The announcement came Wednesday, mid-afternoon, roughly nine hours before college athletics changed significantly. Jordan Bohannon, a sixth-year basketball player at Iowa, let it be known that he would be signing autographs at a local fireworks stand on the first day in history that NCAA student-athletes are legally allowed to profit from their name, image and likeness. He got paid to be there.
This is, quite literally, what the NCAA has forever fought against.
Players have been suspended for less.
NCAA officials (and the system’s nonsensical supporters) have long argued that the world would more or less end if this day ever arrived. Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney once promised he’d “go do something else” if student-athletes ever got paid. But now here we are, on this transcendent Thursday, and to the surprise of no one with a brain, the world has not ended. Also: Dabo Swinney has so far declined to “go do something else.” He remains the coach at Clemson and presumably will for the foreseeable future despite past promises. In reality, the only thing that has changed is that student-athletes are finally being allowed to profit the way basically everybody else connected to college athletics has been profiting.
And it’s glorious!
By Thursday morning, Bohannon was selling t-shirts online while Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2021, was publicly fishing for a deal with a healthy food brand. Matthew Coghlin, a Michigan State football player, disclosed that he was paid to promote a podcast on Twitter. And Johnny Manziel, the former Heisman Trophy winner who was once punished for signing autographs while at Texas A&M, was providing advice for current student-athletes to capitalize in every way possible.
Make bank bros, indeed.
And gals, too.
For years, some have insisted that granting student-athletes name, image and likeness rights would only impact a small group of people — yet not even one full day into it, we now know nothing could be further from the truth. People I’ve literally never heard of spent Thursday announcing various deals. So perhaps there isn’t money to be made for everybody, but there’s clearly money to be made for lots of people in lots of ways. And it’s not just football players and men’s basketball players who are profiting. Turns out, being the star player in a high-profile sport might not be as valuable in some cases as being a social media star in any sport.
Take Hanna and Haley Cavinder, for instance.
They are twins with massive social media followings who also happen to play basketball at Fresno State. Until today, they were not allowed to capitalize monetarily the way so many other young women with large social media followings do. But within hours of the rules changing, they announced what are believed to be lucrative marketing deals with Boost Mobile and a supplement company called Six Star. Then there’s Olivia Dunne, a gymnast at LSU, who has 3.9 million followers on TikTok and 1.1 million followers on Instagram. She takes lots of pictures in swimsuits and posts them. So it’s not hard to imagine swimsuit companies offering her big contracts to promote a specific brand, and there’s some thought that she’ll ultimately earn more money than any other athlete currently enrolled in college, male or female, regardless of sport.
It really is a new world.
NIL means college athletes can be paid. That’s the lead topic on the latest episode of Eye on College Basketball. Listen and subscribe below.
And, yes, all of this will very quickly be turned into a recruiting tool despite the fact that the NCAA says it’s not allowed to be a recruiting tool; good luck enforcing that, by the way! Like it or not, high school prospects will sometimes pick a school based on where they know they can make the most money. And players will sometimes transfer to a place where they know they can make more money. And players who are considering transferring or turning pro will sometimes decide to stay put based on a promise of more deals and more money.
It’s all fine with me.
The truth is that players have been making college decisions for similar reasons for decades — just under the table and in violation of NCAA rules. This will merely bring everything into the light. And though I don’t believe, like some do, that it’ll lead to the biggest schools essentially buying the perceived best players, I also don’t care if it does. The biggest schools already buy the perceived best athletic directors, coaches and trainers, so I’ve never understood why the line should be drawn at the players. But, again, I don’t believe NIL rights will just widen the gap between the top of the sport and everybody else as much as I believe NIL rights will give second-tier programs a new way to actually compete with top-tier programs.
Question: What’s more profitable — being the fifth-best recruit at Kentucky or the top recruit at Ole Miss? For the past decade-plus, if a borderline top-50 prospect was being recruited by Kentucky and Ole Miss, he’d almost certainly pick Kentucky even if he were the least-heralded prospect in UK’s class and unlikely to play as a freshman. But, in this new world, the smarter move for that exact prospect might be to pick Ole Miss over Kentucky, become the prize of the Rebels’ recruiting class, start as a freshman and cash-in with Allen Samuels Jeep Ram of Oxford or some other car dealership in the area.
These are the types of things that’ll now be weighed.
And guess what? Everything will be OK.
Alabama and Auburn will still play football in sold-out stadiums, Duke and North Carolina will still play basketball in sold-out arenas, and the same people who have been watching Olivia Dunne flip will continue to watch Olivia Dunne flip. Despite what the NCAA has long insisted, the fact that student-athletes have finally been given nearly the same rights to compensation that all other students possess won’t impact the way we watch and enjoy college sports in any tangible way.
Bottom line, the boogey man is here — but he’s not as scary as they swore he’d be. So don’t let anybody tell you this landmark day represents the beginning of the end of college athletics — because it’s not that at all. It’s just the beginning of the end of college athletes being treated unfairly and limited in ways that have long been immoral and arguably illegal.