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Name, Image and Likeness (Nils): What Impact Will Nils Have on Students in the Classroom?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Martin P. Sellers
July 25, 2022


Student athletes are being paid for the use of their name, image and likeness (NILs). This has come about because of changes in rules by the NCAA this past summer. What does this mean, if anything, for students in the classroom? 

It is well known that student athletes pay a price for their athleticism and have not been paid for their time, experience or abilities. Now that the NCAA has made a quantum leap by changing the rules and in effect ending amateurism, student athletes (SAs) can receive funding from a multitude of sources for those sources to utilize athletes’ names, images and likenesses for profit. SAs can, if they choose, create their own brand to profit from as well. It is all well and good for student athletes, parents, families and even local communities to profit from their athleticism. However, important concerns have been left out of the NILs discussion by the academy, the media, the NCAA and academic journals. The main concern not being discussed is the extent to which these changes impact SAs in the classroom? Amateurism, as it has been understood until now, was a wall that kept SAs separated from compromising impacts or questionable influences that might encourage performance for pay, cause loss of eligibility or impact academic development. Pay for NILs may result in instructors being caught between forces wanting to keep SAs eligible to play and the grades they deserve.

Amateurism and the NCAA

Amateurism primarily has meant no pay for play. SAs come to college to play the sport they love and continue to develop their athleticism, all the while gaining knowledge, skills and dispositions toward a degree in a field of interest. The question that should be on the minds of faculty, administrators and SAs is, “How will NILS impact student learning and the classroom?” 

The Missing Element: Academics

Pay for NILs verses performance is a muddled issue. The connection between, or limitations for,  receiving money for use of NILs and playing well, remaining on a team and maintaining eligibility, is not clear. There needs to be a way to ensure that athletics does not get in the way of academics; a way to ensure that learning and classroom work is separate from money making by students. Will there be pressure on coaches to ensure the SAs are playing at the highest level? Will coaches be pressured by students or others when a player is benched, not given enough minutes of playtime or goes to the portal for transfer? Most athletes that are receiving NILs funds are either playing football or basketball, and mainly on men’s teams. Is there an issue of gender equity when it comes to paying players? Will institutions become sought out by high performing athletes because they bring in the most NILs money leaving other sports programs behind because of limited institutional support? High performing SAs already receive tuition, books, food and other compensations, though this affects only a small percentage of students. Most play a sport in college because they have done so their whole lives, love their sport and want to keep playing. 


There are important issues and concerns in the realm of pay for NILs that will affect academics, yet are not being discussed. The most important is determining the impact money will have on students’ academic experience. What are the options for ensuring a continued focus on academics? First, it is important for faculty to ensure that course syllabi are transparent and complete, clearly indicating the dimensions of how course work and testing will be measured and graded. All interaction with SAs, and in fact all students, must be in writing and filed. Colleges and universities should set up NILs committees or advisory councils that will be ready to hear, analyze and adjudicate issues, cases and matters involving SAs, team issues and questionable unethical incidents, practices and interactions. An SA advisory council or committee would be separate and apart from the institutional administration, but have the support of institution counsel. All contacts made to SAs by NILs supporters and payers should go through the advisory council or an institutional administrative office that can act as a barrier against unintended or intended unethical contacts, pressures, questionable suggestions or behaviors. Training should be provided to faculty, staff and students on how the NILs process works, how to keep academics separate from the NILs process and how to be part of the NILs process at least risk. The national government should set up an oversight agency within the DOL or DOE whose mission would be to identify unethical actions, encourage proper behavior, make meaningful connections and monitor influences between third party payers such as business collectives, firms, local businesses, community enterprises and students and their degree granting institutions. Colleges will have to play a more integral role with student athletes and their families to ensure that academics comes first and the risk factors of NILs are limited. 

AuthorMartin P. Sellers, PhD, MPA, MBA, is Dean of the School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in Harrogate, Tennessee. He led the creation of the MPA program at LMU in 2015 which went fully online in 2019. Before academics, he worked in all four levels of government, city, county, state and national, including a stint in the US Department of Agriculture. In addition, during a year as Dean of Research at LMU, he was able to encourage collaboration between diverse groups and develop pathways for collaborative scholarship.  He may be reached at [email protected] and @martysellers.

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