top of page
  • Writer's pictureLauren Cuppy

Navigating NIL’s Impact on the NCAA

By: Riley Day and Lauren Cuppy

April 24, 2024

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since the legalization of NIL in June of 2023, plenty of controversy has swirled around the NCAA. It has often been likened to the “Wild West,” in the sense that nobody knows exactly how to follow all the rules. Further legislation is incoming, but in the meantime many NCAA athletes and coaches are left confused and facing sanctions/suspensions because they may have broken a rule they did not even know existed. 

Men's Sports NIL

A couple of examples come to mind, one hitting very close to home for Michigan students. Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was suspended for the first three games of the season for “recruiting violations.” It was alleged that all he had done was buy a recruit a burger during COVID. He was under investigation for several months for several NCAA Level II infractions, which included an excessive number of coaches on the field, contacting prospects during the COVID-19 dead period, and unauthorized video observation of practices. The Michigan football team did bite the bullet and self-impose a set of sanctions on him, including a three game suspension to start the 2023-24 campaign. Although he did accept the suspension, he was not too happy about it. According to an article published in the Athletic, “I don’t think this current system is going to survive,” Harbaugh said, “The status quo is unacceptable. That’s just my opinion.”

Another example of the dark side of NIL includes Jaden Rashada from the University of Florida. A four star quarterback from California, he signed a national letter of intent to enroll for the 2023 spring semester and play for the Gators. Eddie Rojas, CEO of the Gator Collective launched in August 2021, aimed to make his alma mater known as “NIL U.” Rashada and the Gator Collective agreed to terms on an NIL deal exceeding $13 million. He flipped his commitment from University of Miami to Florida as result of their significant investment in him. Less than two months after his commitment, Rashada was back in California searching for new schools and looking for a release from his letter of intent. According to CBS, he bailed on Florida after the Gator Collective “failed to honor the multiyear deal.” The Collective has since been disbanded and the University is under investigation for the second time in four years.

Shifting from football to basketball, March Madness represents the best form of NIL. The “One Shining Moment” mantra of March Madness leads to fifteen minutes of fame for players that may never achieve that level of stardom again. The legalization of NIL allows players from smaller schools to cash in while they are in the spotlight. According to Bleacher Report, Saint Peter’s star Doug Edert inked a contract with Buffalo Wild Wings after scoring twenty points to lead the Peacocks to a win over two-seeded Kentucky. 

More recent examples of positivity in the NIL space include popular NC State star DJ Burns. Known as a seasoned pro in the NIL space, the senior forward who averaged 13 points per game and led the Wolfpack to the Final Four, has worked with Inkstars Creative Group the last two years. His partnership with Manscaped was facilitated by Glacier Marketing Group just 48 hours after eliminating fellow Cinderella Oakland University and advancing to the Sweet 16. According to Front Office Sports, Glacier was founded by two Indiana college students Jordan Green and Matt Bergman, and markets itself as an agency “by Gen Z, for Gen Z.”

An example of NIL directly affecting coaching is John Calipari leaving the University of Kentucky after a storied fifteen year career, recruiting future NBA all-stars Anthony Davis, John Wall, Tyrese Maxey, Devin Booker, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl Anthony-Towns, and De’Aaron Fox. Calipari had five years and $44 million left on his current deal, and will actually take a pay-cut to coach the University of Arkansas for “slightly less” than his $8.5 million annual salary at Kentucky, according to Front Office Sports. Since he voluntarily decided to leave, Kentucky will not have to pay him a single cent of the $33 million buyout if they had fired him. 

Arkansas may not appear to be a better job than a blue-chip program like Kentucky, but there are other factors to consider. Tyson Foods billionaire John H. Tyson is a “longtime friend,” to Calipari and a major player in the Arkansas sports scene. He is backing a ~$5 million NIL program to boost Arkansas' hoops program, enough to compete with the nation’s best programs according to Front Office Sports. In a report published by, OneArkansas NIL ranked eighth in the top 20 most ambitious NIL collectives, with a University of Kentucky collective nowhere to be seen on the list. 

Women's Sports NIL

NIL's impact on NCAAW has been significant, especially as women’s basketball becomes increasingly popular (the matchup between Iowa and South Carolina goes down as the most watched basketball game in the last five years, according to CNN). As one of the most recognizable names in sports, Caitlin Clark has an impressive portfolio of NIL deals, earning her an estimated net worth of $3.4 million (On3 NIL valuation). After being drafted 1st overall by the Indiana Fever, the first people Caitlin Clark hugged weren’t her parents, or even her teammates – it was Jake from State Farm. As the first college athlete to partner with State Farm, Clark has proven to be a consistent, reputable spokesperson for the brand. She has appeared in numerous commercials since signing with State Farm ahead of the 2023-24 college basketball season, appearing alongside legendary athletes such as Patrick Mahomes and Reggie Miller. State Farm has been sponsoring the WNBA draft since 2013 and looks to continue their relationship with Clark as she leaves collegiate sports, showing their dedication to uplifting women in the industry (The Sporting News). 

Paige Bueckers, with an impressive average of 21.9 points per game this past season, stands out as another one of the most talked-about athletes in sports. In September 2023, she signed a partnership with Nike, participating in an ad campaign for the G.T. Hustle 2. During March Madness, fans eagerly noticed her sporting the Sabrina 1s on the court, a design crafted by WNBA player Sabrina Ionescu. As Bueckers builds her reputation both on and off the court, college basketball fans and UConn Huskies eagerly await her return for her final season in the NCAA. Bueckers also pairs her NIL partnerships with philanthropic efforts. As part of her deal with Dunkin, the coffee chain donated $25,000 to UConn’s Husky Harvest food pantries. Furthermore, as their first student-athlete ambassador, Bueckers’s campaign with Chegg allowed a grocery store pop-up at her former middle school. 

Another inspiring female basketball player is Angel Reese, who was recently drafted 7th overall by the Chicago Sky. Recently, she partnered with Goldman Sachs to promote their One Million Black Women campaign which, “amplifies the voices of Black women to policymakers in Washington, D.C.” (Women’s Health). The ad ran during the Elite Eight and Final Four games of March Madness this year, highlighting the barriers for Black women to attain financial literacy and economic growth. Dedicated to uplifting her community, she also created the Angel Reese Foundation, where her priority is to “ensure equal opportunities for all girls in sports, education, financial literacy, and other areas where girls have historically been overlooked.” With this foundation, she frequently gives back to her hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, raising money and supplies to donate to local schools. 

Historically, female athletes have faced significant disparities in pay and recognition compared to their male counterparts – according to the Cut, “WNBA base salaries currently top out around $240,000, which is less than the lowest-earning player in the NBA.” However, NIL deals offer women the opportunity to capitalize on their talents and marketability, supplementing some of their income. By building their own brands, female athletes can cultivate a loyal fan base, secure lucrative endorsement deals, and give back to their communities, achieving well-deserved financial stability and fulfillment in their professional careers. 


bottom of page