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Caitlin Clark Should Be Able to Profit from Her Name, Image and Likeness

NIL Deals With Commercial Entities Are a Long Time in Coming

I have previously blogged about the new deals between college athletes and commercial enterprises that allow the athletes to profit off athletes’ names, images, and likenesses (NIL) via commercial opportunities and social media. The athletes shed blood, sweat, and tears in their sports competition. Universities make millions from admissions fees to sporting events, sponsorships, deals with athletic companies like Nike, and television deals. Given the mega amounts that flow to colleges from their sports activities, especially football, it seems to be the right time to recognize the work of college athletes through NIL deals.

It is important to understand that performance on the field has a relatively small impact on NIL potential. Of course, athletes who play a more publicized sport and who perform in a way that brings them increased attention can raise their NIL ceiling and increase their market potential. Yet, at the same time, athletes who can carve out a niche—be that through social media or a dedicated local following that regards them as a hometown hero—have a sizable advantage and a large NIL potential.

Of all the reasons to pay college athletes for their services, the one that stands out most is the colleges’ ability to trade on the use of athletes’ NIL. It seems unjust to make so much money that way and not compensate the athletes. How would you like it if your company used your name, image, and likeness, and made deals with other companies to trade on your talents and you were not compensated for it at all? It is an ethical issue, one of fair treatment of others.

NCAA Position

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has developed rules about how and when college athletes can be compensated when others use their NIL for commercial purposes. As pointed out in a piece posted on, while universities have profited from the NIL of their student athletes for decades, it isn’t until recently that the athletes could enrich themselves.

Basically, the NIL is a term that describes the means through which college athletes are allowed to receive financial compensation. This can include autograph signings, product endorsements, social media posts, and more.

It is just as important to understand what NIL does not mean. As points out, “NCAA rules still prevent schools from paying players directly. This means that college coaches cannot offer money as an incentive for high school athletes to come play at their school, nor can athletes receive compensation directly from their university based upon their athletic achievements. Because the NCAA still intends to maintain its amateur sports status, paying athletes for their play on the field isn’t possible. However, NIL is the workaround for athletes to get paid without technically being considered professional athletes who make a living playing their sport.” NIL2

Caitlin Clark

If you haven’t heard about Caitlin Clark, the Iowa Hawkeye women’s superstar who recently broke the record for the most points scored by a women’s athlete, Lynette Woodard, which is 3,649 career points, where have you been? She also passed the top men’s point getter, Pete Maravich, who accumulated 3,667 points. This makes her the most prolific college athlete in the world of NCAA basketball.

One would think that NIL deals would fall in the lap of Clark now that she broke the record, and you would be right. Here is a summary of five of the largest deals, according to The Sporting News.


Clark inked a deal with Nike in late 2022, putting the Iowa star together with one of America's biggest brands.

Clark took advantage of her Nike partnership and gifted her entire team Kyler Murray's signature sneakers in January. 


Gatorade is one of Clark's newest partnerships, as she signed an NIL deal with the energy drink brand in December.

Clark described the opportunity to work with Gatorade as a "dream come true," and the brand celebrated her arrival by releasing a video featuring the Hawkeyes star that aims to inspire the next generation of athletes. 


Buick added Caitlin Clark to the brand's "See Her Greatness" campaign ahead of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, along with a handful of other women's college basketball stars.

State Farm

State Farm is among Clark's most recent NIL deals, as she partnered with the insurance company in October.

While insurance and basketball might not seem like the most natural fit, State Farm has a long history of collaborating with notable athletes including Patrick Mahomes, Chris Paul and Aaron Rodgers. 


Clark agreed to an NIL deal with Bose before the 2023 NCAA Tournament and was featured in an ad for wireless headphones.

There are other deals including with: (1) Shoot-A-Way, which produces basketball shooting machines; (2) Hy-Vee, a midwestern grocery chain; (3) tax preparation company H&R Block; (4) Topps trading cards; (5) Panini America, which sells trading cards and autographed memorabilia; (6) Goldman Sachs, the mega-investment banking firm; and (7) The Vinyl Studio, her first NIL deal, that is a women’s-owned clothing company.

Clark's net worth is estimated to be near $3 million, though it's tough to gauge an exact figure considering her popularity continues to skyrocket. 

On3 It has been estimated that Clark's NIL valuation at $910,000, though she continues to gain notoriety and will likely see that figure rise until her college career ends.

The Ethics Angle

The ethics of NIL arrangements are not always clear. Yes, there is a fairness issue and one could say these deals protect the athletes in case they suffer a season-ending or career-ending injury. College athletes risk injury to life and limb should be able to gain monetary compensation when their NIL is used by businesses for profit-making endeavors. I believe that the athletes have an ethical right to such payments.

However, there are ethical concerns. It is a fact that once the NCAA backed off from its long-standing rules against paying college athletes, it was just a matter of time before questionable payments would be made. The NIL rule opens pandora’s box to increasingly more complicated arrangements within which college athletes can monetize their NIL. I am concerned that it brings into play the proverbial “ethical slippery slope.” It’s just a matter of time before businesses find a workaround and pay high school athletes for their NIL, especially the uber-stars in their respective sports.

To be sure, there are many unanswered questions about paying college athletes. There’s no question there would be a disparity between what student-athletes could earn at the big sports schools versus smaller ones. Does that mean top athletes would be less likely to go to the smaller schools? If so, how might that affect their competitiveness?

Doubters say collegiate sports are corrupted by paying student athletes and such a practice turns amateurs into professionals while attending college. That may be true but collegiate athletics in sports like football and basketball is big business today with many colleges getting wealthy off endorsement and television deals. They “earn” that money because of the NIL of top athletes. It only seems fair the athletes share in the largesse.

Finally, these athletes might suffer injuries that put their potential careers with professional teams at risk, and harm their ability to have a successful career. Moreover, not paying them smacks of slave labor, especially because the NCAA generated record revenues of US$ 3 billion for the 2022 fiscal year ending 31st August, marking an increase from $519 million in 2020 and $1.1 billion in 2021.

College athletics is a big money maker for the colleges and the NCAA. Because the NCAA still intends to maintain its amateur sports status, paying athletes for their play on the field isn’t possible. However, NIL is the workaround for athletes to get paid without technically being considered professional athletes who make a living playing their sport.

Posted by Steven Mintz, Ph.D., aka Ethics Sage, on March 12, 2024. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: