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NIL Exacerbates Inequities For Women Athletes Even As It Provides Opportunities

Even though she was an elite gymnast in the UK, Oregon State University gymnast Phoebe Jakubczyk … [+] cannot participate in NIL activities because she is an international student.

Courtesy of Phoebe Jakubczyk

Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals can be incredibly lucrative, generating millions of dollars for top NCAA athletes in winning programs.

What about the typical student athlete? Is suddenly everyone who dons a jersey for a school taking in the big bucks?

Hardly. In fact, most student athletes are too busy with their sports and their classes to do any NIL activities at all. At my institution, Oregon State University, fewer than a third of student athletes have NIL deals, and only a handful have deals that generate more than a few thousand dollars. Oregon State Deputy Athletic Director Kimya Massey told me, “Honestly, it really hasn’t impacted many sports the way the media and people outside of athletics portray it. Many of the student-athletes simply don’t have the time or the interest and choose to live their busy lives the way they always have.”

Nick Saban, head football coach at Alabama, said in a press conference that in the first year of NIL, Alabama players generated $3 million in opportunities. He added that only 25 players had earned that money.

Not surprisingly, when student-athletes do get involved in NIL, men significantly lead women in both the amount and number of NIL deals, and most of the money flows to football players. Minnesota reported that about one third of its athletes disclosed NIL deals, with football generating 30% of those deals. Six of the top 10 NIL valuations this year go to football players. Only one woman, LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne breaks into the top 10. At Oregon State our most visible NIL participant is also a gymnast, Jade Carey, who won the gold medal in floor exercise at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Jade is very unusual among women student-athletes at Oregon State (and nationwide). As an Olympic champion she comes with a level of visibility few student athletes, women or men, achieve, and she’s been able to turn that visibility into profitable NIL deals.

TOKYO, JAPAN – AUGUST 02: Jade Carey of Team United States poses with her gold medal during the … [+] Women’s Floor Exercise Final on day ten of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on August 02, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Massey explained, “Some of the more high-profile athletes have NIL agents who find them deals and opportunities but that is few and far between. . . The fact remains that the larger deals are truly only 1-2% of student-athletes nationally and we [OSU] are no different. But yet those are the ones that are written about the most.” The median deal for student-athletes at OSU is $200. National surveys in 2022 found the median for Division I activities to be $65.

Of course, NIL is still in its infancy, and the number of student-athletes participating is growing. To find out what NIL is like for typical women student-athletes at Oregon State, I spoke with several players across a number of sports. This article is the first in a series where I’ll look at what women student-athletes and their coaches administrators are experiencing with NIL.

One of the first things I noticed as I talked with these women is that NIL is creating new inequities on campus. Still, despite the inequities, all of these student-athletes see NIL as a good thing because of the opportunities it’s creating for people who want to take advantage.

Oregon State University track and field athlete Grace Fetherstonhaugh was named this year’s PAC-12 … [+] track athlete of the year but can’t participate in NIL activities because she is an international student from Canada.

Jason De Leon

The first inequity I learned about from them is that some student-athletes are excluded from NIL participation. Because international students cannot work in the U.S., international student-athletes are not allowed to participate in NIL activities. Gymnast Phoebe Jakubczyk was an elite gymnast in the UK before becoming a college competitor. She said she’s been approached for a few deals, but she’s had to turn them down or refer them to teammates who can do NIL activities. Similarly, Grace Fetherstonhaugh who set several OSU records in track this year, can’t be involved with NIL because she’s Canadian.

The women I talked to were quite aware of the inequities NIL creates among athletes across sports and on teams. As women student-athletes, they pointed to the gendered inequities between football and men’s basketball and women’s sports. Soccer player Skylar Herrera quipped, “I don’t know if it’s really resentment, but I definitely joke around with some of the football players, ‘cause you have that NIL check, buy me this.’”

When it came to their own teammates or other women student-athletes, in typical laidback Oregon style, they downplayed any jealousies or conflicts, even as they acknowledged they exist, and they wished other student-athletes the best in their NIL endeavors.

Gymnast Kaitlin Garcia said her response to the big NIL deals of other student-athletes is “Wow! That’s cool. It must be really nice,” though she added that it’s sometimes difficult to see other student-athletes getting these big deals because she knows she’ll never have the same kind of opportunity. She also pointed to her roommate, Phoebe Jakubczyk, as even more disadvantaged than she is because Phoebe can’t participate in NIL activities at all. When the entire gymnastics team was enlisted to use a teeth whitening product and create an Instagram story, Phoebe couldn’t even be a part of that.

Many student-athletes like Oregon State University volleyball player Emily Bourne think people with … [+] large NIL deals bring good publicity to the school and their sport.

Courtesy of Emily Bourne

Volleyball player Emily Bourne, who has been active in NIL, explained it this way: “Jade Carey is Jade Carey. She goes to the Olympics. She pulls her own weight. I’m jealous of her. I’m not going to lie. The following she has. The NIL deals she has. She can turn down big money NIL deals because she has other ones.” She said, however, she’s much more bothered by big deals for people who have large social media followings but aren’t really great players. She said, “Jade Carey has the status to back it up. It’s more the people who are famous, making all this money, but aren’t backing it up with their performance. They aren’t playing well or working hard for it. I am happy for [Jade]. I am happy she is representing Oregon State the way she is. I am happy she gets the opportunity to do the NIL deals.”

Often, student-athletes with the greatest NIL potential, like Carey, are able to enlist agents to help them manage relationships with companies. That gives them a level of assistance and access not available to most student-athletes.

Another common theme was the potential for NIL to affect recruitment and the transfer portal. Whereas before NIL, student-athletes usually chose the program that felt like the best fit to them, now their decisions may be affected by how they assess a school’s potential to boost their NIL visibility and income. We have yet to see if that will impact universities like Oregon State that are in small towns and without large media markets.

Herrera was practical about the inequities. “For most student athletes, if you are not at a powerhouse school, you’re not number one draft quarterback, you’re not going to get those NIL deals. Right now, it seems like you have to be aware of that.” Her advice was for student-athletes to put themselves out there and see what companies might respond.

Bourne pointed out that it didn’t matter if a student-athlete was a scholarship player or a walk-on, anyone who wanted to could do NIL and make a little extra money. She brings in about $200 a month, and for her that’s a lot, and it’s really helpful.

Several student-athletes acknowledged that people with significant NIL deals are actually good for the school because of the attention they bring it. Basketball player Reagan Beers recognized there could be jealousies over larger NIL activities, but she continued, “At the same time, they are drawing money and attention in to your sport. I feel that could be a good thing even if you aren’t the one getting the money.”

Oregon State University basketball player Talia von Oelhoffen uses her NIL activities to provide … [+] opportunities for teammates to participate and build their brands as well.

Courtesy of Talia von Oelhoffen

Basketball player Talia von Oelhoffen told me the differences in NIL income aren’t a problem for Oregon State’s women’s basketball team because they are “like family.” She added, “if you have the right culture and locker room environment, then it is manageable.” Teammate Timea Gardiner agreed. “We are genuine about basketball and getting down to business – and NIL might be something we partake in on the side.”

von Oelhoffen said that one of the ways she, as someone with an agent and decent NIL deals, is a good teammate and tries to support other players is to include them in what she does. She recognizes that not all players have the same opportunities, and so she wants to help create opportunities for her teammates. She explained, “I want to bring everyone forward with me. If you have a culture and environment like that where you truly want everyone to find their success in their own ways, it is super manageable, and you can navigate it.”

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