Let's get rich!
The side hustle has been around ever since the Devil took some time off from pitchforking to sell some produce in Eden, but one of the things that I think people my generation and older don't fully appreciate is just how embedded it is in Today's Youth. Online marketplaces are way, way more granular these days than "do fifty searches on Amazon to find an XXXL crop top that says 'COOL BEANS' on the back." Said crop top has already been made by any number of individual sellers on any number of boutique sites, resold as vintage by individual sellers on any number of thrift store sites, and you're simply just not cool enough to find it.
Point is, everyone under the age of 25 has a personal side hustle, be it selling cans of Coke at school or starting a shoe cleaning business or writing Skull Sessions for a moderately-sized Ohio State sports news site, and I think that's kickass. Young people are so much more industrious than they're given credit for, and it's high time that college athletes were given the ability to participate in the economy that their peers have been engaging in for years.
But they need to be careful.
This isn't some kind of paternalistic "aw gee buddy, maybe don't blow your life savings on Dogecoin and GameStop stock" warning (although yeah, don't do those things). It's more of an acknowledgement that as Name, Image, and Likeness monetization becomes more likely, college athletes (and especially recruits) should be wary about the bill of goods they're being sold. Or, more accurately, how they're being told they can sell their goods and what kind of bill they might incur along the way.
I do have to give some of these schools credit for the level of effort they're putting into weaponizing NIL. We've reported on some of the things that Ohio State football is currently doing to entice recruits to the Buckeye state, but much of that is along the lines of a winking "oh, you'll see!" kind of message with emoji eyes looking at stats about television markets and social media interactions. Which is fine, I guess, but also a few laps behind Alabama, which just put out this:
Introducing The Advantage— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) May 4, 2021
A comprehensive program that will provide Crimson Tide student-athletes with the education and tools necessary to build and elevate their personal brands.https://t.co/dv4c6ISRxz#RollTide #BamaFactor pic.twitter.com/gRph6kG1Yh
THE ADVANTAGE (which I'm going to put in all caps, because all caps means money) makes no bones about the idea that the University of Alabama is going to put money in your pocket by helping you build your personal brand of cool shit. As a side note, I kind of hope that some five star quarterback is obsessed with soybean farming or something and the Crimson Tide are forced to make Tweets with Monsanto memes. Anyway, from RollTide.com:
Alabama Athletics, one of the most recognizable and influential brands in all of sports, has created The Advantage, a comprehensive program that will provide Crimson Tide student-athletes with the education and tools necessary to build and elevate their personal brands.
In working with both campus partners and external entities, The Advantage, will focus on brand management, maximizing personal social media platforms and financial literacy.
And again, I think this is all pretty sweet. Good for Bama for both being able to read the writing on the wall in terms of NIL and then use it to make their athletic programs better. Adding in a financial literacy component is also a great idea for anyone, but especially for young people making money independently for the first time in their lives. Ohio State will soon follow, because they have to, and hopefully it's to the benefit of student athletes as well.
I say hopefully because while universities are moving quickly to take advantage of this new reality, other forces are just as quickly at work trying to position themselves advantageously as well. Georgia's governor Brian Kemp signed a law yesterday that would allow college athletes in his state to make some sweet, sweet NIL money, a step that other states have taken as well, but, uh...
Anyone else read the Georgia #NIL bill? GA schools can require athletes to contribute up to 74.99% of their NIL earnings to a fund for all athletes to be dolled out at graduation/withdrawal from school. SCHOOLS should set up such a fund with proceeds from their $million contracts pic.twitter.com/Sbzw1uzadK— Maddie Salamone (@madsal15) May 5, 2021
How would that provision work? If the University of Georgia decided to implement the provision and take 70% of each athlete's endorsement to redistribute, a player like J.T. Daniels would only make $30,000 on a $100,000 endorsement agreement.
Bromberg rightly points out that it's up in the air as to whether or not a school would actually decide to do that, as it'd put them at a recruiting disadvantage against any school that doesn't, but the larger point is that there is still significant pushback against the particulars of allowing college athletes to benefit from the same system that generates hundreds of millions of dollars at places like Ohio State.
However unlikely it'd be that the University of Georgia (or anywhere else) would try and pocket the large majority of an endorsement paycheck, the mechanism exists as a means to exact either punitive or preventative control over player finances. College athletes need to be aware that while NIL presents some pretty fantastic opportunities for them, they'll still have to navigate those opportunities within a system that doesn't trust them with the money some of them will make. As enthusiastic as Alabama or Ohio State might seem to be about college athlete NIL endorsements, it is incredibly important that they understand the fine print that will assuredly come with that enthusiasm.
There is also a quickly-emerging industry designed to take advantage of new NIL laws, selling their services to schools and athletes to bump up their brand. This new industry could be just as shady as the one that already exists to do that exact same thing, and being "above board" won't necessarily stop businesses from taking advantage of young people (and hell, might even exacerbate it).
What's required, then, is a federal NIL law, to avoid the piecemeal approach that states have so far taken. Since recruiting has become increasingly national, it is essential that athletes are protected from disinformation, misinformation, and grift, and hopefully a national standard will help facilitate that.
Time is short. State NIL laws will begin to take effect this summer, and with that one of the most chaotic periods of college sports since its inception. It should be fun and scary as hell.