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So What is NIL, and why does it matter?

In the past week, I've gotten numerous questions by email and social media asking -

So what is NIL any way?
That's where the college is paying the student athlete, right?

And to be honest, I don't blame them. Unless you're engaged in college or high school athletics right now in some manner, you most likely might not know.

But even for those who are, there are many misconceptions about what Name, Image, & Likeness is, and why it even matters to talk about it?

So, hold on tight... we're going to make this as easy as possible.

Name, Image, and Likeness, often referred to as NIL, is the opportunity to participate in activities where you are compensated for the usage of your name, image, likeness or personal appearance for promotional appearances.

For student-athletes, there must be an exchange of services to capitalize on NIL, as you cannot be compensated or receive benefits only for being an athlete.

And no, it's not the college athletic departments paying their own players.

Simply put,

A person's name, image, and likeness (NIL) are three elements that make up a legal concept known as "right of publicity".

College students now have the ability to get paid for certain elements related to the NIL, such as merchandise, or endorsements of products, and even personal appearances.

For example - University of Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon paired with Boomin Iowa Fireworks for a meet-and-greet session at the fireworks business in Windsor Heights, Iowa.

The main question regarding NIL at both the college and high school level centers around Amateurism, and how that is being defined.

For many, if a student-athlete is making money off of their notoriety for being an athlete, they view them as a professional athlete.

For others, it's a fight against big business, and student-athletes gaining a share of potential opportunities because of their notoriety of being an athlete.

No matter the case, NIL is here, and the more we can learn about and understand it, the better we can hopefully prepare to help our young people.

Quick History on NIL:

The movement forward for Name, Image, and Likeness legislation made waves in Sept. 30th, 2019 when California passed legislation stating that schools could not punish athletes who accepted endorsement money while in college.

While the NCAA did not agree, and called this an "existential threat" to college amateur sports, it didn't take long (less then 30 days to be exact) for the NCAA Board of governors to unanimously agree that it was time to modernize the rules around NIL.

Fast forward to July 1, 2021, and the first set of state laws, and NCAA's new rules go into effect, and the NIL era begins as athletes begin signing endorsement deals minutes after midnight.

As with most legislation that comes to the college level, it eventually trickles down to the High School environment.

And not to take a jab at California, but, as the leader in the college space, it seems only fitting that they were the first state to allow High School Student-Athletes the same NIL rights.

One of the interesting things to understand about High School Sports vs. College Sports is that there is no single overarching organization like the NCAA, but rather, each state can administer interscholastic athletics (high school sports), in whatever manner their member schools vote upon.

Before student-athletes at the high school level can profit off of their NIL, the state law AND the state athletic association must allow it.

The California Interscholastic Federation, and most recently the New York State Athletic Association, provide student-athletes at the high school level the ability to profit off of their NIL with the STIPULATION THAT THEY CANNOT USE THEIR SCHOOL'S NAME, LOGO, OR TEAM UNIFORM IN AN ADVERTISEMENT.

This stipulation applies to most college students in many states as well.

Additionally, while there may be a small number of states that allow student-athletes NIL rights, the number is destined to increase. A quick research study by NIL tech giant @Opendorse shows a pretty unique picture from the National HS space.

Head on over to their website to read about each state --->

The NIL space is cloudy and messy.

It's also very scary, and extremely exciting.

It's shifting the way in which student-athletes, coaches, and athletic departments deal with almost everything.

It's impacting recruiting, social media usage, financial aid, and the list goes on...

But ultimately, it's here, and it's not going anywhere.

My belief regarding the focus and discussion needed around NIL comes down to education, education, education.

  • Education of our student-athletes.

  • Education of our parents of student-athletes.

  • Education of our coaches, athletic administrators, school administrators.

  • Education of everyone interested in talking about NIL, so they have the facts.

And that's the fight we're in at

Keep your eyes out for what area of NIL we'll peel back next, and as always, keep the comments / question coming so we can continue to do what we're intending - EDUCATE!

- Doc G

Dr. Scott Grant is a college professor in educational leadership / social media, and founded Triple Threat Leadership, LLC. (

You can read more about Dr. Grant here --->

If you’re interested in staying up to date about all things NIL-Education, head on over to and subscribe, as well as follow @NIL_Education on the platforms below by a quick click!

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