Playing Money Ball in College Sports – Indianapolis Monthly

Illustration of college athletes with money signs instead of jersey numbers

Illustration by Lincoln Agnew

WHAT’S IN A NAME? NIL relates to Name, Image and Likeness and is a way for student-athletes to receive compensation without violating NCAA rules.

RUSH THE COURT. The college sports industry generates more than $19 billion a year. Student-athletes have long received scholarships to help cover college tuition — the median price for a four-year degree from a state school is $102,000 — but they weren’t able to capitalize on their roles on the field and in court until July 2021, when the NCAA issued a 9-0 Supreme Court decision lost Alston vs. NCAA.

BIG THING. The decision allowed student-athletes to accept money by endorsements, performing, running camps, writing books, and engaging in a variety of other commercial activities.

CROWD FUNDING. Following the court ruling, alumni, fans and private agencies formed NIL collectives, pools of financial resources to manage on behalf of their favorite school’s athletes.

JUMP BALL. The NCAA was kicking and yelling at the new landscape, creating confusion instead of guidelines. In the void, 29 states have passed NIL legislation (Indiana is not one of them), creating inconsistencies in the mix. Finally, in July, outgoing NCAA President Mark Emmert appealed to a group of federal lawmakers at a Senate committee hearing. “With ongoing serial lawsuits and NIL legislation pending in over half of the states, we may need your help to make this happen,” he said.

SET THE MARKET. With a lot of money at stake, NIL collectives have become a recruitment tool. A former high school basketball player from the Indy area has landed one of the most lucrative NIL deals yet. Nijel Pack, who played at Lawrence Central, started his college career at Kansas State but has since transferred to the University of Miami, where he will receive $800,000 and a new car as a point guard for the Hurricanes.

College athlete Trayce Jackson-Davis has the ball

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) drives at Illinois center Kofi Cockburn (21) in the second half of an NCAA collegiate basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Friday, March 11, 2022. Indiana defeated Illinois 65-63.Photo by Michael Conroy/AP Photo

HERE COME THE HOOSIERS. Indiana University was the first state program to start its foray into NIL, forming a collective a month after the Supreme Court decision and earning six-figure contracts for some athletes. NIL deals have been credited for helping keep current star Trayce Jackson-Davis from entering the NBA draft and luring future ones into their highly rated 2022 draft class.

ANTE UP. “It’s almost like poker,” explains Jeff Rabjohns, editor of, covering Indiana University athletics. “You have to have a robust NIL program card to play…and it can’t be the two of diamonds.”

BOILER BUCKS. Never to be outdone by his mortal enemy, Purdue launched the Boilermaker Alliance in September, backed by former stars like recently retired Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees and NBA draft lottery winner Jaden Ivey, now with the Detroit Pistons . “Our board members have made it clear from the start that we do not want to participate unless the organization can create a competitive advantage for Purdue,” said Jeff McKean, president of the collective. “We are confident that the Boilermaker Alliance is one of the most solid programs in the country.”

DAWG OFFERS. Don’t expect six-figure deals from Butler. The Bulldogs have a strong program – the All Good Dawgs Collective – but understand that their charity-focused NIL program isn’t for everyone. “When a child goes shopping [for the highest NIL bidder]then he’s probably not a Butler kid,” says Matt Howard, who serves on the board of directors of All Good Dawgs and was one of the faces on Butler’s consecutive NCAA finalist teams.

MORE OF THE SAME. “While NIL impacts athletes and individual player movement, the best players still go to high-profile programs,” says Mike DeCourcy, longtime college basketball writer for The sports news. “I don’t think that will change.”


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