Commentary: Will NIL agreements create an uneven system in college athletics? It’s too early to tell

Commentary: Will NIL agreements create an uneven system in college athletics? It’s too early to tell
February 07
10:03 2024

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

If you were blessed to have gone to college on an athletic scholarship, then you didn’t have to worry about student loans. You didn’t have to go to the bursar’s office to work out a payment plan.

The heavy lifting created by inadequate finances was not a part of your college experience. You saw some of your college friends leaving campus because they didn’t have enough money. Those that had athletic scholarships made full use of them to graduate from college.

I enjoyed my time as a student-athlete. Upon reflection, I didn’t feel any pressure to win. I simply did my part as a good teammate and conducted myself well when I was not competing.

Back in the day, the rules were simple. Excelling both academically and athletically were the key components to success. Having good grades was important. Without them, you couldn’t maintain your eligibility, which put your athletic scholarship in jeopardy.

There weren’t any add-ons to your scholarship. Of course, that was yesterday. Today is quite different. 

A breakthrough in college athletics has been NIL (name, image and likeness) agreements. Since 2021, these agreements have become more widespread and are quite lucrative for college student-athletes.

If you have been designated as a top-tier athlete, then you will probably get some type of NIL agreement. As a result, some student-athletes will become millionaires before they leave school.

I am happy for them, yet there are some questions that are popping up about NIL agreements. One question is how these agreements will be legislated. At this time, there doesn’t seem to be any legislation associated with NIL agreements. I suspect it will not be long before the NCAA and\or Congress step in to review the structure of these agreements and to implement some type of checks and balance system.

Some critics are thinking that there will be some athletes who get them and choose not to pursue a professional sports career. Of course, purists will say that going to the professional ranks is considered the pinnacle of sports achievement. We will just have to see the options that become available.

Another question hovering in the student-athlete air space is about attaining a college degree. Is that still important?

In days gone by, college student-athletes did get their college degrees. They didn’t go to school with the primary goal of going to the professional ranks. Has it changed? The answer is no! According to the standard federal graduation rate, 69% of Division I student-athletes graduate within six years. Less than 2% of NCAA student-athletes go on to play professional sports.

Will these NIL agreements play some role in the graduation numbers in the future? This topic is sure to garner a lot of debate and questions.

Records will show that most NIL agreements are with student-athletes who play basketball and football. What about student-athletes who play other sports? Current records show that Emily Cole, (Duke University\track and field), Livvy Dunne, (LSU\gymnastics), Xolani Hodel (Stanford University\women’s beach volleyball) and Reilyn Turner, (UCLA\women’s soccer) have NIL agreements. 

It is my prediction that college student-athletes in all sports will eventually get these agreements. There are some old school athletic folks who believe that NIL agreements might impact on-field and on-court performance. NIL agreements are still relatively new so there will be some tweaks and adjustments to them.

There will be plenty of conversations about what is best for student-athletes. I believe it will be vitally important to have them at the decision-making table. They must have a seat at the table and voices that must be heard.

Let’s stay tuned because in 2024 there are still many more questions than answers.


James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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