Will College Athletes Become Employees?
Now Presenting This Week in NIL, a newsletter about everything you need to know to keep up with the rapidly changing world of name, image, and likeness in college sports!
I was doing everything I could to keep up with college sports at the NCAA convention in Indianapolis this week! Here are some of the topics that were coming up often in conversations I had.
This Week in NIL:
💸 University of Miami Megadonor proves LifeWallet has plenty of cash on hand to pay football players
⚖️ Will College Athletes Become Employees?
🎙️ Interview with Athliance CEO Peter Schoenthal
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University of Miami Megadonor proves LifeWallet has plenty of cash on hand to pay football players
University of Miami Football players are getting paid thanks to the efforts of Miami attorney and huge Hurricanes fan John Ruiz — a billionaire who not only is pumping his financial support into UM athletics but also leading the charge to bring a football stadium closer to the Coral Gables campus.
Quarterback Jake Garcia may have only thrown 14 passes last season as a Freshman, but has landed a two year contract worth at least $145,000 to promote startup company LifeWallet.
Ruiz confirmed to the Miami Herald that at least 17 UM football players have signed contracts to promote his companies LifeWallet and/or Cigarette Racing Team and participate in community service events.
Jaylan Knighton ($40,000 for 12 months) and Don Chaney Jr. ($40,000 for 12 months), cornerback DJ Ivey ($43,000 for 12 months), receiver Brashard Smith ($40,000 for 12 months) and offensive lineman DJ Scaife ($43,000 for 12 months).
I don't think you will find anybody denying that this is a blatant (albeit legal) attempt to funnel money to football players for reasons other than their ability to market the LifeWallet brand. It feels very similar to University of Texas Lineman receiving 50k/year to promote… unnamed charities.
Yet, as I sit in the lobby of the JW Marriott where hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars were spent this past week to convene regarding the future of college sports, I can't help but smile that players are finally getting a tangible slice of the pie. This was long overdue.
Will College Athletes Become Employees?
After an overwhelming majority voted to ratify the NCAA constitution, questions about the future of college sports and NIL loom large.
CBS Sports Dennis Dodd wrote a prescient article outlining a potential future where some college athletes act as quasi-employees similar to teaching assistants or graduate assistants:
"If players are paid by their schools, will that turn off fans? It hasn't so far.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young's NIL valuation is currently third nationally at $1.8 million per year. While he's not paid directly by the school, he's still capable of becoming a multimillionaire while in college. Young won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 and is generally viewed as a football and personal success story. In other words, his earnings haven't made a difference in his on-field success. He's a winner.
“I do think we're probably 2-3 years away from having a different relationship with our student-athletes," said respected North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who is entering his 27th year in athletic administration. "It won't necessarily be the student and the university. It may be employee-employer."
In 2014-2015, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Kolter attempted to unionize the Northwestern Football team. It failed. He was ridiculed by fans/media and opposed by his head coach.
Recently, the NLRB general council issued a memo arguing that "student-athletes" is a misnomer and they should be classified as employees. College Football may still be played on a field 100 yards long and 53 1/3rd wide, but it feels that may only be the only part of the sport that will stay the same.
Interview with Athliance CEO Peter Schoenthal
At the NCAA convention in Indianapolis, I got the chance to catch up with Athliance CEO Peter Schoenthal (Athliance is a NIL Disclosure and education software licensed by Universities across the country) Here are some key quotes from our conversation:
On problems when there are no defined consequences for breaking NIL rules "What we're seeing is bad actors come into the space looking for loopholes, and more inclined to use loopholes knowing that there isn't a bite behind the bark. And one of the phrases we use is: 'Is a crime a crime if there's no punishment?' And until we see smart legislation that's applied uniformly with actual bite, we're gonna see people try to take advantage of the system like we're seeing today."
On the need for federal legislation: "I thought it was so powerful that at the national championship, you had Nick Saban and Kirby Smart say, we need federal legislation. And if you think about it from this lens, it's so powerful, because without legislation, NIL actually benefits Georgia and Alabama, maybe more than anyone, and you have these two prominent figures, (that the current system actually benefits) and they love this sport, and they love college athletics so much that they're saying, hey, even though it might hurt my program in the short term for the longevity of college athletics, we need it and I thought that was so powerful."
On the dangers of schools facilitating NIL deals: "So one of the reasons why we believe that schools should not be playing a part in facilitating and bringing deals to their student athletes is for Title Nine. Because what we're seeing is if boosters are reaching out to schools, and brokering deals with the schools, oftentimes they want to do it and we're seeing it early on for football. If you're a school, and you're participating in the brokering of facilitating deals, and you're not giving the same resources/effort and bringing the same deals to your female athletes, as you are your men's athletes, you're really going to be getting into hot water from a Title Nine standpoint."
Other NIL News you need to 👀
FSU women’s soccer becomes first team to create co-branded National Championship Gear
2. Instagram launches subscription feature, rollout includes multiple college athletes