In 2001, Eric Crouch, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, violated NCAA rules and served a short-term suspension. Crouch was suspended for accepting a ham sandwich and short plane ride valued at $22.67 as a part of a brief public appearance for the university. In breaking NCAA rules regarding accepting outside benefits, Crouch became an integral part of an infamous sports debate, should college athletes be compensated?
Flash forward to 2021 and the landscape has shifted dramatically. Going into the 2021-2022 NCAAF season, University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young reportedly earned over $1,000,000 in endorsements before ever playing a single snap and Hercy Miller, an incoming freshman basketball player at the University of Tennessee, has reportedly signed a $2,000,000 deal. None of this would be possible without the NCAA’s expanded policies on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals for college athletes, providing a new world of opportunity for nearly 500,000 students across the country.
After a 9-0 ruling in the Supreme Court Case NCAA vs. Alston, the association was finally prompted to stop resisting NIL deals. This past June, the NCAA announced drastic changes to this rule. According to the NCAA website, athletes can now engage in NIL activities in compliance with state laws and colleges can serve as a resource for NIL legal questions, athletes can use professional service providers to help navigate NIL activities, student athletes in states without NIL laws can still engage in such activities without violating NCAA rules and states, as well as individual colleges and athletic conferences may impose reporting requirements.
Since this development, student athletes across the nation have quickly delved into the world of endorsements, signing with a myriad of different brands and providing them an opportunity to monetize their collegiate success. Athletes have signed endorsement deals with clothing brands, gyms, pet companies, and a few 300+ pound offensive linemen have even signed on to become the face of a handful of barbeque restaurants. At the heart of NIL, is social media. While being a star player on a nation’s top football or basketball team is certainly the most surefire way of expanding name recognition, athletes have begun leveraging social media platforms to collect NIL earnings. Various social media platforms including Instagram and Tik Tok have allowed athletes to develop and popularize their own personal brands in whatever creative medium they desire. This allows these athletes to gain attention and recognition, all from the power of their cell phones.
As student-athletes have suddenly shifted into small business owners, they have started to need outside help from accountants, attorneys and personal advisers. The NIL rules and regulations are complicated and the tax implications that follow are confusing, forcing athletes to hire additional help in order to ensure they don’t get in trouble with or suspended by the NCAA. In an effort to support this goal, UCLA has recently debuted the Westwood Ascent Program, a comprehensive NIL program designed to support the school’s student-athletes to build their personal brand and maximize their NIL opportunities. Westwood Ascent focuses on three fundamental pillars to each athlete: education, brand-building and monitoring and disclosure. These three pillars are designed to ensure these athletes success for years to come and Martin Jarmond, the Alice and Nahum Family Director of Athletics at UCLA, is expecting the university to be a leading contributor to the world of NIL deals and monetary success of student-athletes for years to come.
“We enthusiastically embrace Name, Image and Likeness,” Jarmond said in a UCLA press conference. “With the launch of Westwood Ascent, we’re well-positioned to be a leader in providing our student-athletes the tools to maximize their NIL opportunities in Los Angeles and beyond. The future is here.”
Jarmond and the entire athletic department have played an instrumental role in securing endorsement deals for UCLA athletes. Less than two months after the NCAA rule change, UCLA student-athletes had already signed over 50 endorsements. Quarterback Dorian Thompson Robinson is sponsored by Cameo, Jaylen Clark created his own cryptocurrency, Jake Kyman has signed over 22 deals, Norah Flatley is sponsored by HighKey Keto Mini Cookies and Emmanuel Dean is sponsored by Big League Chew. These are just a few of the countless endorsements UCLA athletes have signed and tangible proof of the Westwood Ascent Program’s success. While NIL deals revolutionized the college sports industry, student-athletes across the nation are now capitalizing on this expanded world of opportunities that is at their fingertips.