Name, Image, and Likeness is a new phenomenon allowing collegiate athletes to capitalize on their talents similar to the world of professional sports. It is an opportunity for athletes to use their identity in return for exposure, opportunity, or money from brands, companies, or sponsors. With over 25 NCAA Division I sports teams competing in the Ivy League, Penn claims to support their student athletes who want to participate in NIL activities, but are they carrying out their promise?
As a former student athlete myself, I can attest that NIL is a huge advantage to being a collegiate athlete. It helps us gain outside recognition, support, money, or opportunities which can be limited with a busy schedule. I have seen the benefit of NIL through teammates and friends who took part in the opportunity, and were greatly successful.
While playing a varsity sport has perks, such as a team environment and athlete-specific resources, the sacrifice is large and can go unnoticed. Most athletes at Penn are practicing twice a day, on weekends, and participating in weights and lifts, team activities, games, and competitions, all the while handling a university workload and social schedule.
In addition to the NCAA-predetermined time-consuming schedule of being a student athlete, pressures from coaches and teammates to do even more than required are prevalent. One example is the off training season. While the NCAA does not consider any training in the off season mandatory, athletes are expected to participate anyway. This can make minimal free time even more scarce.
Time to study and succeed in school and clubs is already minimized, let alone time for a job. Most sports are more time intensive than a part time job with none of the monetary benefits. Especially at a school that does not offer athletic scholarships, NIL is critical for some students to earn money to pay for school and their everyday lifestyle.
In a recent interview with Penn’s NCAA compliance lawyer and associate athletic director Rachel Kuperinsky, we discussed the University's stance on NIL activities and where it’s headed. She defines NIL as an opportunity for a student athlete to use their name, image, or likeness in exchange for goods, money, or opportunity. She adds, “At Penn specifically, it’s an opportunity for athletes to make money in a new way,” which can be used to help support them as young adults. I definitely have seen examples of this in our own athletic department.
Kuperinsky went on to say that NIL has benefitted the athletes that have taken advantage of it. She mentions the most popular way our students use NIL is by representing products they use every day, like Liquid I.V. or a sports drink. Penn’s athletes mainly use NIL to support a product or brand they like rather than becoming mainstream celebrities in college sports. As a school, Penn’s notoriety, athletic program, and NIL program is weaker than at other schools. Kuperinsky added that our strong focus on academics as an institution could be a factor leading to a smaller program in general.
Could Penn do more to support athletes through this important opportunity? Schools aren’t allowed to be agents for NIL activities due to NCAA policies. While the exact differences between NIL programs at other schools are complicated, some universities have seen more success regarding NIL due to collectives. Collectives are groups started by alumni to help fund NIL activity. However, there hasn’t been a collective started at Penn yet.
As someone who was a competitive athlete for most of my life, I think I could’ve really benefited from a chance to monetize based off of my own athletic work and achievements. For example, because my primary season was the summer, it was hard to find time for a summer job outside of practicing. For me, and for many athletes with struggles similar to mine, a chance to make money from doing a sport you love and exceed at would be an amazing opportunity. I think Kuperinsky recognizes this, and I agree with her that NIL is a beneficial addition to college sports.
I also learned in the interview that Penn doesn’t allow their student athletes to use the Penn name or logo in any NIL-related activities. This, while not uncommon, overall shows a lack of support for these athletes by the University, and could be due to protecting the brand of the University.
I believe a larger NIL program would also mean a stronger athletics program at the University, because it is attractive to athletes going through the recruiting process. Kuperinsky says Penn will continue to expose student athletes to NIL in every way possible, and that further NCAA guidance will be helpful in the future, because NIL as a whole is a new concept in college sports. I think as the NCAA continues to review and revise NIL policy, we will see more NIL in collegiate athletic programs as a whole.
I agree with Kuperinsky’s statements, and learned a lot from my time talking to her. I think Penn’s direction to keep exposing students to NIL activity shows support and a positive direction for Penn athletics as a whole in the future. While we are on the right track, I encourage the University to continue to prioritize athletic support, as it is critical to the development of our student athletes academically, emotionally, and physically.
ANNIE BINGLE is a College first year from Connecticut. Her email is email@example.com.