by Evan Rodriguez and Katherine Sheridan
With college basketball’s new image and likeness rules allowing players to make money while playing college basketball, student-athletes are continuing to capitalize on new opportunities. UConn players like point guard R.J. Cole and star guard Paige Bueckers are inking new deals with companies such as PSD underwear and Gatorade, respectively. However, is it truly worth it for college athletes to have these new opportunities or are they hurting the game? Staff writer Evan Rodriguez and campus correspondent Katherine Sheridan will attack this question in this week’s edition of point/counterpoint.
Evan: A famous UConn point guard by the name of Shabazz Napier described the scene of college basketball prior to NIL deals perfectly when he talked about the possibility of students being paid in 2014, saying, “We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough to get food.” Why should athletes be expected to starve and put on elite-caliber performances the following day when they could have access to money for food through NIL deals? Why shouldn’t athletes be allowed to use their hours of hard work on the court and turn that into cash they could use for necessities? The clear-cut answer is they should have access to those opportunities. It’s increasingly more obvious that the NCAA should allow college basketball athletes when you must consider how many men’s high school basketball athletes are considering the G-League as an option to showcase their talent while being paid over the NCAA, which previously didn’t allow student-athletes to profit off their image and likeness. When college basketball sees a clear path to massive revenue loss, they have to act. With student-athletes being able to profit off their image and likeness, they can now focus and play the game they love without involving the stress of money and necessities. College basketball can still profit while treating college basketball athletes with the respect they deserve.
Katherine: While it may be advantageous for these college athletes to learn to use their self-identity and brand as a monetary asset at an early age, NIL deals are kicking team dynamic and player self-esteem to the curb. If only a select few student-athletes begin to gain the attention of a well-established company and receive offers, what can a coach to do to motivate the rest of the team? The desire to perform has now been altered because there are different stakes in play for different members of the team. If there is such a drastic gap in status between the star point guard and a role player due to who has more brand deals, the team dynamic has now been shattered. The presence of NIL deals has also altered the decision-making from the bench. Coaches are challenged because they can no longer view playing time as a reward for hard work, now they must consider who needs to fulfill a certain amount of air time to maintain their status. The authenticity and fluidity of the game that we all love to watch is now being hindered by the pressure to play certain athletes over others. Another area NIL deals will threaten is the recruiting landscape and transfer portals for Division 1 athletics. Potential recruits will now be deciding where to play based on how likely they are to receive a brand deal, and with certain legislation set in place, there are only so many states that allow it in their jurisdiction. As a result, the level of play and talent will be greater in a concentrated area like the South. The NCAA was on the right track about treating its student-athletes like actual people, but it needs to rethink how these opportunities will plague the nature of competition.
Evan: Paige Bueckers has spoken on how NIL deals have been impacting team chemistry, saying, “It hasn’t impacted on our chemistry at all.” While in theory it may lower team chemistry, it doesn’t exactly have a massive effect on morale when the main focus continues to be basketball at the end of the day. UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma has made it clear to reporters that his athletes’ main focus is basketball, and that NIL deals are more of a side project for his players such as Bueckers and star freshman Azzi Fudd. These NIL deals are changing the lives of many athletes who currently struggle with money. We are even seeing team-wide NIL deals like UConn men’s basketball’s upcoming NFT deal with Openlocker, where multiple players will have a stake in the project. More schools are beginning to see these opportunities and are looking for additional opportunities for players to receive compensation. The positives are outweighing the negatives for college basketball, especially when players work extremely hard for their schools. Players deserve to receive equal compensation for their work in a world where college institutions have profited immensely while students suffered.
Katherine: Though UConn basketball has handled the rollout of NIL deals professionally, how can this process be regulated or maintained for other teams on different campuses? NIL deals highlight disparities across athletic programs. NIL deals only benefit those on high-caliber teams, so how is this a win for all student-athletes? There are only so many actions a student-athlete can take to gain the attention of a potential brand if they are on a collegiate team that is not as “popular” as another. The chance of opportunity is already lowered for those on certain teams due to the particular preference of the fan base and the campus’ priorities. Furthermore, male athletes are being offered and securing more brand deals than their female counterparts (who are putting in just as much time, if not more), so there is barely a horse in the race for our female athletes across the nation. If NIL deals are going to stick around, the NCAA and Division I campuses need to seriously consider how they can level the playing field for all student-athletes to show they actually care about their students.