This situation has not only created an additional burden on coaches, but has added an additional layer of temptation for athletes to prioritize sport over academics. Even though few college athletes will play their sport at a professional level, some are blindly prioritizing their NIL money over everything. Athletic careers can be over in a second for a variety of reasons. Yet, few athletes ask themselves, “If my playing days were over or if I were not an athlete, would this college be the best fit for me given my other career goals.” The answer to this question needs to take precedence before any consideration of taking NIL money.
Instead of choosing a college that is best for their potential career, many athletes go to showcases first to see what colleges want them to play their sport. The showcase-first process is flawed because not all colleges offer the same quality of education and not all careers can be studied at every college. If a major is not offered, a student cannot study it. Not all academic departments between colleges or, even within a college, are of the same quality with regard to their professors, facilities, internship and job placement opportunities, etc. College may not even be necessary for the best career choice for a particular athlete.
A student’s goal should be to graduate college with a degree that affords them many high-quality choices to pursue a life-long career the person is passionate about. The college degree alone only certifies that the student completed the school’s curriculum for a particular major. The curriculum and the work experience afforded by the school’s placement department, or lack thereof, may not be respected by graduate schools or the working world. And the degree certainly does not certify the student will be happy in the career choices that the degree can offer them.
Approximately, 40% of college students today drop out and 46% of the students who graduate work in a career that does not require the degree they received. 33% work in a career that does not require a degree at all! With the exception of very few top athletes, the average NIL deal pays an athlete only a fraction of their annual tuition and expenses. Therefore, unless an athlete plays a sport that gives them a scholarship that pays for the entire tuition, NIL only partially finances the debt the student-athlete will incur to earn a degree they will never use or do not need.
An athlete cannot be assured the coaches and their teammates will be the same year-to-year because the NIL factors are causing coaches to leave the profession and teammates to transfer to other programs. If athletes prioritized career path and academics over sports, they could tell a coach who is recruiting them that they will stay with the program regardless of NIL money or playing time because their enrollment at the college was based first on the ability of the college to afford them the best education to pursue their career outside of the sport. This may be a scale-tipping factor on whether that athlete receives a scholarship over another one who is prioritizing NIL money and the sport.
Elite athletes deserve to be compensated for their talent. There is nothing inherently wrong with NIL money. Athletes just need to be careful that when they are considering it, they do not prioritize short-term money over their long-term career goals and happiness. In most cases, the short-term NIL money may just be an enticement that in the long-term will get them nothing more than a purely symbolic piece of paper.