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Halftime Report | Looking at both sides of the student-athlete endorsement deals debate

The debate surrounding college athlete compensation has been hotly contested for several decades.

Duke basketball player Getty Images

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The latest chapter in athletes vs. the NCAA saga took a turn when “name, image, and likeness,” or NIL, legislation went into effect on July 1. The debate surrounding college athlete compensation has been hotly contested for several decades. Athletes generate millions of dollars in revenue whether it’s ticket sales, jerseys, posters, calendars, etc., but had been barred from benefiting from any of it from a financial standpoint. All of that has changed.

Thanks to a combination of state laws and revised NCAA rules, student-athletes now have opportunities to make money by selling their NIL rights without sacrificing their amateur status and collegiate eligibility. As soon as the clock struck midnight on July 1, several athletes announced their brand spanking new deals. Popular North Carolina-based chicken franchise Bojangles quickly snatched up two of the ACC’s most prominent quarterbacks in Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei and North Carolina’s Sam Howell. As part of the deal, the athletes would post on social media and make appearances on behalf of the brand. Later in the week, Johnson C. Smith freshman wide receiver Ky’Wuarn Dukes became the first HBCU athlete to sign an endorsement deal when he, too, inked a deal with Bojangles.

Although it is most definitely a step in the right direction, there are still many kinks left to be ironed out. As it stands, the NIL legislation is still at the state level – 28 states have passed the new law. Some went into effect July 1; others will go into effect at various times with the latest being September 2025 (New Jersey). Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island are still going through the legislative process. For those student athletes that attend school in states without NIL policies in place, the NCAA has that covered, as well. Here are the basics of the temporary policy.

  • Individuals can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located. Colleges and universities may be a resource for state law questions.
  • College athletes who attend a school in a state without an NIL law can engage in this type of activity without violating NCAA rules related to name, image and likeness.
  • Individuals can use a professional services provider for NIL activities.
  • Student-athletes should report NIL activities consistent with state law or school and conference requirements to their school.

The NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement, “With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level. The current environment — both legal and legislative — prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the level of detail student-athletes deserve.”

As it stands, the rule change is temporary – until new rules or federal legislation is adopted. However, it is at least a start to remedying a terribly flawed system in which athletes were forced to sit idly by while their name, image, and likeness brought in millions of dollars in revenue while they had to eat Ramen noodles. Now before anyone jumps on the soapbox with the “free education” argument, consider this: It is estimated that the top NCAA schools bring in roughly $8.5 million annually from athletics. More than half of that is earned by the football and men’s basketball programs. There’s no way that full scholarships given to student athletes are anywhere close to equaling that amount. Meanwhile, the coaches are compensated handsomely. The top earning football coach, Alabama’s Nick Saban, earned a whopping $9.3 million in salary this past year. LSU’s Ed Orgeron ($8.9 million), Clemson’s Dabo Swinney ($8.3 million), Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh ($8 million), and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher ($7.5 million) round out the top five earners in college football. Oftentimes, the coaches also receive free housing and are allowed to engage in endorsement deals, as well.

Swinney has also been the most vocal in opposing player compensation. In fact, back in 2019, he went on record saying that if players were paid that he would walk away from the fat salary he’s receiving at Clemson.

“We try to teach our guys, use football to create the opportunities, take advantage of the platform and the brand and the marketing you have available to you,” he said at the time. “But as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that’s where you lose me. I’ll go do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.

“I’ve always said I’m against the professionalization of college athletics and the devaluing of education. That’s what I’ve always said. If we professionalize college, we might as well coach the pros.”

Swinney added: “I’m always for the value of education and the collegiate experience. Always have been. Nothing has changed. But, I have always said I am 100% for ways to modernize the collegiate model.”

It is quite an interesting take coming from someone that witnesses firsthand the situations that some of these players are coming from. As head coach, Swinney is also privy to a first-person observation of the things these players put their bodies through and the tough task of balancing sports and scholastics. He has undoubtedly sat in many living rooms on the recruitment trail and promised the parents of his future athletes a better future. Getting their rightful piece of the NCAA money pie certainly falls into that category.

Due to NIL being in its infancy stage, other coaches are not quite sure how they feel about it and how it may impact recruiting. As programs kicked off the season with media days around the country, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told Associated Press, “Right now, there’s a lot of head coaches getting on a dais, singing a bunch of songs that they have no idea what they’re singing,” Fitzgerald said. “‘We’ve got the greatest NIL.’ They’re all full of it. That’s all I’m going to say. Nobody knows what they’re doing. They’re all faking it. I’ll be the first to admit it. If we focus on education, this thing will all kind of play itself out, big picture.”

As the NCAA waits on federal mandates, school compliance officers have been tasked with researching and determining if certain activities fall within the state and school NIL guidelines. Federal advice needs to happen sooner than later according to Georgia coach Kirby Smart. He told the AP, “The biggest concern … is federal legislation would be nice because, if you looked and combed across the country, not everybody’s playing by the same rules. In other words, some schools are allowed to arrange deals. Some schools are not allowed to arrange deals.”

As schools and the NCAA navigate muddy waters, there’s also the ghosts of athletes past. Those that were stripped of eligibility and awards for doing what is now permissible. The most notable casualty of the previous guidelines is former NFL and University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush. He was stripped of his 2005 Heisman Trophy and had all of his school records stricken from the books after the NCAA determined that he and his family had received roughly $300,000 in cash and perks during his college career. Additionally, USC was harshly punished. The school had to vacate 14 wins from games that Bush participated in including the 2005 national championship. Furthermore, the Trojans lost 30 scholarships and were not permitted to participate in the postseason for two years. The blowback the school received resulted in the ostracization of Bush. Shortly after this recent NIL announcement, he had something to say.

Bush and his legal team continue to fight what they dubbed “a sham investigation.”

If Bush is successful, that opens another can of worms as more former players may seek retroactive clemency. Federal legislation may not be in the foreseeable future, so it will be interesting to see if the NCAA’s member schools are able to avoid the dreaded “pay-for-play” and find a happy medium that recognizes the value of its athletes.

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