SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — The other day, I went to the Syracuse Georgetown basketball game at the JMA Wireless Dome.
As I walked through the crowd, many people were wearing Joe Girard jerseys, one of the basketball team’s starters. The jerseys came from the university’s campus, and some of the money from the sales went straight into Girard’s pocket.
But that wouldn’t have been possible a year and a half ago. For decades, the NCAA had strict regulations that said student-athletes weren’t allowed to get paid.
They couldn’t take advantage of their status as major college players without being disqualified from playing again.
But that changed in the June 2021 Supreme Court case, Alston vs. NCAA. Dave Meluni, a sports management professor at Syracuse University’s Falk College, explained the case’s significance.
“The Alston case said from Judge Kavanaugh was that student-athletes should be provided with educational benefits, laptops, internships, up to $5,980 a student athlete,” said Meluni.
While the case was a major victory, what Kavanaugh said in his statement next would be the game changer.
“Basically, it was like the NCAA can’t control everything,” said Meluni.
And that wording led many state legislatures to pass bills allowing student-athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness, or NIL.
This had a domino effect of forcing the NCAA to finally announce an interim policy allowing players to make money via NIL endorsements when July 2021 began.
This changed everything for student-athletes, like former Syracuse lacrosse player Sam Swart, as endorsement offers came in.
“It took over our social medias. It took over my TikTok for me, it took over my Instagram, it made my Instagram go verified, it took over my USA Lacrosse, it really impacted a lot,” said Swart.
Professor Meluni explained that Swart’s story was a common story. Most players just post several sponsored ads on their social media pages as part of their deals. But as the new year approached, something else had entered the field.
”The number one thing that I’ve seen grow is a thing called a collective,” said Meluni.
Collectives are organizations, separate from a university, that pool money from donors and businesses to help connect players with NIL deals and opportunities.
Depending on where you look across the country, collectives are doing very different things. Some, like in Florida, just pay student-athletes huge sums of money to make a public appearance for donors.
The two collectives for Syracuse University players, The 315 Foundation and Athletes Who Care, are doing a different strategy. The 315 Foundation president Tony DeSorbo explained why the organization chose a different path.
”We didn’t think that that was going to be a sustainable way to go about doing this. So we thought that we had to have some value ads,” said DeSorbo. “And the value ads that we offer are that student-athletes are going to learn about the impact and power and feel good about themselves for doing philanthropic work.”
What DeSorbo meant is that while the two collectives pay Syracuse players, instead of connecting them with businesses, they must do charity work as part of their agreement.
That raised a question amongst fans: Is it really charity if they’re getting paid?
DeSorbo argued yes because of the positive feedback the foundation had gotten from everyone involved. But he did acknowledge that money had become a huge factor for student-athletes, especially with recruiting.
”Athletes are asking additional questions when they’re being recruited beyond “Hey, what are your facilities like? How much playing time? Can you offer me? How great is the coaching staff? How well will you develop me?” said DeSorbo. “All those questions were always asked. But today, they also want to know, “What kind of income can I make?”
Swart saw the money have an impact not just with athletes but with fans themselves when they saw her endorsements with brands like Fabletics, a fitness apparel company.
”You don’t even look at players anymore,” said Swart. “You look at who they’re sponsored by. For me, people look at Fabletics, and they’re like, ‘Oh, Sammy Swart is sponsored by them!’ So it changes the game 100%.”
As of now, Professor Meluni estimated most athletes at Syracuse make a couple thousand dollars a year.
But with the rapid rise of collectives and endorsement opportunities, DeSorbo believed that number could grow.
”I don’t see NIL going away anytime in the near future,” said DeSorbo. “I think it’s going to grow in importance. And I think student-athletes are going to become more and more driven by financial decisions as much as they are about the other things that I talked about earlier.”
The NCAA requested that Congress step in and help regulate the NIL market. But as of the time of this writing, that appeared to be unlikely.