While much of the national conversation surrounding student-athlete name, image and likeness (NIL) has centered around big deals at the NCAA Division I level, everything certainly applies to the Division II and Division III models as well. And not only is it applicable, but it actually rests on the core principles of the divisions. As outlined by the NCAA’s description of Division III:
“The opportunity to play sports in college is a privilege, but we often forget taking part in collegiate athletics is also a choice. When high school seniors decide to be Division III student-athletes, their choice illustrates their passion for the sport and pursuit of an education. Division III student-athletes compete not for financial reward, but quite simply, for the love of the game. Division III student-athletes are fueled by passion. They strive to do their best on the field and in the classroom because they realize the value in athletics lies beyond a scoreboard.”
Contrary to the publicity surrounding their Division I counterparts, the motivation and perspective of non-Division I student-athletes uniquely positions them to reap the benefits of academics-based opportunities.
While there have already been student-athletes from small NAIA schools finding marketable value outside of the court and notable opportunities for DII and DIII athletes in the first month of the NIL era, there is a great deal of potential for all student-athletes to receive compensation for their work products, services, or endorsement related deals.
Let’s take a look at what this means for student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and the future of non-Division I athletics.
To be clear, monetizing NIL is not a new concept—it is only new to college athletics. Professional athletes and the general population have marketed their NIL in a variety of ways for years, and through college athletics, there is a fan-based supporting market already set in place.
Now that NIL legislation has fully passed, student-athletes at the Division II and Division III levels will have the same opportunities to monetize their NIL as the rest of the general student body. What this means is student-athletes can reference their athletic involvement when promoting camps or clinics, cash in on their social media platforms with content related to their athletic experience, market their business ideas related to their sport and much more.
It is obvious not all lower-division student-athletes will have the same audience as someone like Clark Hazlett, former quarterback for Linfield University with more than 150,000 subscribers on YouTube, but opportunities tied to career-oriented academic work can provide benefit both during and beyond a student-athlete’s playing experience. While superstardom on the field will help a handful of student-athletes find success in the NIL world, the vast majority of NIL earners will make their money off their creativity and marketability.
Due in part to the delayed legislative action, Division II and Division III coaches and administrators had most likely remained disengaged from the NIL conversation prior to July 1, 2021. However, staff now need to implement institutional policies on permissible activities, existing sponsorships, and prepare to educate student-athletes on the opportunities before them.
In recruiting, though, student-athletes will not be able to receive NIL-related compensation from schools or staff members; the real NIL recruitment opportunities will come through the effort a school puts into preparing their student-athletes for the newfound market. This is nothing new for the recruiting world, as perspectives always gravitate towards the schools which they find most attractive, and for most that attraction comes with the academic offerings in their desired career field. These accommodations may take the form of entrepreneurial coursework, legal advising or even personal branding classes. If a prospective student-athlete is aware of the business-related offerings a school has that can help them succeed post-graduation, that is more incentive for them to attend.
When it comes to advertising and promotional-based NIL-recruiting, coaches will likely enhance their current recruiting pitches. For instance, many Division II and Division III schools are located in small, rural communities and are the pride of the town. In this case, coaches who already tout the support of the community to prospective student-athletes might also hit on the potential promotional opportunities student-athletes could have with local businesses. On the flip side, schools located in large metropolitan areas, who already pitch the job and internship opportunities of the city, will likely lean on a similar stance for more expansive NIL opportunities.
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