing that a college student doesn’t need a Rolls Royce.

While some might prefer collegiate athletes to be more measured with how they spend their NIL earnings, these kinds of stories are a far better look for the NCAA and its member institutions than that of the superstar athlete who goes to bed starving.

While NIL is a PR win for the NCAA and its schools, the same goes for the athletes, who can now take a longer-term brand-building and money-earning approach. Take USC freshman Bronny James for example, though you could replace him with any blue chip basketball recruit.

With NIL, James can showcase his skills in the NCAA’s signature March Madness event while making an income. And it’s a great long-term play for athletes, too, who have the opportunity to build larger followings of passionate college fans. Meanwhile, the NCAA and its schools win, too, attracting a greater share of young talent, which of course increases fans’ interest in their product.Some might balk at the idea of student athletes earning millions of dollars, but it’s a financial, brand-building, and PR win for all involved. Schools and the NCAA are taking less heat as the athletes who’ve earned millions of dollars for them can now earn money from a separate NIL pie.

As the NCAA moves closer to functioning as a full-fledged business, with the latest round of conference realignment further monetizing college sports, with the latest round of conference realignment further monetizing college sports, there is surely more work to be done. Athletes still don’t see any of the revenue their play generates for schools and the NCAA, and most athletes aren’t close to as valuable as James, Dunne, and Shedeur Sanders. But their earnings are starting to resemble their market value, with much of the buzz around paying student athletes focusing on that for now.


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