It’s football season once again, meaning fans have access to multiple games a week between the NFL and the NCAA. Despite the NFL’s success as one of the most lucrative sports leagues in the world, the NCAA regularly competes with the pro league in terms of popularity and attendance.
With a stunted 2020 season in the past, there’s plenty of action (and contingency plans) slated for this year’s NCAAF divisions. Already, fans and pundits are placing wagers related to SEC rivals like Alabama and Clemson, as well as Pac-12 Conference odds that focus on favorites like Oregon, Arizona State, and USC.
But the 2021 season won’t be business as usual. With time to spare last year, the NCAA reworked its rule book. The organization made adjustments related to overtime rules, expanded its unsportsmanlike conduct rules, and, most surprising of all, nixed a former ban on player compensation.
Affective July 1, 2021, players in the NCAAF could profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). The decision is a loaded one that many have speculated about, as the NCAA’s previous policy, which barred players from earning any type of preferential treatment or financial compensation, was highly controversial for many.
Some found it exploitative for collegiate players to spend countless hours on the field without earning money for their hard work—especially when schools like Ohio State bring in around $233 million from their football programs. It’s a business, so why not compensate players like employees?
Others have focused on education. Football players are also students during their time in the NCAA. Though most attend college only to propel themselves into a career in the NFL, it’s important not to forget that they’re ultimately enrolled in undergraduate studies. Football, and its sponsorships, should come second to that.
Already, some players are bringing in thousands—if not hundreds of thousands from NIL deals. Kayvon Thibodeaux of the Oregon Ducks has nabbed the spotlight for his big-name contracts. The first is with Nike co-founder Phil Knight to create a unique NFT. The second is a six-figure memorabilia deal tied to the upcoming season.
But not all that glitters is gold. Despite the NCAA’s answer to a decades-long question regarding player compensation, not everyone is convinced the new NIL policy is good for players. Here are arguments against the July 1 changes.
Reason One: It Adds Stress for Players
The same group who feel that NCAA stars should focus on academics as part of a university are worried that NIL deals will add another stressful component to the already demanding life. In fact, one LSU cornerback, Derek Stingley Jr., has already opted to hire a marketing agency to handle his NIL proposals and contracts.
This is clearly a big-league move, as many NFL players do the same. In an interview with The Advocate, Stingley Sr. said of his son’s collegiate career, “This is not why he’s playing college football. We’re not looking for him to get these choices nonstop, every day, all day.”
Reason Two: It (Could) Divide Teams
As of 2021, there are 130 schools that compete in the NCAA’s FBS division. There’s a vast range of talent in each conference. Despite not being listed as a potential national champion, teams like North Carolina and Miami both have some of the league’s best players in talents like Sam Howell and D’Eriq King, respectively.
Many head coaches face difficulties related to player notoriety and talent. It can easily drive inter-team rivalries and create problems in the locker room. Add hundreds of thousands in sponsorship deals, and staff has a whole new set of problems to deal with.
Reason Three: It Sets a Precedent
The NCAA didn’t willingly buck up and change its player compensation policy. Instead, the US Supreme Court ultimately declared that ‘amateurism’ in college football is defunct; in other words, players work too hard and display too much talent to be considered ineligible for payment.
But in allowing NIL sponsorships, the NCAA is likely to see huge changes in the coming years. These changes could easily boil over into other areas, particularly recruitment. Similar to compensation, the NCAA has notoriously handled high school recruitment policies with an iron fist. But with top players signing lucrative NIL contracts, how long until that precedent applies to transfer and high school recruits?