Last Updated on April 26, 2023
While most name, image and likeness attention is focused on Power 5 Conference student athletes, the majority of student athletes participate in college athletics at a variety of different levels. NAIA institutions and student athletes are often neglected in the NIL conversation despite their large number and overall impact on the community.
As an organization, the NAIA has a rich history of legislation, policies, and programming that consistently focuses on student athlete experience as its primary goal. For example, the NAIA has long promoted its “Champions of Character” initiative with a clear goal of endorsing core values, created the Student-Athlete Wellness Center, and removed NIL regulations nine months before the NCAA. Though the NIL prospects for NAIA student athletes are available, the process is often misunderstood or overlooked.
The NAIA has no required reporting system or regulation on compensation for NIL; conferences and institutions are responsible for their own guidelines based on state laws. This is significant as it allows each institution to decide how it wants to handle NIL situations.
Currently, many NAIA institutions require an NIL disclosures, but most do not provide resources for student athletes to capitalize on their NIL, abdicating that responsibility to the NAIA. In early 2022, the NAIA launched the NIL Marketplace. The Marketplace allows student athletes to streamline deals and market themselves in a secure, monitored platform.
Additionally, the NAIA secured a partnership with Opendorse, providing each user “a full NIL assessment detailing their NIL value, giving student athletes a clear outlook of what they stand to gain from completing deals with brands and fans in their community.”
Suggestions for NAIA Athletic Departments
While it is clear that high profile student NAIA athletes are making significant income on their NIL, the majority of student athletes will make little or nothing. It would behoove NAIA institutions to consider an internal NIL program to help student athletes navigate the process.
When evaluating the best way to help student athletes navigate this terrain, an institutional collective would be an excellent option for an NAIA institution. While the NCAA prohibits institutions from sourcing, facilitating, or brokering NIL deals for their students, the NAIA has no such regulation.
At larger institutions, organizations called “collectives” have been formed to help provide NIL opportunities to student athletes. There are three types of collectives: marketplace collectives (a meeting place for student athletes and advertisers), donor driven collectives (money from boosters which is divided and disseminated to student athletes), and dual collectives (a combination of the two).
NAIA institutions should consider a modified dual collective. This could be done through utilization of the NAIA’s marketplace with institutional oversight.
Most NAIA athletic departments rely heavily on fundraising and support from the local community. Through an institutional marketplace collective, the athletic administration has the opportunity to serve as a bridge between local business and the student athlete while serving both institution and student athlete in four specific areas:
- Brand protection and promotion. One unique aspect of the NAIA’s NIL regulation is that student athletes can wear school apparel and use the institution’s branding, depending on state regulations and institutional guidelines. An institutional collective allows for institutions to manage their branding in these deals and becomes advertising for the institution when a student athlete promotes a product.
- Donor regulation. As previously mentioned, college and universities rely heavily on fundraising. In smaller communities, this means the same businesses and donors are contacted for a variety of fundraising needs. By creating an institutional collective and providing oversight, the institution can protect its important relationships with local business and donors.
- Brokering deals. An institution has resources and connections that NAIA student athletes simply do not. The collective would allow businesses and donors to work with an expert at the institution to guide the NIL process for individual deals, team deals, or all-department deals.
- Student Athlete guidance. The NIL process is extremely new and few student athletes have an understanding of the process. The institution can provide oversight through the collective and walk alongside student athletes in the process.
The Future of NIL for NAIA
From the Champions of Character Initiative to the Student-Athlete Wellness Center, the NAIA clearly cares about creating a student athlete experience that is built on developing the whole person. The NAIA set the standard by allowing student athletes to earn compensation based on their NIL, and their allowance of institutional oversight of the deals creates an opportunity for institutions and student athletes.
In all, this summary and recommendation should benefit the institution, the athletic departments, but more notably these suggestions assist student athletes as they navigate the new landscape of college athletics.