Looking Ahead: How Will NIL Affect Student-Athlete Academic Performance?


  • Ashton Henderson, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Detroit Pistons & Current President of N4A (Moderator)
  • Lynda Wray Black, Associate Professor of Law & Faculty Athletics Representative, University of Memphis & 1A FAR Board Member
  • Kimya Massey, Senior Associate Athletic Director, Student Athlete Development & Chief Diversity Officer for Athletics, Oregon State Athletics
  • Don Bruce, Professor of Economics & Faculty Athletics Representative, University of Tennessee & 1A FAR Board Member

Webinar Recap

Now several weeks into the NIL era in college sports, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) hosted its latest webinar panel on the intersection between NIL and student-athlete academic performance. Academics has always been a bedrock principle of intercollegiate athletics, so it is natural to discuss how increased time spent attempting to monetize one’s brand could affect performance in the classroom. Here are the key takeaways from the panel.

  • Academics is inherently built into the NIL equation. According to Don Bruce, a Professor of Economics and Faculty Athletics Representative at the University of Tennessee, a student-athlete’s NIL is maximized when the student-athlete is participating in intercollegiate sport. Obviously, student-athletes must meet certain educational standards to maintain their collegiate athletics eligibility, thus, it follows that academics is still paramount as it relates to NIL so that student-athletes can participate in their respective sports. At least from an NCAA standpoint, it seems that the new NIL rule changes will not affect current association academic standards, including GPA and progress towards degree requirements.
  • Student-athletes are already on their phones, but NIL may help academia get their attention.Student-athletes, like most other 17–24-year-olds, already prioritize their mobile devices. NIL will only increase this trend; however, academia can use NIL as a “tool,” to communicate to student-athletes the importance of maintaining their eligibility. In other words, being ineligible will undermine a student-athlete’s NIL. So, there are very much new incentives for student-athletes to succeed in the classroom.
  • At this point, it is hard to tell whether there will be any direct correlation between NIL and diminished academics, but NIL has the potential to augment the educational experience. According to Bruce, many factors could affect student-athlete academic performance, not just NIL, so it will be difficult to read any direct correlation between increased NIL opportunities and lowered academic performance. Yet, college sports and higher education should still be open to this possibility. According to Kimya Massey, Senior Associate Athletic Director at Oregon State, and Lynda Wray Black, Associate Professor of Law and Faculty Athletics Representative at the University of Memphis, positive experiences, outside of just making money, can occur from NIL such as entrepreneurship, learning to read a contract, and being involved in the community. In terms of “categorizing” NIL within an institutional policy context, Bruce views NIL like “outside employment,” which is covered by many current institutional policies, and not exempted for missed class time. In other words, NIL can be used to underscore academics, but the current academic structure may not be accommodated for additional time spent on NIL activities.
  • It is unlikely that academic performance will decrease with NIL but messaging the importance of academics remains paramount. The panel agreed that but for a relatively small number of student-athletes, while NIL may serve as a distraction from academics, they still do not anticipate major academic issues for most student-athletes. Of course, there are likely to be some ineligibility issues given that there are thousands of student-athletes, but the panel expects that to be few and far between. But messaging is still critical. According to Black, NIL could broaden the educational mission of the enterprise and even enhance the desire for students to learn more at the high school level. These sorts of messages should be communicated from academia to student-athletes.
  • There are mental health concerns. According to Massey, NIL may negatively impact student-athlete mental health and even locker room culture. Seeing NIL opportunities potentially diminish due to lack of playing time, or other student-athletes getting better NIL opportunities, for example, could be disheartening for student-athletes, and lead to increased mental health concerns. The college sports community must consider these hypotheticals and be ready to help student-athletes as needed.