Tom O’Connell is an MLB Certified Agent and Founder and President of O’Connell Sports Management, located in Tampa, FL. In this role, he has negotiated over $275 million in contracts and nearly $15 million in draftee bonuses. Tom has represented professional baseball players since 1997 and currently sits on the MLBPA Agent Advisory Board. Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The average social media influencer can take home anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 per year promoting products like clothing, shoes, or other retail goods on their pages. Some, with one million or more followers, can make upwards of $250,000 for each sponsored post. There are college student influencers across the country supplementing or even fully covering their cost of tuition, room and board with their earnings. None of them are NCAA athletes. Without the implementation of the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) legislation, that would not change, and some of the most talented individuals on campuses across the country will remain unable to capitalize off of social media. College students who do not play sports have complete freedom to earn money as influencers. The new NIL rules will allow athletes the same freedom.
The amount of time and dedication, both mentally and physically, that it takes to become a college athlete is incredibly tough. Student-athletes have worked extremely hard to earn their title both in the classroom and on the field. The path to become a professional athlete and to reap the monetary rewards of all that hard work is even more difficult. Less than two percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to become professional athletes. Unless they reach that highest level, these athletes are never able to monetize or benefit from their life-long investment in the sport.
It is unfair to imagine a dorm full of college students, some athletes and some not, who are required to abide by different rules. Most of them play video games and almost all utilize some form of social media – two activities that are now a potential revenue source for college students. However, there is a small, elite group who do not share the same privileges as their peers to profit off of these endeavors simply because they are NCAA athletes. These are students who have not solely earned admission to their respective university because they had the grade point average and test scores to be there. They have also committed an immense amount of their time to practice, travel, and represent their school on the field. A typical college student spends about three hours per day in class and then may study for another hour or two. A student athlete has the same course load but also has required weight training, study hall, film sessions, positional meetings and practices. By the time they are out of practice and meetings, the dining hall could be closed and they may have to head straight to a required study hall.
Think about a 21-year-old starting pitcher who is, for the first time, eligible for the MLB draft and who plays for a major program. We’ll call him Mark. His main goal is likely to win a conference championship, get to a Super Regional, and ultimately play in the College World Series in Omaha. There is a reasonable chance that his workload at some point will catch up to him and could result in fatigue and potential injury. That injury could alter the course of his college and professional career.
What if that pitcher does not get drafted, never makes it at the professional level, and never has the opportunity to benefit monetarily from the incredible investment he has made and all the hard work he has put into a college’s program? He may very well have a million followers and a robust social media presence which, if he were any other student, could be raking in revenue. He may also very well have missed his window to generate income as an elite athlete.
Now think about the student in a room down the hall from Mark who has promoted himself on social media, become an influencer, and now earns enough money to cover his own tuition. Through his individual profile, he is benefiting from his own name, image, likeness that he has created online, without any of the restrictions imposed on Mark.
A common counter-argument to changing the NIL rules is that of the full scholarship student-athlete. The value of their scholarship is likely $30,000 or more per year. Perhaps the student down the hall is not earning quite that much. Perhaps he is also on an academic scholarship, or comes from a wealthy family and has a trust fund. My point is that we are not comparing apples to apples here. Every student, athlete or non, has their own set of circumstances and none should be penalized and kept from profiting off of their own selves for using the resources at their fingertips to generate income.
As an elite athlete, your job is to win. You are going to be counted on to perform at a high level and ultimately contribute to a national championship. The school, its administrators, coaches, and boosters reap the financial benefit of a national championship while the athlete does not. The trade-off is an education and scholarship for your services. While there are some talented athletes on full scholarship, there are even more who are receiving partial scholarship, likely 50 or 60%. While non-athlete students can supplement any financial aid or scholarship by running a business from their dorm room, earning sponsored income as influencers, or gaming and so on, the schools’ athletes are not permitted the same opportunities. The NIL rule to change this inequitable situation is long overdue.