The future of college athletics

Kelsey O’Loughlin, Senior Writer

In 2021, the rules of name, image and likeness of college athletics are finally changing. The question of whether student-athletes should be compensated for their athletic performance was taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court in the National College Athletic Association v. Alston case at the end of March. The case evaluated whether the NCAA limits on student compensation violated antitrust laws. The NCAA argues that students are compensated with a (sometimes) free college education, but critics say that athletes routinely miss classes for travel and games, and that athlete graduation rates are significantly lower than the national average. Moreover, athletes from all across the nation, competing in various leagues like the SEC and C-USA, have earned thousands of dollars to their universities, while they receive nothing in return. Some of these athletes say they struggled to financially support themselves, as their intense sport schedule prevented them from having a campus job. 

Though the U.S. Supreme Court is yet to issue a ruling on the case, the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act was introduced by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy and Massachusetts Representative Lori Trahan, a former volleyball player at Georgetown. This will be the first proposed legislation that will protect the name, image and likeness of college athletes and instill rights to prospective athletes. This bill follows the state-level legislation that has already passed NIL legislation, a type of law which provides expanded medical coverage and grants athletes the ability to transfer once without penalty. California, Florida, Nebraska, Colorado, New Jersey and Michigan have already passed their NIL laws. Thus, those who attend schools in those states are already benefiting from their state’s NIL legislation. This Freedom Act allows for financial opportunities to be pursued without the fear of losing eligibility or scholarships.

But first, why hasn’t the NCAA allowed these athletes to be paid? It all goes back to the origination of the term “student-athlete.” The term student-athlete was formed to avoid paying the young people so they would not be considered actual laborers and so the NCAA could avoid paying worker’s compensation. The term arose in the 1950s when a football player from Fort Lewis A&M died from a head injury he received while playing football. Since the college was not in the “football business,” his family did not receive worker’s compensation on his behalf.

How does this change the game for these collegiate athletes? Let’s start with one of the most valuable tools any savvy college student has access to: social media. Social selling refers to students promoting the products or services they use through social media, whether they get paid for it or not. Formerly, companies who sought to market, sponsor or promote their products among college students through social media (more specifically Instagram and TikTok) could not do so with student-athletes because of their affiliation with their university’s athletics program. If they choose to move forward with the company, the athlete would have to buy the product or service themselves.

Additionally, many have gotten into the business of YouTube vlogging. Many student-athletes will film videos documenting what their daily routines look like in a normal practice day or on a game day. There are many opportunities within these videos for a company to promote their own product. For example, the athlete could endorse a product by showing the way they incorporate it into their daily life. Companies such as INFLCR and Apex assist in creating opportunities for student-athletes by creating content to expand their social media reach. Additionally, there are resources to educate them on how to best capitalize on this opportunity. While the results of the Supreme Court case are pending, this could change the game for student-athletes across the country.

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