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4 conversations every president needs to have with their cabinet about name, image, and
likeness (NIL)

April 10, 2024, By Mary Frances Harris, Senior Research Analyst

As athletic association and conference voting members, presidents are in the driver’s seat of name, image, and likeness (NIL) regulations, and these rules have implications for every part of your institution—from student experience to fundraising. Presidents are responsible for facilitating connections between athletics and the rest of the cabinet to better navigate and mitigate emerging risks. Failure to do so will impact not only your institution’s brand and your ability to recruit and retain student-athletes but also staffing, budgets, and donor relations.

The pace of change in college athletics is lightning-fast these days, making it hard to stay ahead of, let alone keep up with, emerging challenges. That’s why presidents must regularly discuss these cross-institutional issues with their senior leaders. As part of EAB’s early research into the evolving world of college athletics, we’ve identified four conversation starters presidents should use with their teams.

What is NIL?

“NIL” refers to a student-athlete’s ability to earn compensation for commercial use of their name, image, and likeness. Examples of NIL deals include social media marketing, sports clinics, appearances, group licensing, and merchandise.

To learn more about the rules and regulations, check out some of EAB’s favorite NIL resources:

1. Ask your VPEM, VPSA, and AD: How does NIL threaten our student-athlete enrollment?

While team culture remains student-athletes’ top consideration when deciding where to enroll, NIL is an increasingly important factor in their decision-making. For example, Bubba McDowell, head football coach at Prairie View A&M University, told The Houston Defender, “Kids want to get paid, so it becomes about ‘Who is going to give me the most money.’ That’s how we lost a lot of top-notch kids that we offered first, but because of the NIL deals we didn’t have the money to give to them so they went somewhere else.” Interestingly, our early conversations indicate this is a trend across all divisions—not just at the Division I level.

Coupled with loosened transfer regulations, institutions also need to consider NIL’s role in student-athlete retention. The risks are especially high at mid-majors and Division II member institutions as student-athletes may leave for institutions with more NIL opportunities.

Ultimately, changes in yield and potential transfer losses will result in lost tuition revenue. It’s critical to connect with your VPs for enrollment management and student affairs, as well as your athletic director about NIL’s role in your student-athlete recruitment and retention strategy. Topics to discuss include:

  • Aligning NIL opportunities and strategy with your mission and enrollment goals (e.g., regional-serving institutions may look to local businesses to create NIL deals with their student-athletes)
  • Identifying retention levers for student-athletes who may not play their sport all four years (e.g., academic programs, club or intramural sports, other co-curricular activities)
  • Prioritizing where to allocate NIL resources to promote competitiveness

2. Ask your CAO and AD: How do we keep up with NIL’s evolving implications for fundraising and donor relations?

Donors are being asked to give to collectives to fund NIL deals in addition to regular donations to the general athletics fund. Many donors are confused about whether to give to one, the other, or both. Either way, donor fatigue poses a real risk and may discourage some from donating at all.

While early data indicate that donor-funded collectives haven’t cannibalized athletics fundraising, these concerns are legitimate. Meanwhile, those who do give will have higher expectations for on-field performance as an ROI for their gifts. If donors don’t see enough competitive success in the upcoming seasons, they may stop giving to collectives, which hurts institutions’ recruiting and retention efforts.

In your next conversation with your chief advancement officer and athletic director, add these topics to the agenda:

  • Educating donors about collectives
  • Tracking and sharing the impact of gifts on student-athletes
  • Continuing to facilitate personal connections between donors and student-athletes
  • Creating a system to triage asks toward collectives or elsewhere

3. Ask your general counsel and AD: Are we prepared to manage compliance to protect our institutional (and personal) brand?

The NCAA is holding institutions accountable for NIL violations. Punishments mean a hit to finances and recruiting capacity; some institutions even face reduced scholarships. Soon, presidents and athletic directors may be also on the line. The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions is investigating potential penalties for administrators for lack of institutional control over and failure to monitor recruiting. If these rules pass, administrators could be suspended from athletics activities or be specifically named in a show-cause order.

This designation harms presidents’ personal reputations and professional prospects, and the penalty follows administrators when they move institutions. At the time of publishing, the NCAA had suspended all enforcement of collectives’ involvement in recruiting due to an injunction in the Tennessee and Virginia v. NCAA case.

Connect with your general counsel and athletic director regularly to ensure compliance with your association’s NIL statutes. With all of these moving pieces, now may be the right time for institutions to revisit their risk management plans.

4. Ask your whole cabinet: Where are the cross-functional opportunities to support student-athletes in their pursuit of NIL?

Institutions already offer financial literacy to student-athletes, but these courses often fail to meet student-athletes’ needs and can exacerbate differences between revenue and Olympic sports. Nearly 70% of student-athletes are asking for increased institutional support when it comes to NIL, including education, mental-health resources, and finding NIL opportunities.  Many student-athletes don’t even know how to get started in the NIL marketplace, and institutions are failing to provide guidance. Student-athletes at the D-II and D-III levels say their biggest roadblock in getting NIL deals is knowing where to start.

One way to enhance your current NIL education efforts is to share the NCAA’s forthcoming resources. Beginning in August 2024, the NCAA will offer a database with credible agents, standardized contracts and templates, and a comprehensive educational framework to all student-athletes in Division I. These resources are intended to protect student-athletes and help them avoid situations like signing contracts that extend beyond their time in college. Make sure your athletic director is tracking these updates and disseminates these resources with teams when they become available.

Additionally, EAB recommends that presidents work with the vice president for student affairs and provosts to identify and coordinate internal expertise in and outside of the classroom to support student-athletes and their academic mission. For example, Oklahoma State University’s Brand Squad offers marketing and law students hands-on opportunities to work with student-athletes on NIL contracts. Other institutions, like the University of Maryland, incorporate NIL in their student-athlete career readiness programs.

  • Join the conversation

    EAB is performing ongoing research on how institutions can strategically navigate the shifting landscape of college athletics. If you’re interested in discussing your institution’s student-athlete enrollment priorities and strategy, contact [email protected].

Mary Frances Harris

Mary Frances Harris

Senior Research Analyst

Read Bio

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