July 1st, 2021 marked a monumental shift in the landscape of modern collegiate athletics as student athletes were given the autonomy to begin monetizing their name, image, and likeness. With a slew of differing state laws and NCAA rules put in place, guidance surrounding the NIL marketplace lacked much-needed clarity.
Now, almost two years later, not much has changed. As universities rush to bolster their athletic departments with staff dedicated to NIL, those with access to the resources necessary to keep up find themselves in an advantageous position, which presents a pressing concern. Is the unguided “wild west” of NIL intensifying existing disparities within collegiate athletics?
NIL: A Level Playing Field for Black Student Athletes?

With the ability to leverage NIL, Power 5 institutions could have a strengthened ability to sign five-star recruits, whereas traditionally underfunded institutions like HBCUs may now encounter an added barrier in attracting and retaining top talent. Unfortunately, this resource gap continues to grow as Power 5 institutions are offering more targeted support to their student athletes through the creation of facilities designated solely for NIL. The University of Alabama’s recent announcement of “The Advantage Center”, a new NIL hub where student athletes can create content and receive educational resources surrounding NIL, as well as the University of Miami’s announcement of a new “Name, Image, and Likeness suite” are two key examples of the resources that student athletes who attend predominantly white institutions (PWIs) have at their disposal.

Because traditionally underfunded institutions are expected to try and keep up in the NIL arms-race, student athletes at HBCUs continue to secure fewer deals than their PWI counterparts, further widening this existing disparity. Recent rankings from Opendorse show that the two most notable HBCU athletic conferences, the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the Mideastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), fall behind many other Division I conferences in both total compensation and number of deals. With the SWAC coming in at 19 out of 25 for total NIL compensation, there’s a clear opportunity for increased support of HBCU student athletes across the NIL marketplace.

From the lens of intersectionality, findings follow a similar trend. Of the top 25 highest valued NCAA athletes as tracked by On3 NIL, zero are Black women. As of the writing of this piece, only three Black women crack the top 100, none of whom attend HBCUs.

However, many remain optimistic that NIL provides a pathway for HBCU student athletes, and in turn, their universities, to gain more exposure and close the gap between their PWI counterparts. Many HBCU athletes have continued to land individual deals separate from the many ambassador programs that have emerged in the NIL era. Some notable partnerships include former Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders’s marquee deal with Gatorade, as well as the 70+ deals Norfolk State’s Rayquan Smith, the self-proclaimed “King of NIL”, has signed to-date.

Ultimately much remains to be seen as we continue to follow the longevity of NIL. Despite the obstacles that some Black student athletes face in this space, many have prioritized the use of their earnings to give back to causes they’re passionate about. 

Using NIL Earnings to Give Back

Student athletes across a range of institutions have shifted the often-critical narrative surrounding NIL to refocus attention on how their earnings can be used for charitable action, with many Black student athletes leading the charge. A few notable examples are:

  • University of Wisconsin’s quarterback Nick Evers is an example of this. Formerly a student athlete at the University of Oklahoma, Evers pledged to contribute all earnings from autograph signings and meet-and-greets to the Make-A-Wish Foundation before even stepping foot on the field. Within just three hours of announcing the cause on Twitter, Evers found himself with an overwhelming amount of support for his mission to help make a difference in the world”. 
  • Casey Thompson, quarterback at the University of Nebraska, utilizes Cameo to sell personalized video messages to fans, and donates proceeds to No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger around the world.
  • Michigan running back, Blake Corum, has used his NIL earnings to start a unique tradition. For the second year in a row, Corum bought and delivered 300 turkeys to families in the Michigan community during the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • University of Iowa brother-duo Keegan and Kris Murray created an athletic clothing line and used the profits to give back to the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital (pediatric cancer unit), as well as Special Olympics Iowa. 

These examples only scratch the surface of how Black student athletes are embracing the power of NIL. We are helping our brand and collegiate clients adapt to the current landscape while also preparing for the further changes that are sure to come.

Questions about how your organization can get involved? Feel free to reach out to info@NVGT.