College Athletes Get Ready to Score Some Serious Cash

For years, talk of college athletics revolved around high-minded ideals like the love of sport and competition, not money. But that didn’t keep schools or their athletic conferences from making billions from players’ efforts. Now athletes are finally on the brink of profiting from their success, thanks to a wave of state laws taking effect soon. That’s set the clock ticking for Congress and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to roll out their own changes or risk letting others reshape the world of college sports.

On July 1, student athletes in at least six states—including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Texas—will be able to earn money by doing things such as marketing themselves on social media and selling autographs. The uneven spread of name, image, and likeness (NIL) legislation has drawn the ire of the NCAA, which argues that a jumble of state rules will sow confusion and create unfair advantages for schools in states where top athletes can be paid.

At the behest of the NCAA, a divided Congress is working to advance a federal law that would immediately establish national standards for all college athletes. However, given several competing congressional bills and disagreement over the scope of the proposals, the state-level rollouts may be the ones that establish the initial rules.

“We could be in a position where it’d be a lot less chaotic, but it’s the selfishness and inability to evolve and relinquish some control from college coaches, athletic directors, and presidents,” says Dave Ridpath, a college sports expert and past president of the Drake Group, an organization that says it aims to protect academic integrity from the corrosive influence of commercialized college sports.

Colleges have long profited from their student athletes, who cannot take compensation for playing. New state laws could allow them to share in the bounty.