Why Zach Edey Isn’t Getting Paid: NIL Deals in College Sports

The rules for NIL revenue in college sports are convoluted and need an overhaul.

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History of NIL

Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals are the newest and only way that collegiate athletes can make money. The origins of NIL began in the late 2000s when former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed a lawsuit regarding the usage of names and images in college sports video games. This lawsuit opened the door for compensating athletes for their name, image, and likeness. Finally, in 2021, the Supreme Court rejected the NCAA's appeal of its antitrust lawsuit, forcing the NCAA to adopt a NIL policy that allowed collegiate athletes to reap the financial benefit of their name, image, and likeness.

Breakdown of negatives of NIL

Although these deals have arisen only recently, and given that it took years of fighting for them to be even allowed, many collegiate athletes have been making big numbers off NIL deals. As collegiate sports get more popular, these deals will continue to be an ever-growing business. However, due to US laws, they primarily benefit athletes who are US citizens. On one hand, it seems fair that players should get rewarded for their efforts in a way that helps them manage their financial future, but on the other, there could be potential for disaster. The more NIL deals evolve and the better players get, the more competition there will be for certain players’ popularity, thus causing an arms race between universities and companies. Many players will want to follow the money and opportunities at bigger schools, causing strong teams at small schools to lose their best athletes. This will ultimately be disastrous for the collegiate sports programs at those schools. Another common drawback is recruiting violations. This is present in almost every collegiate sport, as coaches bribe other athletes to come to their schools, which is unfair and against NCAA rules. With the addition of NIL deals, these bribes can be disguised more easily than before. Furthermore, the popularity of certain sports plays a huge factor in this business. Fan favorite sports, such as football and basketball, attract more spectators and attention, generating more money as opposed to less watched sports such as golf and tennis. Thus, athletes for the bigger sports can make more money than others, which leads to inequality in the system. Lastly, when taking into account all the universities and colleges across the US, there are only a handful of Division I schools. These schools are the ones of the most interest, as opposed to those of Division II and III, which have limited NIL opportunities depending on the school and location.

Zach Edey’s success

Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey, the 7’4” collegiate superstar, has made a name for himself by carrying Purdue to the National Championship Game, averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds per game. He has won numerous awards and titles, most notably the NCAA’s National Player of the Year twice. He is known to be one of the best NCAA players of all time and is expected to play well in the NBA soon. However, it is not all sunshine and rainbows for Edey as he has faced a lot of adversity throughout his collegiate career, both on and off the court. After disappointing during March Madness for his first two seasons, many media and analysts doubted the program’s ability to succeed when the games mattered. Edey took this personally this past season, leading the Boilermakers to their second-ever national championship appearance and making himself one of the biggest names in college basketball.

How those negatives are navigated and how players persevere

However, despite all the controversy, there are still some positives. For one, despite Edey stating that he is “[losing] out on a lot of money this year,” he can still make money off his jersey sales, and also from NIL deals in his home country, Canada. Since players can only make money from NIL deals in their home nation, many international players have used this to navigate through their compensations. Congolese-born Oscar Tshiebwe, for example, was able to make money from NIL deals only after he took a trip to his home country, the Bahamas in 2022, as he was in the United States on a student visa. While in the Bahamas, Tshiebwe was able to participate in advertisements, engage in product placement, and autograph trading cards to make about $500 thousand. Furthermore, many government officials and coaches have been fighting for the rules to change to benefit an even wider variety of players. Edey’s coach, Matt Painter, claims that “there’s a lot of money generated through what they’re doing. Name, image, and likeness needed to happen. We just got to get some guardrails around it to be able to get there.” Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have also been pushing for better compensation, and a bill has already been passed “to allow international athletes to agree to NIL deals in the U.S., too.” For now, all athletes can do is to continue pushing, and hopefully gain more popularity and support from their fans to change up the laws regarding their compensation. As Edey said, “It's an American law. Anytime you try to go change that, I understand it takes a while. But I do think it needs to change.”