College athletes navigate a shifting terrain of endorsements, while some cash in big paydays
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year opened the path for college athletes to sell their name, image and likeness. The NCAA, universities, boosters and players are still sorting out what this means, but the college game has already been transformed.
The best player in college basketball, playing for a school known as a ‘“one-and-done” tune up for the pros, is staying on campus in Kentucky for another year — and a $2 million payout.
Kansas State University lost a top hoop star earlier this year to the University of Miami, where he’ll score $800,000 in endorsements.
And after a former standout high school player from Lee’s Summit left Creighton University, he cashed in on five figures in endorsements as a member of the University of Texas basketball team.
Big money has long defined college sports. For schools. For coaches. For television networks. And for the NCAA.
Now, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA can no longer bar college athletes from cashing in on their notoriety, the amateur façade is crumbling.
Meanwhile, players, schools and lawyers navigate an uncertain landscape for endorsement deals that give players more than the tuition, room and board they’ve been entitled to for generations.
Unlike that one-size-fits-all model of old, these newly legitimate deals tend to reward players in men’s sports more than women, stars more than role players, football players more than volleyball or cross country stars.
The new dynamic allows players to make money from their name, image and likeness, or NIL. Those deals are widely seen as less about the value they offer to businesses, and more as a giant loophole for paying players.
Now the NCAA, accustomed to cracking down on payments to players, plays an uncertain role in a new age of college sports.
“The NCAA just doesn’t have a lot of governing authority at this point, at least as it relates to the revenue-generating sports,” said Curry Sexton, a former K-State football player working as an attorney for Siegfried Bingham in Kansas City.
Sexton is helping form collectives for NIL deals. Some, mostly high-profile, college athletes can draw their own endorsement deals. Collectives draw in multiple, broader endorsement deals and then divvy up money to players at a school. They work independently of colleges — shielding the schools from the still-forbidden practice of explicitly tying recruitment to payouts.
Sexton helped launch a K-State collective last month called The Wildcats’ Den (“connecting business & the community with student-athletes”).
“If a business man, woman or entity or any other individual comes to the collective and says, ‘Hey, we want to do a deal with X player and run it through you guys,’ then the collective serves as the broker,” he said.
Boosters can also give money and leave it up to a collective to determine how the money is distributed to athletes on a given team for NIL purposes.
Laws that vary from state to state complicate things further. Schools and athletic conferences have been lobbying state legislatures to loosen the rules to compete against other states for top talent.
In Kansas, home to one of the college game’s most storied basketball programs, the restrictions are relatively flexible. In Missouri, schools are prohibited from getting directly involved in an NIL deal. Yet the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill this month that would ease up those NIL restrictions.
A player’s value
Oscar Tshiebwe, the AP national player of the year last season at Kentucky, reportedly has $2 million lined up in NIL endorsements contingent upon his return to Lexington, so he’s staying in school.
Nigel Pack left the K-State basketball team to complete his last two seasons of college eligibility at the University of Miami. After Pack announced his transfer, an attorney in Florida revealed that Pack signed a two-year NIL contract with health care software company LifeWallet worth $400,000 a year.
On the high school level, a recruiting website called ON3.com has placed potential endorsement market values for highly recruited football players. For instance, it projects Chandavian Bradley, a 6-foot-5-inch junior defensive lineman at Platte County High School, at $193,000.
Estimates like that underscore disparities in the NIL payouts. While University of Texas running back Bijan Robinson signed an NIL deal with an Austin Lamborghini dealership, Lee’s Summit native Christian Bishop figures the endorsements he’s lining up after transferring to Texas from Creighton University probably wouldn’t cover the cost of an SUV.
Still, he’s got multiple endorsement contracts, including one with an energy drink.
“He promotes that drink,” said his stepmom, Jennifer Bishop, and added with a laugh, “The Optimum Orange is our favorite and it’s in our fridge right now.”