Dec 13, 2021

NIL: A Level Playing-Field for Athletes

Reporting Texas

At advanced levels of sports, particularly college athletics, fairness within the game is generally set by rules and regulations with judgments on right and wrong as black and white as the stripes on referees’ jerseys.

But when the business side of things takes center stage as it has in recent years, the argument of what’s fair and what’s not becomes much more clouded.

On June 30, the National Collegiate Athletic Association added some clarity when it adopted a historical policy allowing college athletes to get legally compensated based on their individual name, image and likeness. Prominent college football players like University of Alabama’s Bryce Young became rich overnight, with reports from ESPN stating that his earnings were reaching $800,000 after striking deals with Cash App and various trading card companies.

Opposing arguments came alive quickly: Was this kind of compensation fair for all other college athletes?

The nationwide popularity of college football has seemingly monopolized lucrative name, image and likeness deals, or NIL, for players in the sport, leaving little room for nearly 400,000 athletes across 24 NCAA-approved sports. On the surface, athletes like Pierceson Coody, a collegiate golfer in his senior year at the University of Texas at Austin, might have more trouble making money due to lack of television or media coverage.

“Knowing the sport and audience that I’m in, I knew it wasn’t going to be like football obviously,” Coody said. “(NIL) wasn’t going to be a huge market for a bunch of Division 1 golfers to start making a few hundred thousand dollars a year like these football players are.”

Yet, as the second-ranked amateur golfer in the world, Coody has seen his chances for NIL deals rise in ways most wouldn’t expect.

“Being at a prominent school like Texas, there’s still enough opportunities for NIL that it’s made a difference for a few of the top golfers across the nation,” he said.

Coody’s window to secure NIL deals opened up on July 1, as the Texas bipartisan SB  1385 bill officially went into effect. One of the bills opening argument for passage reasons for student athletes being able to earn compensation states that “intercollegiate athletes are an essential part of the fabric of this state.”

According to Coody, this compensation has come in the form of sponsorships with golf equipment manufacturers, like TaylorMade.

“I’ve had a long relationship with TaylorMade,” Coody said.  “There’s also been some ad stuff, but unfortunately I can’t say anything until I sign the contract.”

Along with the help of an agent, Coody has been able to navigate through the confusing world of NIL. Knowing what he can and can’t do based on his contract has become clearer with the presence of professional assistance.

“If I didn’t have an agent, I don’t think I’d be really doing much of this stuff because I wouldn’t want to deal with all the time that it takes,” Coody said. “Though it is good to have that little bit of money, this process would be tough because there’s so much new fine print. Like we said several times, everyone’s trying to figure out.”

Though golf is far from being a small sport that lacks attention, it’s comparative media coverage with sports like football and basketball is significantly smaller. Despite that, are these “smaller” sports on the way towards making a push to be in the same conversation regarding NIL earnings? Coody is optimistic.

“Whenever we talk to alumni, there’s still so many of them that have no idea that NIL is a thing,” he said. “So, the market for us is still so small. But I think in five years, every sport at (UT) is going to be involved and in some way.”

In October, the National College Players Association released the first official “NIL Ratings.” It grades universities on a scale of 0% to 100%  for which schools grants the most NIL freedoms for its athletes. UT received a 62 percent score.

The fairness of the entire NIL ordeal has continued to be a topic of discussion as college football players like former UT quarterback Vince Young make life-changing money. But from Coody’s perspective as an athlete, he believes it’s been earned.

“It’s been a longtime coming for a lot of these football players,” he said. “I think people don’t realize that NIL money has nothing to do with the universities. So, I think regardless of football, it’s money well-earned because they built their personal brand themselves.”

Of course, Coody is one of only thousands of athletes in the NCAA. It’s certain that not all of them agree on the fairness of NIL, but his vocal support for the leveled NIL playing-ground as one of the best collegiate golfers in the nation could help change this notion of unfairness.

It’s a pleasant site to see athletes like Coody find success with NIL deals in a sport other than football. However, it’s just a reality that college football will continue to dominate the realm of NIL for the foreseeable future. Luckily for UT golf, things might be soon changing.

“Obviously, I don’t know how you would consider it fair,” Coody said. “I’m never going to gain the notoriety that the best football player on campus has. But for the sport I’m in, I’ve maxed out. So, I still think regardless, it’s very fair. It might not be the same money amount, but it’s also because I chose a sport that doesn’t have the same following the football does.”