Last Wednesday, Ben Jones published a column on this site in which he asked five questions for Penn State head football coach James Franklin. The last had to do with the “ever-changing landscape of image and likeness of name (NIL)”. The premise was that it looks like Penn State is still behind in this NIL race. Ben’s question was, “What does Franklin think Penn State — and more importantly the money in Penn State’s orbit — needs to do to bring the program and the athletic department up to speed?”
As a parent of a current D1 FBS football player and a Penn State donor and member of the Nittany Lion Club, I have a suggestion. Although, because state laws and NCAA regulations have some limitations in what can be done regarding NIL, this is a suggestion primarily directed at, as Ben said, money in Penn State’s orbit.
There are three types of student-athletes when it comes to scholarships: those who get full athletic scholarships that pay for tuition, room and board, books, fees, and money; those who obtain partial sports scholarships which pay part of their study costs; and those who get no scholarship and pay for their full education while participating in varsity sport.
As Mike Poorman pointed out on these pages, the value of a full athletic scholarship for a Penn State football player who stays four years is $251,178 if the player is a resident of Pennsylvania, or $355,741 if the player is from outside Pennsylvania. ‘State. These student-athletes have no education-related expenses, and they receive money — nearly $5,000 a year — to help cover “participation fees.”
It’s no coincidence that it’s from this subset of full scholarship student-athletes that the most likely candidates for the extra NIL money come. The big-name players who have the best chance of making money with NIL are those whose names make headlines, who get playing time and, in most cases, have a full purse. Essentially, the rich get richer. They are also the ones I am not at all interested in helping because my Nittany Lion Club donations and ticket purchases already do.
As a fan who cares about my own bills, if I want to get involved in the NIL support game with the discretionary money I have, the student-athletes I would be interested in supporting are those who pay their own way to be on these university teams. Extras who do everything stock players do as far as the team goes, but get no financial benefit, and lots of NULL opportunities.
In that sense of fairness, if I were to start a NIL group to help student-athletes at Penn State, it would be for one purpose: to make sure that every student-athlete had the cost of their tuition and room and pension covered. If a coach feels that a student-athlete is good enough to play for his team at Penn State, and that coach is going to demand the same commitment from every member of that team, regardless of scholarship status, then there should be a mechanism so that the student-athlete’s tuition, food and housing will be covered. An added benefit from a team unity perspective is that it creates a better possibility for a “one team” atmosphere rather than the “haves = have-nots” atmosphere when some players have scholarships, some might have partials and some don’t.
So what are we talking about here? Penn State has 858 student-athletes who receive 371.4 scholarships in total — meaning that to achieve this equity goal, we’ll need money to cover the equivalent of 486.6 “scholarships” each year. Let’s assume that half of these additional student-athletes receiving NIL “scholarships” are PA residents and the other half are from out of state, and we’ll use tuition, fees , current room and board of $32,270 and $51,635 respectively. Which gives us a total need of just over $20.4 million per year.
A NIL group that followed this equity goal could raise money from donors, show how much money was needed to fully pay for each student-athlete’s participation, track progress, distribute funds to non-scholarship athletes of each team and inform the donors. who received the money. Like I said, if I were to donate some of my hard-earned money to the middle class to support student-athletes at Penn State, this is the type of group I would give it to.
Certainly, the group would need to navigate all the myriad name, image and likeness rules established not only by the state and the NCAA, but by Penn State itself, in order for these student-athletes to receive support. money for using their NIL which followed all these rules. And of course, part of my donation should be used to cover the costs of verifying compliance with these rules. For example, from the two “NIL collectives” currently listed on the Penn State Athletics website – Success With Honor and We Are – Success With Honor estimates that 10-15% of donor money will be used to cover operating expenses. Which seems very reasonable.
Except that setting up and running these collectives, including the one I’m proposing, takes a lot of time, energy and money, which seems to duplicate a donation system that already exists – the Nittany Lion Club, whose primary mission is “to provide scholarships to student-athletes at Penn State University. Except that under applicable law and NCAA rules, the Nittany Lion Club cannot be involved in NIL student-athlete money.
Now I am all in favor of NIL, by extension these collectives and especially any collective like the one I have described that is dedicated to ensuring that every student-athlete has the cost of their tuition and housing and covered meals. But, if I had my way, the NCAA would – and should – render the need for my NIL equity group obsolete. How? By eliminating all limits on the number of scholarships colleges can award in any sport, and instead simply limit the size of the roster for each sport.
How would that make my NIL equity group obsolete? Because if scholarship limits are eliminated, colleges themselves will have the ability to decide whether each student-athlete has their full education costs covered. That doesn’t mean they have to, and in many cases schools may not offer scholarships to every member of every varsity sport, but they could. And for those who do, my NIL equity group need no longer exist.
There are other added benefits of this scenario, one being that, as I noted, it uses a donation system already in place – the school booster club. The second is that I will donate to Penn State and no matter how professional a NIL group is, I will always feel better about where my money is going. Third, in most cases, Penn State is a much better investor than most, and any principal would have a better chance of growing in their endowment than in a NIL group.
But while I would really like to see the NCAA eliminate purse limits, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. So if I made a suggestion to ‘the money in Penn State’s orbit’ on how they should level up in the NIL race, it would be a dedicated NIL collective to help defray the costs of participating in those Penn State student-athletes in all sports who don’t have full scholarships. I, and maybe many others like me, might consider donating a few dollars to this effort.