The New Age of Athletic Compensation

            If you have been a reader of my weekly columns, you know that one of my principles is that if you do work for someone, you get paid. Plain and simple. Perform a task and get a check.

            I have always been a proponent of compensating college athletes who bring tremendous revenue and value to the schools that they represent.

            I remember when I was applying to college back in the fall of 1984. The Boston College Eagles had a quarterback by the name of Doug Flutie. You may remember him. He won a Heisman Trophy. And you may remember  the “Hail Flutie” pass from the 5’8’’ Flutie to wide out Gerard Phelan which has been immortalized in BC lore.

            It was Thanksgiving weekend – I can’t remember if it was Friday or Saturday – and BC was playing national powerhouse and defending national champion University of Miami in the Orange Bowl in Miami. The game was a high-scoring back and forth affair, and on the final play of the game, Flutie heaved a prayer of a pass into the end zone from midfield with the Eagles trailing 45-41 and six seconds left on the clock. Phelan hauled it in, and the rest was history.

            What happened at Boston College’s admissions office became known as the Flutie Effect. In two years, applications to BC went up thirty percent. I was one of those thirty-percenters. BC became very attractive to me after I watched the Miracle in Miami.

            That is just one example of how these so-called amateur “student-athletes” drive revenues at the schools they attend. But there is more.

            In 2014, the University of Notre Dame signed a ten-year deal with Under Armour to have its athletes wear the Under Armour brand. The deal was worth $90 million at the time. It was the most lucrative deal ever signed at the time. The deals have skyrocketed since then.

            Of those millions that are paid to the schools to have the athletes wear the apparel brands, the athletes get exactly zero dollars in compensation.

            So last year, the Supreme Court did those athletes a solid in the case of NCAA v. Alston. In its unanimous 9-0 decision, the court, led by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, held that college athletes could no longer be prohibited from trading on their own names, images, and likenesses (NIL) in order to profit while playing collegiate sports.

            As of July 1, 2021, the NCAA modified its rules and no longer prohibited athletes from earning income based on their status as athletes. The market was supposed to open for athletes to sign endorsement deals with all the big names in sports like Gatorade, Nike, Adidas, and Fanatics. Autographs and memorabilia opportunities would abound and these athletes would begin to get some of the value that they had been earning for their schools.

            But in the first year of NIL, the market has barely materialized for the athletes. Paige Bueckers, the latest superstar basketball player at UConn, made headlines when she signed a multi-million dollar deal with Gatorade. She has been savvy in marketing her brand, and her efforts paid off. However most college athletes, if they have earned any money at all, have earned in the three and four figures. Many simply get gift cards for promoting products on social media.

            I am not sure where the market is headed, but I would expect that if opportunities do not start to materialize, there will be some investigations into what is really occurring. And don’t be surprised if athletes begin to unionize in order to get their fair share.

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