Why Allowing College Athletes to Profit Off Their Name, Image and Likeness Is the Right Call

Brandon Viall Editorials 78 Comments

There is a little known fact about the original Olympians: they were paid!

You read that right. These athletes were not “amateur” in the purist sense, and neither are today’s college athletes. The hard truth a lot of people don’t want to accept is that amateurism in college athletics is a myth, and, really, this isn’t a new argument.

However, some sports lovers aren’t even aware of how we got here in the first place. It’s important to understand the origins of amateurism and how it evolved into what it is today. Understanding this will make it easier to see why college athletes should be (and finally are being) compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness. This is a separate issue from player demands for a slice of conference revenue.

The Origins of Amateurism

The original Olympians were handsomely rewarded for their time and effort — to the tune of 500 drachma for winning an athletic competition.  This was a sum so immense that an Olympian could live off it for the rest of their days. Other types of compensation included women, additional money and land. Additionally, athletes could also be paid using concert tickets, free meals for life and even tax exemptions. In the modern sense of the phrase, amateurism came into use during the return of the modern Olympics in 1896. According to the film Schooled, its purpose was to separate the lower-class and upper-class sporting experiences.

The version of amateurism adopted by the NCAA prior to its recent changes was invented in 1951 and put into practice by Walter Byers. The idea of the “student-athlete” was largely invented by Byers to avoid workers’ compensation claims like the one filed by former TCU running back Kent Waldrep in 1974, after he was paralyzed from the waist down by a hit sustained while playing the University of Alabama.

Gadson Times

Former Texas Christian University running back Kent Waldrep.

In essence, the NCAA’s purpose, rather than simply to ensure the academic and athletic success of student-athletes, became that of a cartel, whose object was to keep the cost of athletes as low as possible (a college education and nothing else). Some have said, as was posited in an article on this site, that the athletes should be happy with what they get. While this sentiment is understandable, and a college education can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, colleges are making far more than that off the athletes’ labor.

The High Cost (and Profits) of College Athletics

Athletes place their bodies and even their lives at risk. Examples range from players dying due to the flying wedge, to Willis McGahee’s knee injury against Ohio State in the 2003 National Championship, to Alabama’s Tyrone Prothero nearly losing his leg to an injury in a game against Florida in October 2005. To make matters worse, colleges are not obligated to carry medical insurance for student athletes. Rather, the parents’ insurance is considered the primary insurance.

It’s not surprising, then, that athletes are asking for a piece of the pie. And it’s a very lucrative pie, indeed. In 2019, the NCAA recorded a revenue of $867 million (Statista.com) after recording over $1 billion in profit in 2016 (ESPN.com). It’s true that overall revenue isn’t the same as overall profit, but the point is that a lot of money is being made off these athletes. Colleges make billions in tickets sales, donations, T.V. contracts, corporate sponsorships, licensing and merchandise (approximately 12.6 billion in 2013).

From Twitter

NCAA president Mark Emmert has finally agreed to let athletes use their name image, and likeness.

The NCAA is fully aware of its role as a farm system for the professional leagues, and there can be little doubt that it has used that position to its advantage. Since 2006, the last year a player could enter the NBA out of high school, a total of three U.S.-born athletes in basketball and football combined have made it to the pros without first attending college. In announcing its decision to allow student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) just like any other student, Mark Emmert and the NCAA finally began to release its choke-hold on them.

Going Pro in College

The benefit of this system is that it allows athletes to receive compensation for their skills by virtue of capitalizing on their names, images and likenesses without placing the NCAA or athletic department budgets at risk. Professor Gabe Feldman, who has done extensive research on this topic, discussed this concept well before the NCAA adopted a nearly identical model to his proposal. It’s worth highlighting that, even prior to these changes, the NCAA had a way for college athletes to go pro, provided it wasn’t in the sport they were going to school for.

From Twitter

Ashford is a dual threat quarterback who could possibly play baseball.

One such example is that of Drew Henson signing a multi-million dollar contract to play baseball for the New York Yankees’ minor league team while playing football at Michigan. Another is that of former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke getting the chance to earn $400,000 while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league affiliate.  One final example from the University of Oregon itself is that of dual threat quarterback Robby Ashford. Ashford is a new recruit who has not played professional baseball, but could possibly do so, much like former University of Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon.

Admittedly, the system is not perfect, and there will be flaws. Some athletes might make more than others, which could create tension. Even with these shortcomings, at least student athletes now have the same freedom that their non-athletic counterparts have. What the debate over college athletes getting paid is really about, beyond the fame, the money and the accolades, is the opportunity to be heard.

It’s about equality of opportunity, not necessarily equality of outcome.

Brandon Viall
Missoula, Montana
Top Photo by Tom Corno

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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Fires Imperil Springfield and maybe Eugene?

Massive forest fires first ran through near Vida, (up the McKenzie River) McKenzie Bridge with catastrophic losses at Blue River. People are being evaluated all the way east to Walterville, of which is just over the bridge from east Springfield!

The problem is 90 degree days, dry-as-a-bone conditions, and instead of winds coming from the west or south….they are coming from the east with gusts up to 40 miles an hour and driving the fires to our lap.

The Christmas Store on the way up the pass? Gone. As are tons of homes and we do not yet know the fatalities yet. My sister-in-law is worried with evacuations taking place only 10 blocks from her.

The evacuation center is being moved from Thurston High School to Silke Field at South Eugene High.

The last two mornings were like a Nuclear winter; it was orange outside with smoke blocking medium term visibility and ashes falling everywhere.

Anne was right; the air quality is horrible, and the game with the Buckeyes probably would have been cancelled.

2020 is a witch!

It is interesting that there are few reports about the damage other than a few pictures here and there. The North Santiam, Highway 22, has been devastated. The road across the mountains won’t be the same, ever. 2020 is 3/4 over, and the last quarter, is hopefully, more like the first quarter, than the middle half.

God bless you all in the face of the flames. GD it, trim the forests!


100% agree with this article. I’ll take it one step further, what the athlete does off the field is not NCAA’s business unless it’s against the law. It’s ridiculous how the players are regulated by the NCAA. The purity code of amateurism is way outdated in the current environment. College football is a billion dollar business. Coaches earn millions. The NCAA and schools should focus more on the education side of the equation IMO.


In other news, joining Penei Sewell, Deommodore Lenoir has chosen to declare for the NFL draft and forgo this season, whenever it might be.

Santa Rosa Duck

Real good first time article Brandon. Lots for me to think about. I do think that NIL will create lots of problems, plus envy plus athletes and agents and perhaps some coaches who quickly learn to “game the system”.

Off topic: Is everyone having fun right now? Here in Sonoma County it is hot, smoky and our beloved PG&E has turned off the power for many in my neighborhood. Oh well I get to look forward to going to Medford on Sunday for my annual fly fishing trip to the Rogue to chase the wily steelhead. Well my buddy just cancelled and the air quality looks lousy. But at this moment I am still thinking I will go, probably wishful thinking. GO DUCKS!


Isn’t this just a reaction to the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit in 2009? The courts ruled the student athletes have to be compensated for the image, likeness being used?

Instead of the NCAA leading on some of the issues you so rightly, like insurance against injury, brought up, they are just doing what they have to do.

This leads us to the athletes demanding too much and what will probably be more lawsuits.

What we need instead is leadership towards more academic compensation. We need to keep the student athlete model alive, and compensate the student athlete more justly with more academic opportunity.


I think the health and education is where the NCAA and the individual colleges should focus the change on. The wealth of the student athletes will take care of itself if they do that. Just like anything and anybody, when short term wealth is the goal, it becomes short term wealth.

Jon Joseph

NO. It’s a reaction to CA and numerous other states approving NIL for student-athletes.


Hey, a side note here, it’s not even noon yet and you’re already busting the 30 comment mark. I have a feeling this one is going to be a pretty well discussed article by the end of the day. Thumbs up to getting people involved!!!

Mike West

I will try to be brief. Not a good habit of mine.

I’m sure many Greybeards remember the recruiting scandals of the 70s and 80s. Plenty of times a recruit would get side money, cars etc. Well, that will probably “need” to come back given the HUGE divide in revenue the “popular” recruits will rake in compared to the “scrubs/benchwarmers/second string group.

NIL, while long overdue, is going to create major resentment among players in my opinion. For me, I certainly hope schools develop serious revenue streams for the “left behind“ using NLI as a platform for those unlucky individuals.

As far as the envy players experience after seeing all these billions the schools generate, I have a few takes.

  1. At $2million over four years “compensation”, the players are getting the equivalent of a minimum NFL package for every NFL player that makes a roster each year. Every single college football player.
  2. Although the players usually don’t graduate (far too few), they DO have access to not only some of the best education money can buy, they also get access to at least a dozen connections that give them opportunities to thrive once they leave school. Something ordinary students do not get access to. I’m sure the schools don’t teach them this, but my God, how can you not exploit the connections the schools themselves access? Isn’t that a matter of simply paying attention to the platform in front of you (now I’m sure most parents don’t recognize this “asset” either, but it is sitting right in front of them).
  3. Stanford just cancelled several athletic programs. Does that not show schools aren’t necessarily exploiting the football and basketball players (on a simple level here)? Football and Basketball subsidize not only other sports, but they finance all those multi million dollar athletic facilities.
  4. Profit funds SURVIVAL. No profit, no program. No future. And while the average business enterprise spends two thirds of their revenues on labor, that model won’t sustain college athletics (and pro athletes really should pine for part ownership instead of disproportionate salaries for the stars of the leagues in my opinion-that guarantees future revenue once they’re done playing).

This issue is complex. It has exposed the selfish NCAA for what they are, but excess revenues are critical to the survival of any enterprise. The schools have simply shown little regard for the overall welfare of the student athletes. Something we are all guilty of silently approving.


OT: Even without COVID, I guess the Ohio State game here would have probably been canceled due to the smoke and fires.


According to ESPN, in San Francisco the Air Quality is currently measured at 60. The game between the 49ers & Panthers won’t be played if the AQ reaches 200 by Sunday.


I certainly understand the players’ ire at the current system. All of us should disagree and feel angry when we look at commissioner Scott’s over $13 million salary and offices.

However, NIL is inherently riddled with inequality. I know that ‘share of revenue’ has all sorts of problems such as probably making the players employees in the eyes of the IRS, etc.; but a smaller reasonable share of revenue distributed evenly among all players in all sports would be a much more fair and equitable system, as well as putting some sort of limits on salaries for administrators, coaches, etc. Why not limit those salaries to make the system work for everybody and save college sports, if the players’ amount is limited also?

My daughter ran track and cross country for a division 2 school. In order to compete, she was forced to carry her own insurance, which originally cost her about $80 – $90 a month, which basically meant she was ‘subsidizing’ her school’s sports teams to the tune of around $1000 a year while going to school and not being able to make any income. College debt is becoming a mountainous problem in our country. Why should college sports add to students’ debt?

Then the ‘Affordable Care Act’ came into being, and my daughter’s insurance skyrocketed to well over $200 a month because of being forced to include and pay for things like maternity and alcoholism coverage and on and on, etc. Of course this could not be afforded, so her only option was to apply for and receive government provided health insurance, which she certainly qualified for since she had no income, because, of course, she was attending school full time working on two degrees at the same time as representing her school in a year-around sport. Now the school was basically shifting it’s responsibility not only to the student, but also to the state in which she was attending school and all it’s taxpayers.

This is simply wrong at the same time as administrators and coaches haul in millions in the system. I love college athletics. But in these pandemic and tumultuous times, i would almost rather see the system come tumbling down than to see it become even more stratified and unfair.

In time of pandemic social discord is inevitable”

Mike West

Great Doneal.


I really like your second paragraph. Fifty years ago the money wasn’t as rampant as it is now; the billions in network contracts, shoe deals for coaches, millions of dollars for an incompetent commissioner, a distribution among all the athletes should be a part of a new system.

Jon Joseph

What in this world is not affected by ‘inequality?’

Not all of us have the genes to be Einstein or Shak.

Jon Joseph

I entirely agree. And the gal or guy who sells more Wheaties should make the biggest bank.

Interesting that in my generation we were taught that someone will always be better than you in something. You do the best you can and attempt to excel at something. You have rights but also have first and foremost, responsibilities. Do your best.

Our ‘self esteem’ was not a big issue. And only ‘winners’ and not all participant’s got trophies.

I for one, among many in this world. made more $ doing what I did than did the people who reported to me. If we had all been paid the same I doubt that I would have showed up at 6 AM and worked to 7 PM on a ‘average’ day.

For the better student-athletes not to get paid is as wrong as the star NFL QB not making more $ than does his all pro right guard..

There is a difference between the 3rd string guy earning a scholly and a stipend and the star player bringing folks into the stands. And his efforts helping to pay multi-million $ coaches salaries and covering the costs of non-revenue sports.

And this has to be and will be gender-neutral. Sabrina should have been ‘paid’. before arriving in the WNBA.


The problem is, if this inequality of pay is allowed to run rampant within recruiting.

Ask yourself how many NFL teams there would be if the NFL did not do revenue sharing and did not have a draft, but each team was allowed to ‘recruit’ out of college and keep every bit of revenue they could instead of revenue sharing. 16? 20? Certainly not 32. The system works because everybody has agreed to some rules that benefit all, including the biggest profit-making teams agreeing to take a little less than what would be their cut without these agreements and drafting lower.

That is probably the number of P5 teams you would have left eventually also. In this scenario, unless Uncle Phil left a huge endowment, eventually Oregon would most likely not be one of these top teams. And how many non-revenue sports would last? The new Hayward could end up looking like the Roman Coliseum.

I have no problem with NIL. It is the least troublesome way to get student athletes more ‘share’. But if it is allowed to be extended into recruiting etc., all bets are off. And the NCAA can’t manage what they have now?! How are they going to have any chance of policing recruiting with NIL?…. ?…. There has to be some agreements and some sort of equity in the system.

I am not saying this more ‘doomsday’ scenario is a certainty, but without some sort of agreements that people actually follow, it certainly is possible. I mean, who thought a number of years ago that we’d have half of California and Oregon in flames at the same time?!

First, I would like to welcome Brandon as a new writer to FishDuck, who, like so many of us likes to toss around these issues to ponder and discuss.

You will all note that again–we do not have a unified voice on this site by design. I want the writers to present their own feelings, facts and lines of logic for their topic, so that even if we disagree–we learn from each other. I would like new writers on the site because they disagree with me, change my mind and teach me more. It is the opposite of “Group-Think” on other sites.

With that being said, I do disagree with a few sub-premises of the article, with the biggest being the notion that it is about equality. That is like saying that, “because of capitalism and freedom in the US…we all can become Billionaires!”

Sure the opportunity is there, but not many of us are going to be living next to Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates anytime soon. The assumption that the offensive lineman can profit from NIL developments is not realistic to me. Penei Sewell would have been the lone exception of hundreds that have played for Oregon.

For other sports….for example the female sprinter who wins points in the 100 meter, 200 meter and Long Jump in the Pac-12 meet to help the Ducks win the conference again–is incredibly valuable to the team, but is unknown to the public. She can profit from the new NIL changes?

Right. And she can become a Billionaire too.

The players know this “equality” scam; quarterbacks cannot make money without the receivers, just as a running back will now NIL profit from the blocking of his offensive linemen. These supporting players get nothing or close to it…and that is not going to impact morale or the locker room? That won’t turn players on each other and create resentments?

I believe that the economic Law of Unintended Consequences is going to materialize from this new NIL change ultimately….


I agree with you on this one pretty much entirely. This all seems like a knee-jerk reaction to something where people want this instantaneous perfect situation where everyone is happy. It ain’t happening.

I’m sure we all remember the originally “Slick Willie”…well how many people want a constant flow of Willie Lyles type people flowing through here, or any other school? Don’t for a second think that isn’t going to happen within days of a change like what’s suggested. It won’t just be the end of amateurism as we know it, it’ll be the beginning of the end of major college sports altogether.

It is not “equality” when very few will benefit from the NIL changes, in fact it is the opposite.


I think that’s something people tend to forget; equality is a farce. Yes, we all have the same opportunity in this country, but not everyone is going to put in the same effort, or even have the same luck as someone else. In order for all things to be equal, someone is going to lose out on what they have, and to them that’s not equal…they give, others take.

The student-athletes already have WAY more given to them than 99% of the rest of the students at their universities. Tutoring, nutrition, stipend, facilities and no debt by the time they finish just to name a few.

Granted if a non-athlete student sells a product they get to profit off of it, but if they try and sell that profit while wearing anything related to the university, guess who’s going to win that lawsuit…

There’s a movie quote that keeps popping in my head when people talk about “equality” amongst college students and athletes, from the movie Enemy at the Gates…”Man will always be a man. There is no new man. We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there’d be nothing to envy your neighbor, but there’s always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don’t have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts, poor in gifts. Rich in love, poor in love.”

Jon Joseph

If there was ‘equality’ I would have been a 6’5″ QB coming out of HS with a terrific arm. Either that, or the 2nd coming of Wayne Gretzky.

Jon Joseph

Some going to win, some going to take the L.

If you are born to 2 folks who care about you and the education you receive you have a big leg up.

But none of us squeezed onto this mortal coil, at least until SCIENCE takes over, have much of a choice regarding our Mom or the guy who contributed the other half of the chromosomes.

THIS, by definition, is a world of inequality. Society’s are historically judged by how they treat the least of those who live in a given society. Compared to other Empires, our Empire, while far from perfect, has done a reasonable job of taking care of the least of us.

People of promise athletically and otherwise should be and deserve to be rewarded.

If this is not the case there is no reason to compete for anything.


In reality why can’t I ask the same question of the president of my company? I mean why should they have a private jet and not me? After all, without me they don’t make the money they do, right?


It’s easy to say it needs to be asked when you’re not at the top, but when you get there, you understand the work it took to get there. I actually disagree with you almost entirely on that one. Even if someone is born into it, it’s no less their fault than it is mine, so why should they have to pay/give more than me simply because of who they are? Life isn’t fair, never has been, never will be.


I would agree with access, but not full access. While they represent the school, the school owns the NIL of the institution and all the apparel that goes along with it. A regular student can’t sell themselves or anything they create that has the school name or logo on it without permission from, and paying the school for that right.

I would agree that if a player’s name goes on something the player should be able to collect in the same manner, but the way the school will get around that is by using the number (which they own) and a generic blocked out face, much like we already see in things like uniform reveals.


I’m pretty sure as long as it’s not the players face on it, the number is a non-issue. I mean think of it this way…remember who #8 was in 2014? Who are you going to pay, Mariota or Reggie Daniels? What about #9, Arik Armstead or Bryon Marshall? Bralon Addison or Justin Hollins with #11….the list goes on…

I lived next to Jeff Bezos. I had to move. Guy refused to cut his lawn.

Jon Joseph



Should a player be able to be paid to be “the face” of something? Honestly, yes and no. There’s a flip-side to the coin here. I’m not sure how many people recall the SMU scandal, but for those who do, if you think that was bad, just wait and see how agents manipulate that game. It’ll make SMU look like finding a dime while walking down the street.

If players are going to be allowed to profit off of their likeness, it’s still going to have to be highly regulated, otherwise only schools that have big donors will survive…they’ll get all of the best players because they’ll hire them while they’re still in high school…and don’t think Oregon will actually be able to keep up with that game. Why come here and make a million when you can stay home and make the same…


I somewhat touched on this in my response to Charles below, but if the school has its name and logo on something, they own the rights to that (unless of course it’s Nike and the “O” type of situation) and they’re not going to give it away. So what’s that going to turn into? You like that authentic jersey that already costs $120? You’d better be prepared to fork over twice that, or more once a player’s name goes on it.

Is the player going to get more than about $20 (if that) for that jersey sale? Nope, but don’t think that for a second businesses aren’t going to see this an another opportunity to have quarterly profit margins set new records, but “sell” it to the general public/consumer as a necessity to maintain the product availability.

Think of it like every time we hear that there’s an issue with an oil refinery…the oil companies raise prices and tell everyone it’s because of supply and demand…yet we never see cars parked along the side of the road that are out of gas…and amazingly the oil company managed to set yet another new quarterly record.

Jon Joseph

You mean only a few schools will be able to compete for the CFB Playoff title? Oh no!


Much appreciated, Brandon. It’s good to see that the NCAA, dragging and screaming the whole way has evolved to circa 776 BC, in allowing college athletes to profit off of their, NIL. It didn’t want too, the ’50’s were modern enough.

Jon Joseph

In 776 BC the Olympic athletes competed in the nude. If this was the case today; well, it could lead to some very interesting contract negotiations?

Pay the cheerleaders!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I forgot about that part! Made me laugh…


Thank you for your article, Brandon.

To be clear, NIL compensation will only benefit a very small minority of athletes, the ones who already receive full scholarships with stipends. The issues concerning player injury protections will not be solved with NIL compensation. I agree that there is room for reform to take care of injured players, but these two issues are separate items of negotiation.

Professional sports needs to have a developmental league of some sort. As you point out, there are very few ‘freak of nature’ types that can go right to professional competition. There are so many blue chip recruits who do not pan out in college, for whatever reason. In any developmental scheme, there will be some entity making loads of money investing money and energy into unproven athletes.

One redeemable aspect of college athletics is that an athlete has the opportunity to earn a degree toward a livelihood. Considering that how a pro sports career is such a long shot, a second option is very valuable. To me, I don’t see profits as a sign of malevolence. In our current system, someone is going to make the money.

I agree that there will be changes coming, as there are enough voices calling for it. I think it is going to shrink the pool of opportunity.

Jon Joseph

A concern is of course, will the QB making big bank tick off the guys blocking for the QB?

Maybe? But NIL still needs to happen.


Ha, ha, certainly gives new meaning to the words “profit sharing”


Nicely said Brandon and extremely interesting. Thanks

Oh how slow things are too change when those who are benefitting from it don’t want it to.


The first step is always the hardest but the most important. So no matter how small it is it is good.


I can’t entirely agree with you on this one. About the only way I can is when you look back at the formation of this country; we signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the Constitution wasn’t written/signed for 11 more years, in 1787…and even that is a constantly evolving thing.

Without heavy involvement, which is the opposite of what people wanting, it’s going to get worse before we see any semblance of happiness from any side.

Mike West

I agree with that concept DumpsterFire. This trend somewhat soils the concept of student/athlete, but you have to admit the players are working a full time job while going to school. This does “beg” for serious discussion however.

And while $500,000 a year ($2M for all the perks associated with joining the school over “4” years) is some serious compensation, too many players don’t get ahead that much (after graduating) given the physical risks they take (and I’m a conservative when it comes to employment practices-I have more to say about that in a comment of my own).


I don’t have these figures, but I’d venture to guess that as far as being ahead at the end of their college career compared to a non-athlete, they’re light years ahead.

The average amount of debt is close to $27k for a four-year degree. Yes, there is debt accrued even on scholarship (which is higher for non-men’s foorball/basketball), but nowhere near what everyone else has.

Jon Joseph

Mike, my only suggestion? In addition to all deals being fully disclosed, all money should be placed in trust until the student-athlete has used up his or her eligibility.

Jon Joseph

But many of the guy’s forebears who signed the Declaration came in as indentured servants or were deported to America, before Virginia made enough money off tobacco to object, criminals.

There was an Articles of Confederation in place well before the Constitution.

Once the Colonies started making decent bank, the criminals were deported to Australia.


Kind of my point of the post…it has always been an evolving document.

Jon Joseph

‘Is this Russia, Danny? This isn’t Russia, is it?’

Student-athletes should have the same right to make bank as the piano player on academic scholly playing weekend gigs and/or giving piano lessons.

Let’s see? 6 playoffs, 4 champs. But NIL approval will change the CFB competitive calculus? Right.

This just in, Ohio St, Bama, Clemson and LSU all have big donors who own big businesses that need to be advertised.


Ohio St, Bama, Clemson and LSU all have big donors who own big businesses that need to be advertised

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Life as it always has been since before we were fish.