Everything You Need to Know About NIL

Introduction To Name, Image, Likeness (NIL)

College sports are currently undergoing what may prove to be the single most significant change they will ever experience, all from one simple question: should college athletes be paid? The answer comes down to three letters: NIL.Until recently, the question of should college athletes be paid was answered by the fact that across all sports and universities, student athletes were considered amateurs and therefore prohibited from receiving monetary compensation for their athletic accomplishments. The concept of paying college athletes, however, has been anything but a clear cut issue.Athletes have demanded compensation through various means and coaches have been caught trying to incentivize players to come to their school through elaborate gifts or sneaky offerings of cash, but the debate about paying college athletes has never moved the needle on any concrete action. While the NCAA and individual universities have profited off of the name, image, and likeness of their student athletes for decades, it isn’t until recently that the athletes themselves are being invited to take a slice of this massive pie of revenue.

The NCAA’s board of directors officially suspended the organization’s rules prohibiting athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses. These new rules, and the various state laws that have followed, represent a major shift in the NCAA’s definition of “amateur student athlete.” The debate asking should college athletes be paid is only heating up. While NCAA have long fought to keep students out of the money-making side of college sports, athletes now have varying extents of protection, allowing them to profit by selling their name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights.

NCAA president Mark Emmert explained the decision by saying this:

Mark Emmert Icon Source Quote

While this decision will have long-term implications which are yet to be foreseen, the short-term shift in amateurism rules means college athletes can start making money now. But how?The new guidelines provide a loose, gray area that is still being interpreted by lawyers and athletes alike. But one thing is for certain: athletes don’t need to wait for the dust to settle to start taking advantage of the new opportunities afforded them by NIL rules.As of now, the NCAA has stated that the current rules are temporary until Congress has the opportunity to create national laws allowing for clearer regulations for future college athlete NIL deals. That means that currently all athletes have some opportunity to profit from NIL as state laws start to go into effect. So, if you want to know how exactly NIL works, who can profit off their NIL, which states have NIL laws, how athletes are currently cashing in on NIL, and/or how you can make money off of your own NIL, below is everything you need to know.

What does NIL mean and where did it come from?

In the simplest of terms, Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) is a term that describes the means through which college athletes are allowed to receive financial compensation. NIL refers to the use of an athlete’s name, image, and likeness through marketing and promotional endeavors. This can include autograph signings, product endorsements, social media posts, and more.At the same time, it’s important to understand what NIL does not mean. NCAA rules still prevent schools from paying players directly. This means that college coaches cannot offer money as an incentive for high school athletes to come play at their school, nor can athletes receive compensation directly from their university based upon their athletic achievements. Because the NCAA still intends to maintain its amateur sports status, paying athletes for their play on the field isn’t possible. However, NIL is the workaround for athletes to get paid without technically being considered professional athletes who make a living playing their sport.NIL can trace its origins to a class-action lawsuit filed in the late 2000s that marks the beginning of the “should college athletes be paid” debate. Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon argued that college athletes should be compensated for the use of their name and image in video games. Eventually, ​​A judge ordered the NCAA to pay $44.4 million in attorneys’ fees and another $1.5 million in costs to lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon class-action antitrust lawsuit. This case opened up the doors for more questions and lawsuits around athletes’ name, image, and likeness.

The largest of these advancements came in 2019 when California enacted the Fair Pay to Play Act, which allowed athletes to be compensated for promotional opportunities. Other states quickly followed and similar legislation in different regions forced the NCAA to take a look at their stance on NIL.

As of now, NIL guidelines are relatively simplistic, leaving a lot to interpretation. Per the NCAA board of directors, the rules state that:
College athletes can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located.Colleges and universities are responsible for determining whether those activities are consistent with state law.Student-athletes who attend a school in a state without a NIL law can engage in this type of activity without violating NCAA rules related to name, image and likeness.

College athletes can use a professional services provider for NIL activities.

Student-athletes should report NIL activities consistent with state law or school and conference requirements to their school.

As one can see, these rules have created a modern day Wild West situation, with everyone looking to find where exactly the line in the sand is and what might happen when they cross it. It’s no longer a question of should college athletes be paid, but how.What we do know is that payments for athletic-related performance cannot come from the universities themselves but must come from businesses. Also, some (but not all) state laws prohibit athletes from endorsing alcohol, tobacco, or gambling products, and some (but not all) states also prohibit athletes from using their school’s logos or other copyright material in endorsements.Still, we’re starting to see athletes from all across the country and in all different sports start to take advantage of these new rules in interesting and creative ways.

Who does NIL apply to?

At first glance, NIL laws seem like something that would only apply to the top 1% of NCAA athletes—think the best college football quarterbacks, projected lottery picks, and other superstars. But in reality, that may not be the case.
Remember, the new rules allow athletes to profit from any of the following activities:

Icon Source Capabilities and Icons

These types of activities are hardly limited to a certain group of athletes. Heisman Trophy candidates and backup linemen have an equal opportunity to make a profit. It depends on the avenues they choose to pursue. While one athlete can make more money signing autographs, another may be able to generate profit from giving lessons. It’s also hard to make an argument whether one school is more likely to see athletes make a profit off of their NIL than another.While it’s easy to envision large state schools such as The University of Texas or Ohio State quickly enabling their athletes to make a profit, it’s just as likely that small schools with a dedicated local following may actually afford a better market for various athletes.The key here is that performance on the field has a relatively small impact on NIL potential. Of course, athletes who play a more publicized sport and who perform in a way that brings them increased attention have the ability to raise their NIL ceiling and increase their market potential. Yet, at the same time, athletes who can carve out a niche—be that through social media or a dedicated local following that regards them as a hometown hero—have a sizable advantage and a large NIL potential.

Whether an athlete chooses to post certain products on social media, sign autographs, teach camps, or promote a local pizzeria is completely up to them. The current NIL market is prepared to reward the athlete who creatively uses their name, image, and likeness to generate a profit.

In fact, we’re already seeing a wide variety of athletes take advantage of their NIL potential in unique ways.

How are athletes cashing in on NIL?

When thinking of NIL potential, one may go first to college football—by far the most lucrative of the college sports. But while many projected that the majority of NIL money would lean toward male athletes, the opposite has proven true. In what may come as a surprise to some, the first athletes to cash in on their NIL potential were two women’s basketball players.Hanna and Haley Cavinder, twin sisters who play for Fresno State’s basketball team and share millions of followers on social media, worked with Icone Source and Boost Mobile to strike a deal within hours of the NCAA instating the new NIL rules.

Haley Cavinder Icon Source Quote

College athletes aren’t the only ones aware of the potential these new rules afford. Stephen Stokols, CEO of Boost Mobile, shared that they hope to partner with hundreds of student athletes in the coming years. Plus, while they’ve chosen to start with the Cavinder twins as a national campaign, they also have plans for athletes at a local level.

Stephen Stokols Icon Source Quote

What that may look like has yet to be seen, but it’s clear that the Cavinder twins are just the start.But it’s not just the big names who are striking deals. Athletes have announced partnerships with local companies like a fireworks warehouse in Iowa and a barbecue joint in Arkansas that sponsored the team’s entire offensive line. Two Auburn football players struck noticeable deals as well. Bo Nix, quarterback, signed a “sweet” deal with Milo’s sweet tea, and Shaun Shivers announced a partnership with Yoke, a platform that lets fans play video games with (and against) athletes.Other women’s basketball players who have made a splash include the University of Oregon’s Sedona Prince who offered her 2.5 million TikTok followers, 240k Instagram followers, and 43k Twitter followers custom merchandise. A similar move saw LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne launch a billboard in Times Square for her 3.9 million TikTok followers and 1.1 million Instagram followers (numbers that explain why she is projected to be the top-earning NIL athlete).

A selfless example of how NIL can be used for more than just money comes from Florida State offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons who shared the he would use the new rule changes to raise money via a GoFundMe to help his friend, Timothy Donovan, who suffers from an incurable disease, attend a Seminoles game in Tallahassee this season.

Also, in a move away from sports, Marshall offensive lineman Will Ulmer is hoping the new NIL rules will kick off his music career. On the other hand, with something tailored more specifically to sports, Dontaie Allen announced his own line of custom merchandise. Then, of course, there’s another example of a deal enabled with the help of Icon Source in Antwan Owens and four other Jackson State players signing a deal with 3 Kings Grooming, a black-owned hair product business.

Again, these are just some examples of the various creative ways athletes are beginning to test the waters. But when it comes to which deals make the most sense for which players, a lot of it boils down to the state in which these athletes live and play.

Which states have NIL laws?

As noted above, when it comes to NIL laws, “Colleges and universities are responsible for determining whether those activities are consistent with state law.” The current list of states who have NIL laws includes:

State NIL Legislations

The NCAA has instructed schools located in states without an active NIL law to create and publish their own policies in the hopes that this will clear up any gray areas and create a plan to resolve the inevitable disputes that will arise. Schools still asking should college athletes be paid are already behind. At the same time that the NCAA is pushing individual schools, others are focusing on the national level.Almost a dozen bills have been proposed by various members of Congress aimed at reforming college sports and answering the should college athletes be paid question. While some focus specifically on addressing a national NIL standard, others have brought up the idea of giving athletes additional medical benefits, more educational opportunities, and the rights to collectively bargain. However, disagreements have stalled any NCAA legislative efforts in Washington, D.C., leaving these decisions primarily in the hands of individual states until something changes.In summary, if a college athlete lives in a state where legislation has been passed, they can profit from their name, image, or likeness according to state law. And if a college athlete lives in a state that is without current NIL laws, it’s up to the individual schools to create a policy for athletes to follow. While the NCAA’s guidelines prevent direct pay to athletes and make it clear that NIL deals cannot influence recruiting, everything else is currently up to the individual states and universities.

How can I execute on my NIL potential?

Icon Source App and Site

As politicians, schools, and the parties interested in paying them wade through this brand new marketplace, it’s up to athletes to capitalize on their NIL potential. Of course, athletes already have their days filled with academics, sports activities, and studying, so choosing someone trustworthy to come alongside them and guide them through this ever-evolving space without making NIL an additional daily burden is going to be crucial.Since 2018, Icon Source has been the tool for professional athletes and their agents to connect with a much broader group of brands. This has empowered various brands (both national to hyper-local) to find the right athlete, connect with them on demand, and execute contracts through our wizard—all while protecting the athlete’s interests.With Icon Source, student-athletes can manage their profiles on a single, easy-to-use mobile app. This app sends all required reporting data directly to the school, or to the school’s desired disclosure software. Plus, no need to worry about taxes. No matter how many deals, large or small, that an athlete completes on Icon Source, they will be provided with a single 1099.

Most importantly, Icon Source forces brands to use a single, non-editable contract, which protects student athletes from unforeseen NIL issues. With ZERO charge until Icon Source brings value to you, creating a profile is the risk-free way for college athletes to explore how they can capitalize on their unique NIL potential.

As the NIL landscape continues to unfold and as states and universities continue to clarify their laws and rules, now is the time for student athletes to get in the NIL game. Stop asking should college athletes be paid and start discovering how.

NCAA Name, Image, Likeness Rule

IMG female students together

NCAA approves Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) policy

On June 30, 2021, the Division 1 Board of Directors approved an interim name, image and likeness (NIL) policy. This new policy allows all NCAA D1, D2 and D3 student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL as of July 1, 2021, regardless of whether their state has a NIL law in place or not.

The NCAA NIL rules do not override state, college/university or conference specific NIL rules. This means student-athletes need to review the NIL rules in the state where their school is located and check with their athletic department for any school and conference-specific rules to understand what limitations they will have on their NIL.

College student-athletes competing in states without an NIL law will have the freedom to receive compensation for their NIL however they see fit, as long as they do not violate pay-for-play or receive financial incentives to sign with or remain at a program.

What high school student-athletes need to know

High school athletes should tread carefully when looking into ways they can monetize on their NIL while in high school. While the NCAA rules say a high school student-athlete can begin to monetize their NIL in high school, doing so could violate their high school or sports association rules and jeopardize their eligibility within their sport or high school.

Many high school associations have released statements clarifying that the new NCAA NIL policy doesn’t change high school eligibility rules. In July 2021, Darren Heitner, founder of Heitner Legal and Chief Editor of Sports Agent Blog, had his firm review all states’ NIL laws and the bylaws established by the high school athletic associations. Heitner Legal concluded that, At the moment, California is the only state that clearly allows high school athletes to pursue NIL opportunities. According to the California Interscholastic Federation, California high school athletes can profit from their NIL, as long as they do not use their high school’s name or marks.

High school student-athletes should check the following sources of information to understand their NIL rights:

Does my conference have NIL rules?

What states have signed NIL laws?

Individual states have begun proposing and passing their own laws allowing student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness. As a result, the rules around NIL deals differ from state to state, with various restrictions on what athletes are allowed to promote. To understand each state’s NIL rule, here’s a comprehensive list of states with laws in place:

AlabamaPassed: April 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

ArizonaPassed: March 2021. Effective: July 23, 2021

Arkansas: Passed: April 2021. Effective: Jan. 1, 2022

CaliforniaPassed: September 2019. Effective: Jan. 1, 2023

ColoradoPassed: March 2020. Effective: Jan. 1, 2023

Connecticut: Passed: June 2021. Effective: Sept. 1, 2021

Florida: Passed: June 2020. Effective: July 1, 2021

Georgia: Passed: May 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

Illinois: Passed: June 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

Louisiana: Passed: July 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

Maryland: Passed: May 2021. Effective: July 1, 2023

Michigan: Passed: December 2020. Goes into effect: Dec. 31, 2022

Mississippi: Passed: April 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

Montana: Passed: April 2021. Effective: June 1, 2023

NebraskaPassed: July 2020. Effective: No later than July 1, 2023 (schools can implement new policy at any time).

NevadaPassed: June 2021. Effective: Jan. 1, 2022

New Jersey: Passed: September 2020. Effective: September 2025

New MexicoPassed: April 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

Ohio: Passed: June 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

OklahomaPassed: May 2021. Effective: July 1, 2023

Oregon: Passed: June 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

Pennsylvania: Passed: June 2021. Effective: June 30, 2021

South CarolinaPassed: May 2021. Effective: July 1, 2022

TennesseePassed: May 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

TexasPassed: June 2021. Effective: July 1, 2021

Are colleges/universities creating their own NIL rules?

Yes, each individual school has oversight of NIL deals and the right to object to a deal if it conflicts with existing agreements. To help manage this process, some schools are turning to companies like Opendorse and INFLCR, which offers a platform for athletes to upload their NIL contracts for the compliance department to review and approve.

Athletes are expected to understand their school’s NIL policy and keep their school informed of all NIL arrangements. The best way to ensure student-athletes understand school-specific NIL rules is to work directly with their coaching and the compliance department. Check here for a list of institutions with NIL rules and regulations in place.

High school associations address the NIL rules

While college student-athletes can engage in NIL activity without fear of jeopardizing their eligibility, high school athletes are not as free to explore NIL opportunities. On July 7, the National Federation of State High School Associations’ executive director, Dr. Karissa Neihoff made a statement regarding the new NIL policy:

“While it is not our position to debate the merits of current college athletes earning money from their NIL, it should be understood that these changes do not affect current high school student-athletes. Current high school student-athletes CANNOT earn money as a result of their connection to their high school team.”

Below is access to the rules and regulations for each state high school association.

National governing bodies sport-specific amateurism rules

Similar to states, colleges/universities and conferences, national governing bodies are beginning to create their own NIL guidelines for student-athletes to retain their amateur status. The first national governing body to address the new NIL policy is USGA. The association released their own set of guidelines that highlighted three requirements for student-athletes to remain amateur golfers.

  • The NIL-related actions are allowed under the NCAA’s interim policy,
  • He or she remains on a team roster while the NIL-related activities take place, and
  • There are no other breaches of the Rules of Amateur Status in connection with the NIL activities.

Below is access to the rules and regulations of sport-specific national governing bodies.

AAU Sports
USA Baseball
US Amateur Basketball
USA Cheer
USA Field Hockey
USA Football 
USA Gymnastics
USA Ice Hockey
USA Lacrosse
US Rowing
USA Soccer
USA Softball
USA Swimming
USA Volleyball
USA Water Polo
USA Wrestling

How to talk to college coaches about NIL

Moving forward, student-athletes interested in monetizing on their NIL will need to ask questions about NIL rules when talking with coaches. Before speaking with a coach, prospective student-athletes should create a list of questions about the NIL rules that would impact them. Below are a few suggested questions:

  • What NIL rules are enforced by your school and conference?
  • What is NIL going to look like for me if I come to your institution?
  • How are current student-athletes monetizing their NIL?
  • What marketplaces are your current athletes using to monetize on their NIL?
  • What platform is your compliance office using to manage and approve NIL contracts?

Helping student-athletes monetize on their NIL

Student-athletes looking to monetize on their NIL will need help securing deals. While there are many companies that have been working with professional athletes for years that will offer their services to college athletes, there are a number of new companies that have recently launched specifically to help collegiate athletes. To learn about some of these new brands, check out the NIL Network’s coverage on digital marketplaces, as well as the BCS tracker which offers a running list of marketplaces.

What’s next for NIL?

While the NCAA intends to work with federal congressional legislators to replace the interim policy with a single nationwide policy, there is no timeline on when that might happen. NCSA will continue to monitor changes as they relate to NIL laws and provide updates to the team, when necessary.

For student-athletes looking for additional resources covering NIL updates on an ongoing basis, check out the weekly NIL Network podcast, Fi-Nil-ly.

What NIL means

What is the right of publicity? Name, image and likeness (or NIL) are the three elements that make up “right of publicity”, a legal concept used to prevent or allow the use of an individual to promote a product or service. For example, if an athlete’s photograph is taken while wearing an athletic brand, and that brand uses the photo to promote their products without the athlete’s consent, that athlete could claim the brand is in violation of the right of publicity.

The right of publicity is generally used to protect against the misuse of an individual’s name, image and likeness for commercial promotion. However, the NCAA has been scrutinized for years, as critics say the NCAA takes advantage of student-athletes by using their name, image and likeness for profit, while not allowing the athletes to cash in, as well.

With the NCAA changing the existing NIL rules to begin allowing athletes the right to profit from the use of their own name, image and likeness, here are a few examples of what student-athletes could now be paid for:

  • Their autograph
  • Developing and/or modeling athletic and non-athletic clothing apparel
  • Promoting products and services
  • Making personal appearances

Keep reading for more detailed examples of how student-athletes may profit from the upcoming NIL rules changes.


What does NIL mean?

NIL stands for name, image, likeness. For years, the NCAA has used the name, image and likeness of college athletes to promote NCAA athletic programs and drive revenue. The NCAA’s interim NIL policy allows student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their NIL.

When did NIL start?

Effective July 1, 2021, the NCAA approved name, image, and likeness policy allows student-athletes to monetize their NIL. However, no federal legislation or specific NCAA NIL rules have been established. NIL activities and restrictions vary from state to state and school to school, which means student-athletes must understand both sets of rules before entering into any NIL agreements.