The Future of Collegiate Sports and NIL Policy for Black Athletes

The goal of this session was to discuss the buzz that’s been happening in state legislatures for the last several years around name, image and likeness (NIL) and the future of collegiate sports in the African American community. With African Americans making up the majority of revenue-generating athletes and many families depending on their children to uplift the entire family, this topic was of great interest to state legislators.

NBCSL panelist Kendra Bulluck, Executive Director of the Orange Blossom Classic, said she considers sports to be a connector, bringing all people together. Sports is a $15 billion industry, and she enjoys seeing student athletes get a piece of that pie with the new NIL initiatives that are coming out. But, she says, there are gaps between predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and important conversations like the one at NBCSL can help bridge those gaps.

Offering an insider’s perspective, Ashton Henderson, Deputy Athletic Director and Championship Resources for the Michigan State University Spartans, said “Things are shifting very quickly,” especially as he remembers his days as a player and what he was and wasn’t allowed to do. At the end of the day, Henderson hopes critical conversations can help return the focus back on to higher education.

President and CEO of the Florida Sports Foundation Angela Suggs sees today’s collegiate sports as an opportunity for universities to check if they’re preparing their student athletes for what’s to come. For example, the NBCSL panelist described if the team wins a championship on a $9 million budget, then the next week, they play a $100 million team. And, from a NIL standpoint, are colleges preparing student athletes with classes to learn how to be rich.

NBCSL panelist Joe Briggs is currently global head of equity strategies and initiatives for Amazon but previously covered all legislative efforts for professional players associations including NFL and NBA. Briggs was focused on the future because NIL is starting earlier than college and is infiltrating high schools and even middle schools. As a result, he cautioned, it’s important to protect constituents about the dangers of the money that’s flowing around student athletes as everyone tries to figure out how they can get a piece of their success. For example, a parent of an eighth grader making a deal for their teenager for $10,000 for 10 years’ worth of NIL rights would impact their high school, college and possibly a professional career.

These deals, questioned Chism, could be dangerous and Briggs agreed. After mentioning a case in Florida where a student athlete signed a 25-year NIL deal that included a promissory note that required the athlete to give up a certain percentage of salary—whether that’s NFL earnings or any income—as part of the loan. When superstar athletes are excited that people are throwing money at them, that’s when it’s critical to have read the contract before signing, explained Briggs.

Suggs shared that there’s an NIL bill presented in Florida about high school athletes because young men and women and their families are being targeted and it’s important to protect them. There’s a new wave of education that needs to happen to ensure students and families are reading contracts in their entirety—no shortcuts—and understanding what they’re being offered and how it’ll impact them after signing.

“It’s easy for us to say you need to read the fine print,” said Bulluck. “But, a lot of families don’t even know how to assist kids with filling out a basic college application let alone getting them to understand a legal contract where they are signing away a large percentage of their income for the next 10 years.”

How can this kind of education reach young people and their families? Henderson says it needs to be rooted in culturally-relevant pedagogy. “NIL is a great thing because it’s putting student athletes in a position to think about who they are beyond the scope of the sport,” said Henderson, who thinks meeting the students and families where they are will help get the message out. Bulluck agreed, saying that nonprofit organizations and other grassroots-level groups can help educate individual student athletes, their families and guardians, and their coaches.

Adding to the discussion, Briggs recommended that states need to look at the right of privacy and publicity and determine what may be codified under law. He also suggested states look at how compensation is working and understand the money source and how universities and student athletes are being paid.

When Chism asked about how HBCUs can compete with PWIs, Suggs suggested looking at the institutions that win. “Recruiting is a lot easier if you’re winning,” she said. Winning also is an appeal for donors who wish to close the gap between HBCUs and PWIs. Suggs further suggested that compared to PWIs, HBCUs don’t have as many benefactor-named facilities on campus

Agreeing with Suggs, Bulluck reiterated it’s no secret HBCUs face funding shortages and it’s critical to work with individuals who love the program and love the HBCU culture. She suggested one of the best ways to recruit donors and student athletes is to bring them to HBCU homecoming week and make sure people are reminded that HBCUs and experiences like the Orange Blossom Classic were created as a result of segregation—because there were no other options. Now, she said, important conversations need to occur to raise the necessary funds so HBCU athletic programs can meet the demand for more with the necessary means.

Briggs explained how institutions are communicating more about lifestyle but not enough about life. “Many institutions have started to look at themselves as just a stop along the way for these student athletes,” he said. The purpose, he continued, is to educate and expand minds so people can return to their community and be leaders. Even with all the flashy enticements, college has always been and should be about education because there will come a time when sports end and students need to be prepared for life off the field or court.

While the NIL landscape can feel like the Wild Wild West, as Henderson put it, all panelists closed the session with emphasizing the importance of protecting student athletes and their families. First, state legislators have to make sure if they’re creating NIL bills, that they also codify property right into it. California’s NIL law is an example of how other states can approach NIL.

In addition, educating all families on financial literacy and avoiding trickery by understanding how NIL contracts will impact them now and in the future. Finally, states must empower African American families to connect with lawyers and accountants who make themselves available to help them navigate these uncharted waters. Education and access are vital for the success of every student.