by Conor Gereg
On July 1st the NCAA officially relinquished the barriers that have long kept college athletes from earning income. The NCAA’s guise of amateurism placed limitations that were, as Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh saw them, “above the law”. Going forward, and with few exceptions, college athletes can now earn money while on scholarships.
An indisputable win for all NCAA athletes, the paradigm has shifted and it isn’t just student-athletes that are trying to understand the new world of Name, Image, and Likeness.
“Like anything new or never been done before, there will be a learning curve for everyone involved,” Sacred Heart Head Coach Antony Latina told College Hoops Digest. “With that said, I think it’s a great opportunity and overall a positive thing for student-athletes.”
With NIL officially on the books, college athletes have the chance to profit doing nearly anything, as long as it’s outside of what most universities classify as “vice” categories, i.e. drugs, alcohol, or other ventures that might impair the optics of their respective university.
For example, athletes can now earn money running camps, teaching skill development, scoring endorsement deals, signing autographs, and much more. In its barest form, the NIL ruling creates a space for college athletes to profit from their fame.
The ruling appears to have the potential to help college athletes beyond just securing pin money. For basketball, in particular, programs will now have a better chance to retain talent, keeping players who are on the fringe of a professional career and making a difficult decision: roll the dice in the professional ranks or forgo earning potential by returning to school?
NIL changes all that. Earn money and retain a scholarship? Yes, please.
“While, I don’t believe it will have a major impact on the balance of power with programs, hopefully, it will encourage some players, especially marginal pro prospects, to stay in college as opposed to leaving early which will be good for student-athletes and the college game as a whole,” Latina said.
An Unintended and Wonderful Consequence
One inherent element that has forever hamstrung the college game is its inability to create the same level of continuity found in professional sports. Talented college athletes grow familiar for a year or two, and then, move on. NIL has the power to change that.
“I’ve always believed that keeping multi-year college stars with questionable NBA futures is way more important to college basketball than getting ‘one-and-dones’ onto campus,” Kevin Sweeney of Sports Illustrated and co-host of the College Basketball Central Podcast told us.
“NIL is arguably most impactful to those players since they have established brand recognition in their college towns and beyond,” Sweeney added. “Players who do it right could make enough money that it’s no longer a worse financial decision to play in college rather than get a two-way deal or go to the G League. I think NIL will keep a couple of fringe NBA players in school for another year.”
An Opportunity for All
“If we were going to build college sports again in 2020 instead of 1920, what would that look like?”, NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert asked the Associated Press earlier this month. Emmert’s question is most certainly answered with what NIL offers all college athletes: the same rights and freedoms as non-athletes, though regardless of size, schools across the country find themselves in uncharted waters.
School compliance departments will have a litany of questions for Emmert and the NCAA. Programs across that nation are all actively considering the benefits of adding personnel to help student-athletes better understand earning opportunities.
“Certainly it will impact larger programs differently than ours because the opportunities for those programs will likely be far greater,” Latina said. “What we hope to do is help our players navigate through these new opportunities. Ultimately, we want to help them maximize their potential in this area like we try to do with every aspect of their college career. What that looks like is something that I’m sure will evolve with time.”
Muddying the waters even further is the fact that college basketball finds itself navigating a pair of parallel issues, the nascent NIL era and the player movement era brought forth by the transfer portal. How might one affect the other?
“There’s a school of thought that players at low- and mid-major schools will want to transfer more now that being at a program with less exposure could also be hurting your revenue opportunities, but I don’t think that will be a seismic change from what’s already happening,” Sweeney said.
“I’m curious to see whether marketing agreements with local companies could wind up being a factor in keeping players from transferring and having to find new deals or give money back, or if things swing the other way and we wind up with under-the-table bidding wars for kids.”
The NCAA was steered clear of suggesting that NIL freedoms will pose as any sort of recruiting advantage, but, as Sweeney pointed out, “[there’s still] lots still to work out on this front.”
Chris Crevelone, an assistant at Cal-State Bakersfield told College Hoops Digest that the new legislation brings uncertainty beyond just recruiting. “It’s hard for me to envision how NIL will impact college basketball as a whole,” Crevelone said. “As of now, there are too many unknown factors and questions. However, I do believe it will have a great impact on the Power 6 conference schools more than the rest.”
Despite Cal-State’s modest stature in comparison to neighboring heavyweights in the Pac-12, Crevelone noted that even the little guy has an opportunity to benefit here. “I think there will be ways for us to utilize NIL to positively benefit our program,” he added.
Crevelone, who just finished his first season at CSUB following a combined 10 seasons at Grand Canyon and Texas, has worked at the highest of the high majors and the up-and-coming single-bid conferences. “I believe our location and our community will give us an advantage.”
Sacred Heart assistant Kyle Steinway tends to agree with Crevelone. “I think in general a lot of low and mid-major coaches will just assume it’s something that’s only going to be for the big boys and doesn’t affect them. I think if we embrace and educate our guys on the opportunities that may be out there we can hopefully gain a competitive advantage on schools on a similar level.”
Much Ado About Something– or Nothing?
NIL most likely won’t turn the sport of college basketball upside down. The perennial programs that commonly sit atop the polls will still be there since their exposure will simply allow them more to offer regarding earning potential.
“For college basketball as a whole I don’t think it will make much of a difference,” Steinway added. “I still think at the end of the day the blue bloods will still get the best players, the next batch of Power 5’s will still get that next crop of players, and so on down the line. Kids will definitely benefit from some cool new perks and potentially money on different things here and there but overall I think the game will stay the same.”
The voices of college basketball like Sweeney and Steinway are right–the college basketball hierarchy will likely stay the same, but the July 1st ruling is a momentous victory for college athletes regardless. It’s a new day for college sports in a novel era of college basketball: an era that will help keep the game’s household names in America’s purview even longer while creating opportunities that will enrich the possibilities of playing at the NCAA’s highest level.