With only five weeks left to pass a federal mandate on Name, Image, Likeness in college sports, Congress is racing to establish universal rules before individual bills passed by Georgia, Florida, Alabama, New Mexico and Mississippi are enacted on July 1st, 2021.
It's expected that the bill will be pushed through in time to create an even playing field for college athletes throughout the United States.
Following the decision, though, is where the real change begins as athletes reclaim some of the rights that have been denied since the NCAA's inception. Sweeping changes in NIL will establish a voice for athletes that will inevitably result in safer playing conditions, more representation at the administrative level, and a free market where athletes can profit from their notoriety.
Before the gavel drops in Washington near the end of June 2021 and the landscape of college sports is changed forever, we are outlining five ways that NIL will influence athletes' lives before and after they enroll in college.
To help hammer home some of the complex issues and opportunities a universal Name, Image, Likeness bill could open up in college sports, we'll be referring to a conversation we had with Zach Soskin in May. Soskin is the founder of Voltage Management, an brand marketing firm for athletes that has found itself at the forefront of the NIL discussion.
With that, let's hop into the five ways NIL decisions will positively impact the lives of student athletes.
Leads To More Representation & Less Shaming For Injuries
Sports is in some ways directly tied to injury and the knot has never been as tight as it is now, with dozens of cameras aimed at what's happening on the field - and a few more patrolling the sidelines.
Football's complicated history with concussions has become the focus of fans and critics alike.
In baseball, there is a level of pride incomparable to most sports that leads to pitchers burning out their arms and hitters chasing blurry records.
Soccer has to decipher between flopping and a pandemic of real head injuries, while lacrosse and hockey are trying to balance similar issues as each sport's athletes become faster, bigger and stronger.
But, as injuries will always be a part of the game, the topic of NIL enters soon after an injury occurs. How is an athlete treated following an injury? Are they even consulted in the next steps?
"People finally realized it wasn't just revenue that student athletes were having issues on," Soskin says. "It's the transfer policy. It's the medical care they get. it's being forced to go back into games when they shouldn't."
Soskin, who spent time in the environment while working in the Oregon football recruiting office while in colllege, alluded to the shame and fear athletes have when injuries occur, leaving them to worry about their future on the team or the changing opinions of coaches and teammates.
"These are basic human rights issues that should apply," Soskin continues, "and the NCAA has wronged decades of athletes by dragging their feet in making sweeping NIL changes."
Whether it was an obvious blind-side hit to the head or a subtle cramp away from the ball, the way athletes are treated during and after the game is a varies based on what is on the scoreboard and how many fans are in the stands. There is no truly independent representation for injured athletes at any level.
The leverage that comes with new Name, Image, & Likeness legislation will offer players more of a voice - and when potential earnings are on the line, student athletes will feel more inclined to protect their health and push for more detailed answers on their injuries.
Helps Redistribute Earnings And Allows Athletes To Earn Money Sooner
"When you look at the bill passed on July 1st, when these bills take effect," explains Soskin, " the thing that's most exciting is just the ability for kids to make money. The ability for kids to do endorsement deals and launch businesses."
In the simplest respect, NIL will allow athletes to enter a free market and be compensated for commercial materials that bear their Name, Image, and Likeness.
On a deeper level, these changes will begin a chain reaction that has been boiling for almost a century overdue.
"If you look at over the course of college athletics," Soskin says, "if you were to have Name, Image, Likeness bill (put in place) back in the 1930s, we're talking about billions of dollars that could have been transferred hands from administrators and executive to athletes."
Black athletes and families have disproportionately affected by a lack of NIL compensation for the entire history of the NCAA. And those are earning that could be poured into their communities, leading to a domino effect for other young people to succeed.
Soskin remembers one exchange he had while working at Adidas with a top football recruit.
"There was a kid who hit us up asking for gear (clothes and shoes) for his little brother because his family couldn't afford anything for him. And at that point, the little brother was being bullied for wearing the same clothes most days at school. And the older brother, a star athlete, who I knew could make six figures a year in endorsements each year, was doing the best he could with a family that was barely making a fraction of that."
There are hundreds of stories like this of talented athletes who were high school stars, but had to wait and hope they made it out of college with the same momentum and earning potential.
The point guard, offensive lineman, or third baseman could work everyday for eight-plus years, in the gym, in the classroom, or on the field, but if they are sidelined before college graduation, their earning potential plummets.
The world essentially tells a gifted, hardworking athlete that they better find a knack for finance or medicine quick if they want to see a similar paycheck to a professional athlete.
An athlete's highest earning potential could come at age 21 or age 12. And at either of those ages, they should have the right to benefit from the gifts they have.
Allows Athletes To Build Brands Before College And Grow Them As Student Athletes
The changes slated for this summer will also allow athletes to begin profiting off of their talent and notoriety before they receive their first college offer.
Whether it is from small endorsements via sponsored Instagram posts or t-shirt sales from an online website, top athletes who have potential will be profiting off of the fanfare surrounding them. For that athlete, that will inevitably lead to paid appearances, collaborations, and a personal brand that is growing exponentially before they choose a college.
Zach Soskin, who started his career in Sports Business with Athletes First and a stint at Adidas, believes seeing a handful 16- or 17-year-old millionaires in each recruiting class won't be a surprise.
"There will be a kid over the next few years that starts a company as a high school or college athlete that ends up selling eventually for a hundred million dollars," Soskin predicts, "Just sheer probability."
Soskin, who spent time around some of the most sought-after kid quarterbacks like Tate Martell, saw firsthand how Netflix shows like QB1 and Last Chance U made brands out of these athletes' personalities. Athletes like Martell were drawn to the spotlight, and when they meet people with good ideas, they will finally be able to run with them.
It might be scary for the last generation to see a young kid making waves in the sports-fashion industry or appear on podcasts with hosts three times their age, but isn't that what college athletes are doing already... without their name or face attached.
Other kids their age have the option to build a business or a product. NIL rules are just finally allowing athletes to pursue passions off of the field and put in the hard work.
"I'm so excited to see where it goes," Soskin adds, considering the examples of young icons Kylie Jenner and Conor McGregor, "Cause again, the possibilities around this if a kid can tap into the right industry."
Less Anxiety Connected To Performance
It's an age-old trope you've seen in every sports movie. The star player goes down with an injury, ending their season and halting the buzz surrounding them. Nine times out of ten, the character will scream out, "This is all I got! You can't take this away from me."
Think Boobie Miles ripping the X-Ray results off of the wall in Friday Night Lights.
These moments make for an extremely moving movie scene, but it shouldn't be a reality for the next generation of athletes. NIL changes will begin to provide perspective for young athletes, reminding them that their impact on the field is not one dimensional.
Just as testing protocols and injury updates will need to become more transparent, so will conversations around the pressure put on certain athletes to perform.
For Soskin, he knows that pressure for an athlete to get back on the field despite their health is coming from everyone around them.
Fans want their favorite athletes on the field all the time.
Coaches design strategy and success around an athlete being on the field.
Scouts praise "grit" and "heart", but call players "soft" or a liability when they sustain multiple injuries.
"When the system is is designed to use student athletes, who don't get paid, to sell more season tickets or create value for your sponsors, you just got to call it like it is," Soskin says. "(In the age before NIL), colleges and brands called it leverage, but when it's free, it is really just exploitation."
When business is based on pushing athletes to their limits, the business has proved to be unsustainable. NIL changes and the athletes they empower demand that the business of college sports be reimagined.
More Opportunities To Succeed Off The Field After College
Following the last game on Senior Day, graduating student athletes can be hit with a wave of reality that their peers can't relate to. For three, four, or even five years, college sports made up the majority of their university experience.
They traded late night parties for early morning workouts and balanced a full class schedule with film study, practice, strength training, and the stress of actually competing on one of the biggest stages in sports.
And despite having good grades and maintaining "a full time job" on the field throughout college, most athletes are not left with a very big head start in the job market. After graduation, they jump into the same pool as every other Accounting or Construction Manager major in their class - most of which were able to complete internships and gain work experience while athletes competed throughout the school year and summer.
One major benefit from NIL changes would be the allowance for these athletes to leverage their talent to open doors to different industries. Athletes would be able to have conversations with marketing teams and executives that translates to real work experience on your resume after college.
"People don't appreciate how smart these kids are," Soskin mentions, "how they're the kids that grew up on social and digital. They grew up having influence, and they've learned through formal research and just by being surrounded by it."
In simple terms, more freedom throughout college to share their experience will not force athletes to fit into a box in order to succeed after college. And Soskin thinks that starts with more people teaching young people how to sustain their high value and grow their knowledge to be equipped for life.
"I love that the schools are going to provide resources," Soskin admitted. "They're going to make sure the kids stay eligible and they're doing a good job of providing more of an education in brand marketing."
The worth of college athletes will only grow after graduation when they leave with knowledge of negotiation tactics, contracts, and revenue possibilities with royalties and equity deals.
Whether all of these predictions or just a few come to fruition, it's refreshing that the next wave of college athletes will be better equipped to succeed during and after their four years.
And hopefully, beyond establishing new avenues to wealth, new legislation associated with Name, Image, and Likeness will help to make amateur sports safer and a more rewarding experience for every athlete at every level.