Previous to an NCAA rule change in 2021, student athletes were not able to profit or receive compensation for their participation in collegiate sports. Today, they are allowed to do so through product endorsements, autograph signings, and social media posts under name, image, and likeness (NIL) laws and regulations. Florida recently amended its NIL law, removing restrictions that prohibited schools from facilitating NIL deals and now allowing compensation from booster clubs and other third parties affiliated with an athlete’s school.
While technically not being paid to play, “somewhat like the pro athletes, they’re able to be entrepreneurial and benefit and provide support for themselves and earn some income as they go through college,” said Hugh Tomlinson, Director of Development and Gift Planning for the Florida State University Seminole Boosters Club. He moderated the panel discussion that included a college athlete, a sports agent, a lawyer, and the head of an NIL “collective” that helps put together these deals.
“A collective pools resources in a given community to maximize a student athlete’s exposure. Otherwise, you would end up with the athletes all kind of fending for themselves,” said Will Cowen, Chief Operating Officer of Rising Spear, based in Tallahassee, Florida. Rising Spear is a third-party NIL collective that develops NIL opportunities for FSU student athletes and collects donations from donors. “Collectively we can raise more money and we’ve done over 1,500 hours of athletes giving back to the community,” he said. The donations are tax deductible and can be allocated per sport. Collectives also work with local businesses to solicit NIL deals.
Will Hall, an attorney at the Dean Mead law firm, serves as outside counsel to Rising Spear and explained that collectives come in two varieties: nonprofit and for-profit. “The NIL rules require athletes spend a portion of their time in community service. What Rising Spear Garnet does is buy that time and essentially donate it to the local schools and the Boys and Girls Club. On the for-profit side, Rising Spear Gold harnesses opportunities for local businesses, especially for those athletes who may not be able to afford to have a sports agent,” said Hall.
One of those athletes is Michaela Edenfield, catcher for the FSU Seminoles Softball team. The team most recently went all the way to the 2023 Women’s College World Series championship finals.
“I’ll never make a living from softball, but I can have softball help me make a living. And I think the idea of that has been able to change and grow due to NIL,” said the incoming junior, who has amassed a social media following for her makeup tutorials. “NIL has definitely been able to help me provide for myself and pay for my education here alongside of my softball scholarship,” which she noted is among the sports that don’t offer full scholarships. The Sneads, Florida native is majoring in Business with the dream of becoming a media marketing manager for either a sports team or sportswear company.
Ben Chase, Director of NIL Strategy for the University of Florida, acknowledged the “negative connotations” that come with NIL rights, but said college athletes, as other entrepreneurial students have always been able to do, can now be business owners based on their brand and create jobs. “For the longest time our athletes like Michaela filled the stands of Doak Campbell or Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and you know, you guys showed up for them. But the dollars were going to everyone else,” said Chase, who is also a lawyer and former consultant for an NIL collective.
Joe Hernandez was a teammate of FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston on the 2013 national championship team, prior to NIL rights. Now, as Founder and CEO of Just Win Management Group in Miami, he represents Winston of the New Orleans Saints, as well as FSU Running Back Trey Benson and others in the NIL space. “What gets lost in all this and is hidden is the real world experience that student athletes are getting engaging with businesses and contractual relationships,” he said. Hernandez related a story about a locker room speech by Winston that became the inspiration for a T-shirt with a Nike logo. “A guy like him at the time couldn’t earn a penny off of that,” he said.
The panel also discussed the broader economic impact that NIL has had not only on the student athletes’ personal financial growth, but on local businesses in university and college communities.
“It’s a huge economic impact for businesses that now can use these student athletes to sponsor their products, to promote their businesses or their products on social media, and to have site appearances,” pointed out Tomlinson. “If you own a restaurant in town and you wanted a Florida State athlete to come in or University of Florida athlete to come in and do an appearance, you’re driving traffic to your venue. There’s a lots of ways that individuals and companies will monetize the ability now to have a working relationship with a student athlete.”
The panel discussion shed light on the multifaceted aspects of NIL rights. It explored the potential benefits and challenges this new paradigm presents for student athletes, collegiate sports programs, universities, and the sports industry as a whole. The panel also addressed the role of education and support in helping student athletes navigate the opportunities and responsibilities that come with NIL rights.
(You can also view the entire Club meeting on YouTube.)