Jason Miller / Getty Images
The University of North Carolina has become the first varsity track and field program to hold group licensing agreements for its current student-athletes, as part of the latest development in the radical change that is transforming varsity athletics.
Under the new policy, UNC athletes – including his powerful men’s basketball team – will be able to earn money to market their name, image and likeness, also known as NIL, in groups of three or more, alongside UNC markings and logos like the Tar Heels logo and diamond-shaped uniforms.
This means that players can earn money when a UNC jersey bearing their name and number is sold, or for posing in uniform for sponsorship deals. Students would be paid by third parties, not by UNC. The university did not disclose details on how the income might be split between the school and its players.
“I thought it was the next logical step. Let’s take what we do institutionally, apply it to students, let those students go to the market and also share the income,” said Bubba Cunningham, UNC athletic director, in a video interview published by the school’s sports department.
The UNC move comes as the NCAA, facing a tidal wave of pressure from players, courts and lawmakers, recently announced it would finally allow its 460,000 student-athletes to market their rights name image. The new policy came into effect on July 1.
Many players have already signed sponsorship agreements
Individual players can now sign sponsorship agreements with third parties such as local businesses. Many have done it before: University of Miami quarterback Eriq King signed approval agreement with a moving company; Twin sisters and TikTok stars Haley and Hanna Caviinder who play for the Fresno State women’s basketball team, signed an agreement with Boost Mobile and a sports supplements company; Arkansas wide receiver Trey Knox, with his husky pet Blue, signed an agreement with PetSmart.
“We’re still living the everyday life of a college football player, having to call home for $ 20 to get pizza that night. It’s the same fight. It’s just a little better now, only to because of the new law, ”said Antwan Owens, a defensive lineman at Jackson State University, who signed an endorsement agreement with a black-owned hair products company.
Group licensing deals, in theory, can open up lucrative opportunities for lesser-known players who may not be able to attract their own individual deals. They are also more effective for third parties seeking to license the names and likenesses of multiple players at once, for products such as collectible cards or video games.
Such group agreements have been commonplace in professional sport for decades. Typically, player unions allow names and likenesses of players in groups, often working in tandem with leagues and teams to market them in uniforms or alongside team logos. Players retain the right to sell themselves individually.
NIL licensing in varsity sports is still so new that estimates vary widely on how much athletes are likely to earn. One estimate put the revenue from group licensing agreements at $ 1,000 to $ 10,000 per player. High profile stars are expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people for one-on-one offers like social media referrals.
Opponents fear licenses could lead to recruitment violations
But such programs have already sparked concerns from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a nonprofit group that has long been a leading voice in the player compensation debate.
The group’s current position on NIL policy, which was updated last year, recommends banning conferences and schools from organizing compensation for varsity athletes, including through group licensing agreements.
“The problem is that group licensing will become a new tool for recruiting college athletes and turn into a form of pay for gambling,” the group says in an NIL licensing FAQ. “Rules must be in place to avoid paying to play, ineligible benefits and inappropriate recruitment or retention arrangements.”
While there are no such rules yet, the NCAA has said it will continue to enforce “pay-to-play” bans and rules regarding inappropriate recruiting. But in the absence of federal legislation, NCAA policy defers to state law, as more than two dozen states have passed their own NIL laws. Federal legislation to create a national policy has so far stalled.