Does the Pandemic Strengthen Call For NCAA Athletes To Profit From Their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL)?

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Does the Pandemic Strengthen Call For NCAA Athletes To Profit From Their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL)?

On April 29, 2020, the NCAA answered the years-long outcry for student-athletes to profit from their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), when they announced they would ‘modernize’ the organization’s NIL rules by the 2021-2022 academic year. 

While colleges/universities are still not allowed to directly pay their student-athletes, once the rules come into effect, athletes can now make money from things like social media, businesses they have started, and personal appearances. 

Even though the announcement is positive news for college athletics, the NCAA Division I Council has not yet voted on these new rules. 

The NCAA postponed the voting scheduled for January 14 due to correspondence between the Justice Department’s antitrust division leader, Makan Delrahim, and NCAA president, Mark Emmert, where Delrahim expressed strong concerns about the association’s direction on athletes’ use of NIL. 

With the vote to come in short order and our current situation with COVID-19, it is the perfect opportunity to look at the pandemic’s impact on the NIL debacle. 

The Coronavirus pandemic comes at a crucial time when NCAA lawmakers are weighing the pros and cons of student-athletes profiting from their name, image, and likeness to make a ruling on the new legislation. 

With that in mind, does the COVID-19 pandemic strengthen the argument for athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness? 

Athletes at Risk

Initially, when the pandemic first became a cause for concern in the United States last March, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter championships and spring competition.

Fast forward to today, and NCAA sports are back – in some circles – with a jampacked schedule for Division I Athletics set for the spring. Simultaneously, the Coronavirus has only gotten worse in the country, and athletes are risking their health and futures to compete in the sports they love while having no financial incentive to do so. 

On the other hand, their schools, conferences, and governing body are making millions of dollars off of them while incurring little to no risk.

These institutions are profiting from their athletes while they are out on the court, field, or pool, at risk of contracting the virus and possibly suffering from its long-term effects. 

Contracting the coronavirus could cause an athlete to no longer be able to compete at the college level. As a result, he/she may forfeit their scholarship, education, and a chance at a professional career in their sport. 

A prime example is University of Florida men’s basketball player Keyontae Johnson. After collapsing during a game against Florida State on December 12, the Preseason SEC Player of the Year was diagnosed with heart inflammation that may be related to his COVID-19 infection this past summer.

While we don’t know the long-term effects of Johnson’s diagnosis, he did lose the ability to play this season and the possibility to be drafted in the 2021 NBA Draft. It may also hurt his draft stock in the future as teams may not want to take a chance on him due to his condition. 

Although Johnson may be able to play again next season, another athlete who contracts a similar condition might not be so lucky. 

Keeping that in mind, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the risks athletes take to compete in their respective sports. For their courage and sacrifice, they should be financially rewarded.  

Olympic Sports Facing the Ax

In terms of Olympic Sports, the financial fallout from the pandemic has forced numerous schools to discontinue sports such as swimming.  

Athletes profiting from their name, image, and likeness can help to promote a team’s brand, garnering new revenue streams for the team, and easing the team’s financial burden as a result. For example, former University of Connecticut swimmer Joshua Wroblewski has amassed more than 600,000 views on his YouTube videos where he documents his life as a Division I swimmer.  

Had he been able to maximize his YouTube channel, he could have pushed the team’s brand, thus increasing the team’s marketability and creating new revenue streams for the recently cut men’s program. Not to say that his YouTube channel could have solely funded the program, but it may have brought the team closer to self-funding sustainability. 

The pandemic reemphasizes that allowing athletes to promote their school’s brand can open up new revenue streams for programs, resulting in fewer schools having to make the tough decision to cut sports teams. 

Although the Coronavirus pandemic has caused great harm to the world, it has underscored the urgent need for collegiate athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. 

Athletes profiting from their NIL benefits the student-athletes and the institution and sport they represent. For collegiate swimming, achieving self-funding sustainability could be crucial for the longevity of many programs, and the NCAA’s NIL ‘modernization’ proposals provide the opportunity to attain that.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.