Rising college freshman Ari Wiggins did not go to the University of Michigan to make money through endorsements and sponsorships. She went to play basketball and earn a business degree.
Yet, when Wiggins received an Instagram direct message from Clutch Lifestyle Co. in late June asking her to be a partner for their clothing brand, she was excited and surprised she got the opportunity so soon. Clutch’s message arrived about one day after the Supreme Court ruled on the case National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) v. Alston, stating in the majority opinion that the NCAA’s rules restricting certain education-related benefits for student athletes violate federal antitrust laws.
The ruling means college athletes, like Wiggins, are able to make money using their name, image and likeness (NIL), whether that be from sponsorships, partnerships or getting the sales from a jersey with their name on it.
While at first glance this momentous ruling seems like a win for athletes, it is a decision that could cause multiple changes — some negative, some positive — that will transform the culture of college sports.
The main pro of the Supreme Court ruling is student athletes, who typically spend the majority of their time practicing, attending study tables and going to games and class, will be able to earn some money or goods.
Athletes such as Wiggins, a Heritage Christian School graduate, and Mahamane Moussa, a rising freshman at Purdue University, have already secured partnerships. Wiggins has a finalized deal with Clutch, in which she gets free clothes and a commission from the items purchased using her discount code, and two other to-be-negotiated deals. Moussa will be receiving gear from Mud Hog, which sells rear-wheel drive systems, as part of a partnership between the brand and Purdue football’s offensive line.
Being able to make deals like these will be especially beneficial to students who come from low-income families and aren’t able to get a job during the school year because of the athletic time commitment, Wiggins said. It could also be helpful for female athletes, who don’t have as many professional sports outlets as men do, said Habib Diatta, girls varsity soccer head coach for North Central High School.
“They have pro leagues. … Still, they don’t pay well enough or they are limited,” Diatta said. “Being in the NCAA and being able to earn something is good for them.”
This opportunity to profit off their NIL also allows students to get more public exposure and build their personal brand at an earlier age.
Nakaih Hunter, a basketball player and rising freshman at IUPUI, said she hopes the sponsorships, in which students will be creating and featured in ads, will allow more people to connect with the players and make them want to attend games.
This exposure also means student-athletes interested in playing at the professional level can get their name out to coaches and recruiters more, making it easier to stand out from other athletes and, in some cases, teammates.
Jayson West, varsity football head coach at Franklin Central High School, said he is concerned these rule changes may harm the strong comradery in college sports teams. While there was competition among the team for shots at playing in the professional level, now there are also sponsorships and money on the line.
This change to allowing student-athletes to make money off of their standing as an athlete could also make playing for an NCAA team more of a job, West said.
“They’re playing because they love the game still,” he said. “Once you turn it into a business, it becomes less fun, and it becomes more work.”
DeeAnn Ramey, North Central varsity girls basketball head coach, said she is concerned some athletes will sign deals that will negatively impact them.
Agreeing to bad contracts is more of a concern now, in the first years following the rule change, because universities don’t have official support in place to help or teach athletes how to navigate these issues, Ramey said. Although some coaches, such as Moussa’s, have offered to provide advice, it’s not enough in the long run.
This could also be more of an issue for athletes from low-income families, which may be more desperate to earn money, Wiggins said.
“They might just jump into a deal,” she said.
Although all student-athletes will have the ability to make money from their name, image and likeness, those who are more talented, play for bigger and more popular teams and are more attractive or social will most likely get more deals and money than other athletes. So, the athletes receiving larger scholarships will also most likely get more money from sponsorships, West said.
“The rich are only gonna get richer here,” he said. “This isn’t gonna be spread out like people think.”
While this is not necessarily negative, this just means that it won’t be positive for many athletes who may need the money more, such as Division III athletes who are paying to play or Division I athletes who aren’t playing at the elite level, West said.
Although obstacles wait for college athletes in this new arena, those entering college sports seem more focused on the opportunities. In the next few years, this rule change may develop into a culture transformation in college sports, but today it means that Hunter may attract more people to her games, Moussa may get to be featured in an NCAA video game and Wiggins will get more real-world business experience by partaking in these NIL deals.
Contact staff writer Madison Smalstig at 317-924-5143. Follow her on Twitter @madi_smals.