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  • Writer's pictureKara Wagenknecht

A new legacy is here: college athletes are now paid.

College sports, a fascination for many across the nation. In the fall, Saturdays are devoted to college football and by springtime March Madness captivates audiences from all over. Needless to say, college athletics have taken a huge hold on our society. Athletes put in hours and hours of work to be able to compete for their school. College athletes are not professional athletes, so they still attend classes, extracurricular activities and on top of everything they still try to balance their social life. College athletes travel across the country to compete every single week while still balancing their classes and homework. Due to previous NCAA regulations, athletes were unable to get paid. This meant, you were not able to get paid for having a job while in-season and you were not able to make money off of your name through sponsorships and endorsements like many professional athletes do. Commodification of athletics came to light through Michael Jordan. Jordan has made over $1 billion in sponsorships and endorsements throughout his career. The term “commodification” comes from Karl Marx and it refers to “an exchange economy based on the production and consumption of commodities, ownership of private property and capital” as seen in the lecture slides from October 21. Commodification can be seen all around us, essentially everything is a commodity. Jordan was one of the first team sport athletes to be commodified. He signed a deal with Nike his rookie season for about $250,000 (Lamb and McDonald). Within that sponsorship, Jordan collaborated with Nike and they came out with the first generation of Air Jordans. After that sponsorship, Jordan began to make millions off of his name and likeness. During the 1980s, a lot of sponsorships and endorsements went to individual athletes like tennis players and boxers. Jordan was the first team sport athlete to become sponsored. This is critical because without Jordan many team sport athletes today would not have the opportunity to make money off of their name and likeness. Today, almost every professional athlete is sponsored or endorsed by a company in some way. Some athletes are sponsored by big corporations like Nike and Under Armour and some are endorsed by smaller, local companies. Professional athletes are paid to compete for thousands of fans and the same goes for college athletes although they were not getting paid. With the commodification of the sporting industry constantly growing, college athletes had to fight for their right to get paid. As of July 1, 2021, college athletes are eligible to receive pay for their name and likeness with the NIL policy (Hosick). Commodification within the sporting industry has changed college athletics forever with the NIL policy.

July 2021 was monumental for college athletes around the nation. As of the 2021-22 academic school year, student athletes had the opportunity to profit off of their name and likeness through sponsorships, endorsements and other ventures for the first time ever. With this new policy in place, athletes have used it as a way to make money throughout the season and even during the off-season. Many athletes barely have any time to do anything while they are in season. With little to no time between classes, practices, games and meetings athletes barely have enough time to complete their homework and stay on top of their grades. The NIL policy allows athletes to make money on their name and likeness and sometimes it can be as simple as posting a sponsored Instagram post which does not take much time. This allows athletes who need a steady income throughout the entire year to pay for things such as rent and groceries without having to sacrifice even more time working a part time job. A rule within the NIL policy is that players are not to exchange pay-for-play, meaning an athlete is not able to receive compensation for either winning or losing a game on purpose or for making certain plays. According to, by not allowing pay-for-play it “reinforces key principles of fairness and integrity across the NCAA and maintains rules prohibiting improper recruiting inducements. It's important any new rules maintain these principles" (Hosick). Five years ago, there would have never been a serious debate whether college athletes should be paid or not. Now, college athletes around us are getting compensation. By placing rules within the NIL policy like not letting college athletes get paid for plays it keeps the game just as authentic. A reason so many people enjoy college athletics is because everything is so genuine. The players are playing and for many, their last high-level competitive game. These athletes have put in years of hard work and dedication to perfecting the game. They are putting everything they have on the line for a couple of months during the season and working on the off-season to excel the next season. Some players in the NBA do not work as hard because they have steady streams of income always coming in. Some choose to play it safe rather than playing like it is their last game ever because their bodies are how they make money. They need to constantly be fit and healthy to get more income. College athletes put in just as much work as professional athletes to maintain their physical physique in order to perform to the best of their ability.

The NIL policy allows all athletes to receive compensation for their name and likeness. When people think of college athletes they typically think of the star football players or men’s basketball players. Rarely do they think of the cross country runners, volleyball players or gymnasts. College football is, for many people, just as big as NFL football teams. Personally, I come from the midwest and college athletics are huge. I grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. In Iowa I live about 10 minutes away from the football stadium. I remember on game days my street was packed with cars on either side. One car could barely move down the street during the game. Being a Big Ten school Iowa always has a spotlight on them when it comes to football. On Saturdays every single person, whether you go to the game or not, is wearing Hawkeye gear. People in our state idolize these athletes and they put in hours upon hours working up to playing these games. Thousands of people show up to these football games every week. A lot of people typically support the men’s athletic programs so football, basketball and wrestling. Rarely do people watch and support women’s athletic programs. According to Sports Illustrated, 18.7 million viewers watched the Ohio State vs. Alabama College Football National Title Game in 2021 and according to CNBC, the NCAA men’s basketball championship game had roughly 16.9 million viewers (Gulick). This year, the NCAA women’s national basketball championship had only around 4 million viewers (Young). That is a significant difference between the two. It is obvious that men’s sporting events attract more people and viewers on average. With the NIL policy it allows athletes from all different sports to get compensation. Basketball players, gymnasts and tennis players can all theoretically earn the same amount in sponsorships and endorsements despite the differences in audiences. Women’s volleyball players are utilizing the NIL policy being passed. Nebraska women’s volleyball player Lexi Sun released her own clothing line in collaboration with Ren Athletics (Molski and Ekert). The NIL allows athletes to hone in on their creative skills and talents. Sun partnered with a company called “Ren Athletics” to run her collaboration. Sun was able to bring her creative vision to life while not having to work on the production and shipping side of things. On the Ren Athletics website there are currently two products available for purchase, “The Sunny Tee” and “The Sunny Crew” both are currently sold out. By working with brands like Ren Athletics and other clothing companies athletes are able to reach their fans across the globe. This also allows athletes to create a passive source of income during the season because they do not have to run the entire company or anything going on behind the scenes besides helping with the designs of the apparel. Especially during the season, athletes do not have a lot of extra time on their hands, so collaborating with companies allows athletes to focus on their games, practices and classes. Athletes can also work on these collaborations during the off-season and create even more pieces that could potentially launch during the season. The NIL policy is beneficial for all athletes. It allows those who do not get much spotlight a chance to shine and make money. From women’s athletics to lesser watched men’s athletics they are all able to gain compensation, a lot of people see that the NIL policy is only beneficial for men’s basketball players and football players, but it is not. Since this policy has passed, it allows for athletes who are in need of more financial support a way to make money for themselves and their families. It can allow for a steady stream of income to help pay bills or part of their college tuition.

The NIL policy also allows athletes to showcase their talents that are outside of their sport. Many people across the world are on social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram. Before the NIL policy was passed, athletes were not able to make money off of their social media accounts. Sedona Prince, a women’s basketball player from the University of Oregon, gained a massive following on TikTok. She now has around 2.8 million followers on the social media platform. She posts lifestyle content, videos related to Oregon women’s basketball and even paid posts. One of her most recent posts on her page is a paid post from the study company Quizlet. Under previous policies she would not be paid for posting or have access to the creator fund set up by TikTok. Now, she can use her platform to earn money and produce sponsored content while doing something she loves: making videos. Editing, producing and filming these TikTok videos take time and now athletes are able to make money off of their social media accounts. By incorporating social media as a form of compensation it not only helps athletes, but it helps spread the word about local businesses. By paying athletes to post on their social media accounts it allows them to gain recognition from others in the community and nationwide. Some companies pay their athletes in the form of food as opposed to money in exchange for posting. Bigger food companies also sponsor athletes. For example, Bo Nix, a quarterback at Auburn University, partnered with Milo’s Tea for his first sponsorship (Molski and Ekert). Chop5 Salad Kitchen in Boulder, CO is a newer restaurant to the area. It opened back in December 2020. Since the NIL policy passed it has used athletes as a way for promotion for their business. Chop5 Boulder uses Instagram as a main form of advertising. If you scroll through their feed you can see many posts about their Chop5 brand ambassadors, all of which are student athletes at the University of Colorado Boulder. They range from cross country runners to men’s and women’s basketball players. By being inclusive with the athletes they have chosen as their brand ambassadors they are able to reach a wider audience. Athletes who are a part of the Chop5 brand ambassadors get compensation in the form of free food and a little extra cash on the side. Commodification has been impactful because college athletes would not have been able to do this five years ago. Since the passing of the NIL, college athletes from all over have been given the opportunity to make money while still competing and getting compensation for their hard work and devotion to their school.

The NIL policy also allows for athletes to showcase their talents. For example, Will Ulmer, a football player for Marshall University, is able to make money from performing live music, a passion and talent of his (Molski and Ekert). He is able to play paid gigs and showcase his talent to those in the area. By opening up paid ventures, like performing to live audiences, this allows athletes to be seen in a different light. A lot of times college athletes are only seen as that: an athlete. People think all they do is workout and compete and they do not do anything else or think about anything else besides their sport. When in reality, student athletes excel in many different areas. Whether it is creatively or performative, they are much more than just athletes. The NIL policy changes the way we look at college athletes. It shows them in so many different lights than just a football player down on the field hitting another football player. It shows them as a singer and performer and it lets fans connect with their favorite college athletes. Professional and collegiate athletes are able to pick and choose which sponsorships and endorsements they take on. By doing this, athletes get to endorse something they are truly passionate about and something they love as opposed to endorsing something that is mediocre just for a paycheck. Endorsements can also give insight into who the athlete is and allows fans to connect on a deeper level. There is a vast diversity of sponsorships out there, college athletes can be sponsored from tech companies to salad restaurants. The possibilities are endless.

When it comes to something new within the sporting industry women are usually the last ones to receive fair pay in comparison to their male counterparts. The NIL policy does not discriminate against gender and race, which allows athletes of all different races and genders an equal opportunity to receive compensation for their name and likeness. Paige Bueckers is an example of this. The UConn women’s basketball player was the first athlete to sign with Gatorade, before any men (DePaula). She also landed a multiyear endorsement with a sneaker company named StockX. This is monumental because back in the 1980s when Jordan was beginning to get endorsements many women were not sought out for sponsorships, especially one as big as Gatorade. Bueckers is a highly sought after player for sponsorships and endorsements, as she has potential to become a future first draft pick in the WNBA. Bueckers is an inspiration for many young female athletes. She paved the way for them by showing them that you can be a girl and land one of the biggest deals within the NIL policy. This policy allows athletes to make a genuine living off of their endorsements and sponsorships. Hanna and Haley Cavinder, twin sisters who play for Fresno State, have been projected to make almost double of their coach this year in deals from the NIL policy (Mauss). A single branded post on one of their social media accounts can be worth upwards of $35,000 which is more than some people make in a year. The Cavinder sisters share a TikTok account and a YouTube channel, the TikTok account is estimated to make more than $520,000 annually and combined with their YouTube channel they can make over $600,000 with just those two streams of income (Mauss). Hercy Miller, a Tennessee State men’s basketball player, signed a deal with WebApps America, a tech company, for $2 million. WebApps America shows it’s support to Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the U.S. (Molski and Ekert). Top sought after athletes have an opportunity to make hundreds of thousands during their college career. A downside to the NIL policy is that once their college careers are over, so are their sponsorships and endorsements they gathered with their NIL. Athletes have been using this time to become comfortable with brands and hopefully expanding their deals into the future beyond their college days.

All in all, personally I think the NIL policy is a great way for athletes to capitalize on their careers and make income during their seasons. A lot of college athletes will not get the opportunity to turn pro and make money on their name and likeness there, so I think this is a great way for college athletes to have a taste at what it is like in the professional world. These athletes put in so many hours into practices and games for thousands of fans to watch, they deserve a chance to profit on their name if thousands of people are cheering it. The policy is also inclusive to all athletes which I love because athletes that are not football or men’s basketball players do not get the opportunity to play in front of gigantic crowds and their programs make significantly less than football and men’s basketball programs. It benefits all athletes from Division I athletes all the way to Division III athletes. It is inclusive and allows lower income athletes to have a chance to profit off their name and likeness to help support their family with their talent in athletics. Commodification has influenced how the world of athletics works, everything is sponsored. From jerseys to now players. College athletics will now be changed by commodification in the form of the NIL policy. College athletes for generations to come will have the chance to profit off their name and likeness. They will have the same opportunities as professional athletes and make a living doing so. Athletes from all different sports have been and will continue to capitalize on their name and likeness.

Works Cited

DePaula, Nick. “UConn Women's Basketball Star Paige Bueckers Signs Nil Deal with Gatorade.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 29 Nov. 2021,

Gulick, Brendan. “Ohio State, Alabama Least Watched National Championship Game of All Time.” Sports Illustrated Ohio State Buckeyes News, Analysis and More, Sports Illustrated Ohio State Buckeyes News, Analysis and More, 13 Jan. 2021,

Hosick, Michelle. “NCAA Adopts Interim Name, Image and Likeness Policy.” - the Official Site of the NCAA, 30 June 2021,

Lamb, Chris. From Jack Johnson to Lebron James: Sports, Media, and the Color Line. University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

Mauss, Jeremy. “Fresno State's Cavinder Twins Could Make More than Double Basketball Coaches Salary.” Mountain West Wire, 9 July 2021,

Molski, Max, and Kelley Ekert. “16 College Athletes Already Getting Paid under New NCAA Rule.” RSN, 2 July 2021,

Ren Athletics. “Lexi Sun X Ren Athletics.” REN Athletics 2021, 2021,

Young, Jabari. “CBS Saw 14% Decline in Viewers for NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Game, While Ratings for Women's Title Match on ESPN Grew.” CNBC, CNBC, 6 Apr. 2021,'s%20championship,women's%20title%20game%20since%202014.

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