For all the talk about it, NIL isn’t deeply understood by anyone, due in large part to its underlying structure of varying state laws and vague NCAA rules.

While some things are clear in terms of what college athletes can and can’t do in terms of NIL deals, there are also a lot of gray areas. 

Here is a look at what is known, and what falls under the category of “we won’t know until we try it.” 

Things College Athletes Can Do Under NIL

Hire an agent 

How times have changed. In the past, this used to be the hard dividing line between amateur and pro.

Previously, if a college athlete hired an agent, their eligibility was gone, and they had no choice but to turn pro. 

Under NIL, all the top stars have agents or have signed with agencies to help manage the flood of opportunities being thrown their way. 

Sign up with service providers

Want to find deals, manage contracts, or stay in compliance? As an athlete, you can use a whole host of services to make your life easier.

There’s Cameo for fan interaction, INFLCR for compliance, and Dreamfield for finding and being found for NIL deals—as well as handling contracts and payment.

Sign your own deals

You can sign a deal on your own, without using an agent, a marketplace, or any other intermediaries.

The downside to this approach is all the admin work—including but not limited to complying with NCAA and state regulations and making sure you get paid for the work.

Get help with compliance questions from schools

Schools aren’t supposed to be involved in facilitating or signing deals for their student-athletes. What they can do under the NCAA rules is act as a resource to help you understand the ramifications of these deals.

There is a bit of gray area here, as some states don’t have laws that keep schools from being involved in deals, so schools can make their own policies. 

The Built Brands deal to pay the tuition of BYU’s football walk-ons is one example. The company was already a sponsor of BYU football, and the endorsement deal was made with the entire team. 

It seemingly doesn’t violate the restriction against “pay to play” that is key in the NCAA rules, but it certainly raised some eyebrows.

Things College Athletes Can’t Do Under NIL


Simply put, this means that you cannot be compensated strictly for your athletic performance.

It also means that you cannot receive money or benefits with the aim of influencing your decision to sign with a particular school.

This has been the cornerstone of eligibility rules for decades, and it remains unchanged even now in the NIL era.

Donors or “boosters” (supporters of a school) cannot hand players money on the condition that they sign with or play for their school’s team.

Make deals that aren’t “fair market value”

The linchpin of the NCAA’s vague rules on NIL is that the deals must be for fair market value.

So a corporation cannot hand an athlete $2 million for one Instagram story or one Tweet, because no one else gets that kind of deal.

That’s an extreme example, and the idea of fair market value is a bit murky because it can mean different things to different people.

If there are a hundred NIL deals paying $1,000 for a month of tweets, and a deal gets reported that is $100,000 for the same thing, it’s going to get noticed. 

Collective bargaining

As it currently stands, there is no way for a business to make NIL deals with multiple teams or an entire conference like the SEC.

This will remain the case until college athletes are allowed to unionize like their pro counterparts, at which time the union could make large-scale deals on the behalf of all players. This is known as collective bargaining.

This is what makes the return of the NCAA Football video game, the most requested product in the college sports marketing sphere, currently impossible.

The creators would have to make an individual NIL deal with every single player in order to put them in the game.

Things College Athletes Might Be Able To Do Under NIL

So many things are dependent on state rules, most of which are different from other states. When states have no rules at all, the fallback is to use the vague NCAA framework. 

What that means is that it isn't 100% clear what you athletes and businesses can and can't do under NIL. This will be the case until Congress implements federal guidelines.

We’ll update this post as things change.

Wear their team’s colors and logos

The NIL laws adopted by most states prohibit athletes from wearing the colors and logos of their school and team as part of their NIL deals.

This is because the rights to market those various trademarks are already owned by whatever apparel partners each school chooses to partner with. 

Some schools, however, are making deals with players to let them do just that. On the very first day of NIL, LSU declared their athletes could wear all the school’s trademarks and logos. 

This makes LSU players even more attractive to brands looking to partner with them. This is all part of LSU’s plan to use NIL as a recruiting tool. 

Accept gifts

Athletes cannot accept gifts under NIL rules. All benefits given to athletes must be tied to some sort of exchange, like being paid for promoting a business on social media.

But where is the line, and who is even watching, what kind of performance is required of a deal?

If a car lot gives an athlete a vehicle, with the promotion requirement of “being seen around town” driving said car, how does that get measured or tracked?

This, much like the majority of NIL deals, is going to be subjective and up to the auspices of an individual school or official to adjudicate.

One person’s gift, after all, is another person’s endorsement deal.

Appear in video games

As was stated in the “Can’t Do” section, athletes cannot appear in officially licensed NCAA video games due to the governing body’s prohibition on group licensing and the lack of collective bargaining power on behalf of all college athletes.

This technically wouldn’t stop a game studio from contracting individually with players to appear in their game, or approaching a school or even conference about working with all their players.

The amount of work and effort that would take makes the idea seem far-fetched, but stranger things have happened.

So today, if someone wanted to make “SEC Football 2022”, they could do so, and rabid football fans would probably buy it.