What is NIL? Name, Image, and Likeness

NIL stands for “name, image, and likeness.” It has to do with the ability of college athletes to earn money from sponsorship deals and other advertising dollars. Until recently, it was illegal under NCAA rules.

What does NIL mean?

“NIL” stands for “name, image, and likeness.” It has to do with the ability of college athletes to earn money from their “name, image, and likeness.” In other words, college athletes can accept sponsorship deals, and other advertising dollars. 

NIL is significant because college athletes are otherwise unpaid. They are compensated for their skills and labor with scholarships for tuition, as well as other school-related benefits such as dining dollars, housing assistance, and more. NIL is a way for college students to earn additional money on top of their scholarships. 

Supreme Court NCAA Decision

In June of 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling that has the potential to dramatically reshape college football. The case—NCAA vs Alston—raised potential antitrust issues with the NCAA. The Court ruled that the NCAA cannot prevent students from receiving benefits related to education. The Court argued that the NCAA was seeking exemption from normal antitrust laws—and that they would not be granted it.

The Alston ruling opened up NIL in college athletics

After the Alson ruling in 2021, the NCAA changed its longstanding policy that outlawed players earning money from their name, image, and likeness.

Prior to the NCAA vs. Alston Supreme Court case, college athletes could not earn money from their NIL. The NCAA forbid it. However, the Supreme Court case has had a dramatic impact. This rule change came in large part due to the pressure that the Alston ruling placed on the NCAA as a potential violator of antitrust laws.

The NCAA has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and it is the only system that college football players can compete under. At the same time, it has not paid any of its athletes. College athletes are highly skilled individuals; they are of legal age to work in the United States; and they dedicate significant time and labor that generates massive revenue for the NCAA.

While the Alston Supreme Court case did not rule on college athletes being directly paid, it did prompt the NCAA to change its NIL rules. It also opens the door for more cases. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the concurring opinion that signals that the Court will rule similarly in future cases against the NCAA. As a result, the NCAA is under significant pressure to change course. One of the consequences of that is that players are allowed to monetize their NIL—and begin to earn some compensation for their skills and labor.

So Can College Athletes Make Money?

Yes, as of 2021, college athletes can now earn money from their name, image, and likeness. College athletics has historically been an “amateur” competition. The NCAA used this term, “amateur,” to argue that athletes should not be compensated for their skills and labor. That facade is starting to crumble with the Alston case and NIL rule change.

How the NCAA handles NIL

Before the NIL rule change, some states in 2021 were already planning to allow college athletes to monetize their personal brands in their state. There were several states, such as South Carolina and Florida, that were set to make NIL legal for college athletes in July of 2021. That—combined with the June, 2021, Alston ruling—forced the NCAA’s hand; change had to come.

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