As of July 02, 2021 the NIL of collegiate athletes are no longer the property of their school and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Each student athlete, depending upon many factors such as the laws of the state where their school is located, may sell his or her fame to the highest third-party bidder. Colleges may provide stipends designed to “enhance education” but may not pay athletes to play. However, third parties such as wealthy boosters as well as corporations may.
Until six months ago it was an unpardonable sin for amateur athletes to be caught acting as though they owned their own financial souls. In the land of the free and the home of individual liberty, beginning in 1906 when the NCAA was founded, Big Brother was in charge of amateur athletics, especially at the collegiate level. Of course, Americans being Americans, countless ways were found to transgress the rules without paying any price. The unpunished sins of many were paid for by the examples made out of a few, the greatest amateur athlete in the world for one.
Jim Thorpe was a Native American born on the Sac Fox Nation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1887. Thorpe was taken from his family when he was ten years old and sent to Haskell Indian Institute in Kansas then at age sixteen to Carlisle Indian Institute in Pennsylvania. During parts of the summers of 1909 and 1910 Thorpe was paid $2.00 per game to play semi-professional baseball. In the Olympics of 1912, where baseball was not an event, Thorpe won gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon. The 1912 Olympics were held in Stockholm, Sweden. Sweden’s King Gustav V in awarding the medals to Thorpe said to him, “Sir you are the greatest athlete in the world.” In 1913 the Olympic Committee took Thorpe’s medals away from him and expunged his records because of his semi-pro baseball participation. The medals were returned to Thorpe’s family in 1983, thirty years after Thorpe’s death. I guess it is true, “Timing is everything”. Had Thorpe won his medals after July 01, 2021 no sin would have been assessed. In fact, under the new NIL rules Thorpe would have probably made millions, legally, while still an “amateur”.
The management of NIL and amateur athletics in schools now falls under the same entities that have been charged with addressing COVID. The federal government, each state, counties, cities and schools have a say and a role. What could go wrong?
While it is the right thing to finally put the ownership of an athlete’s Name, Image and Likeness where it belongs, with the athlete, there will undoubtedly be much to consider. Some will be good. For example, my alma mater, Indiana University, has labored in the football vineyards unsuccessfully for years. But one of IU’s alumni is billionaire Mark Cuban who is a rabid IU fan. I say “Go, Mark!” And Harvard, not known for football for a hundred years, has celebrated drop-outs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Do you think the honorary doctorate committee may take note? Then there is Princeton alum, Jeff Bezos, America’s wealthiest possible booster. What Jeff did for Amazon perhaps he can do for Princeton athletics. After all, Princeton played in the first college football game against Rutgers in 1869. Renewed glory may await if NIL swag can be offered and the transfer portal can be properly greased.
And please let me say I am fully in favor of everyone being the sole owner of their own NIL. If athletes can market themselves, my only objection is that my high school sports career was of no value to anyone. I believe capitalism and individual liberty is a good system. And if chaos at the top of college sports caused by NIL is good for college sports and if money in the hands of alumni is the mother’s milk of NIL, the future of college sports looks exciting.
My position is athletes should have control over their own images. And call me cynical, but I believe imaginative schools and boosters can find ways to categorize practically anything from books to private jets as “educationally enhancing”.
As for regulating NIL and putting that regulation in the hands of the same people who for the past two years have attempted to address COVID, I say, “Please leave it alone, let the free-market system work it out”. However, I am a little concerned with the effect collegiate NIL laissez-faire competition might have on amateur sports below the college level. When Tee Ballers start threatening to enter the Little League Transfer Portal unless their parent coach provides a new bicycle, we may need some way to reign things in.