College Sports Challenges, Uncertainty Make NIL Debate Even More Front And Center

Wikimedia Commons/Phil Roeder

We continue in unchartered waters in sports as many enter week four of the pandemic, and the college landscape remains as fluid as any. There is no shortage of opinion and conjecture, from spring sports eligibility to moving football to the 2022 are all on the table and the angst and viability of student athletes remains in flux.

Against all of that backdrop is the ongoing and vital debate about Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and how that will factor into the business of college athletics going forward. How have things changed or adapted, and what would the opportunities be for athletes today if NIL as in place? One of the key advocates in NIL remains Zach Segal, who founded StudentPlayer.com last year as a platform to assist and recognize college athletes for their achievements on the field while tying them to brand opportunities, or in some cases, causes.  

We had some time to connect with Segal on how NIL is evolving, and how Student Player’s business platform has changed and adapted as well.

Does the opportunity for spring sports to add eligibility positively or negatively affect the NIL debate?

Any steps taken to promote fairness given these unprecedented times are good for the NIL debate. Afterall, allowing student athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness is not about giving student athletes an advantage relative to other students it is about treating them the equally! We hope that the longstanding inequity will be remedied soon!

How does a platform like student player impact a player prepping for the NFL Draft? once his eligibility end could he access funds if the system was up and running in say a year from now?

Student Player will offer sponsorship deals to student athletes when they are student athletes, but only after it is legal/permissible to do so. In our view, fans must have a voice and we give them the chance to be heard. Prospective athletes will want to know what kind of opportunities are available at each school, fans can make a difference by contributing! A player prepping for the NFL draft would still benefit from fan contributions while they are in college.

If NIL is in effect now how do you think athletes currently sidelined could use their rights for something like social good?

Yes, 100%. And we bet that many would! Today’s restrictions are essentially prohibiting that which is sad. Particularly so in a time when huge numbers of Americans (and others) are struggling to cope with Covid-19. This is just one reason why we hope school/legislatures/the NCAA won’t pause the momentum that NIL is having.

Without NIL in place this spring, have those athletes who missed March Madness suffered a loss of opportunity to capitalize on brand value? Can you think of a specific example?

Yes, March Madness shines a big spotlight on the athletes that play in it and the schools that they play for. There are missed opportunities across the board. Who would have hit a buzzer beater to help a double digit seed advance to the final four? We will never know, but that individual would have become a nationally recognized star. Who knows what would have happened next!

How do you see the debate moving in the fall when some normalcy returns; should we be looking for next steps?

We hope that it will pick up with as much momentum as it previously had. NIL is a bipartisan issue and a simple one.  In our view, the next step is for the NCAA to adopt California’s Fair Pay To Play Act. The NCAA and its member schools have long held that student athletes are “students first.” We agree! Given that, the solution is simple: treat student athletes like students. There are often mentions of “guardrails” and other safeguards, but we see all of those things as unnecessary. The goal should be to afford student athletes the same opportunities that every other student already has. Guardrails and safeguards should only be included if they are applied equally to all students (athlete or not).

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Authored by: Jerry Milani

Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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