The month of March is important for college basketball players in the United States. On televisions around the country, sports fans watch the big college basketball tournament for men and women.
It is an opportunity for young athletes to get attention and become famous.
The tournament games are known as “March Madness.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, basketball players like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan first became famous in March.
However, they were not permitted to make money from their fame until becoming professionals and joining the National Basketball Association. After they became professionals, they could get paid by their teams and do advertisements for companies like Nike.
Now however, thanks to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last June, American college athletes are now permitted to make money from their fame.
The athletes can make money by permitting businesses to use their name, image and likeness to sell a product. The agreements are called “NIL” deals.
As a result, some university athletes are becoming wealthy at age 20.
Others may not become wealthy, but they want money “to fall back on.” That means they will have some saved money even if they do not have a long sports career. That is the viewpoint of Deja Kelly, a basketball player at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.
The NIL deals are important for female athletes who will not have as many opportunities to make money as male athletes after college.
“We can’t play forever. The ball stops bouncing at some point,” Kelly said.
She has six NIL deals, including one with a large coffee company and another with a large restaurant group.
How they make money
Many of the deals require the students to place messages on social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok to reach fans. In others, the students’ faces appear in advertisements for businesses in return for money. Some businesses give students money so they can make clothing items with their names or faces.
“It’ll set me up for life,” Kelly said, meaning she hopes to not have financial worries in the future.
Most of the time it is easier for male athletes to make money with NIL deals, because their sports are seen by more people. However, some female athletes are doing well because they are very attractive.
Livvy Dunne is one of them. She is a 19-year-old gymnast at Louisiana State University. She has about 6 million followers combined on Instagram and TikTok. In a written response to questions sent by The Associated Press, Dunne said she has about 10 NIL deals.
One sports media company, Barstool Sports, is making money by paying mostly female athletes to appear in photos and videos on its Instagram page. Another company, Beautiful Ballers, has photos of female athletes wearing very small swimsuits.
Masai Russell is a track and field athlete for the University of Kentucky. She has about 20 NIL deals with companies that include media company Hulu and Walgreens, a store that has about 9,000 locations around the U.S. She gets paid to make advertisements on Instagram that show items like clothing and vitamins.
Russell said she earns more than $100,000 per year from her NIL deals, but she is trying to be careful with the money.
“I’m trying to play it out very smart…so that I’m pretty well-off in my later years.”
Gloria Nevarez is the top athletics official for a group of colleges in the western U.S. She said she hopes the young women succeed for more reasons than just “attractiveness.”
Not easy money for all
While some are doing well, not all college athletes are making lots of money.
One of them is Bailey Moody. She is a wheelchair basketball player at the University of Alabama and a member of the U.S.A. Paralympic team. She said making money from NIL deals is a lot of work. She congratulates those who do on their success.
Blake Lawrence works for a company called Opendorse, which helps college athletes find NIL deals. He said most are not making that much money: a good deal might bring in about $250 per month.
International students miss out
There is one group of college athletes, however, who are not permitted to make money from NIL deals: international students who come to college in the U.S. on F-1 student visas.
Leigh Cole is an immigration lawyer in Vermont. She said breaking that rule would have serious “consequences."
Dorka Juhasz is a basketball player at the University of Connecticut. The team is often one of the best in the country. Juhasz is from Hungary, so she is not permitted to make money in the U.S. She said other basketball players who stayed in Europe are making money. Juhasz called it “disappointing” that she was not able to make money in the U.S.
Peter Schoenthal’s company Athliance helps college athletes understand NIL rules. He said the system is confusing, and it is safer for international students to avoid it in order to prevent a violation.
The future of NIL deals is not yet decided. Many states now have laws that permit students to make money while playing college sports. But there may still be a discussion in the U.S. Congress about a national law related to the issue.
I’m Faith Pirlo. And I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reports by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
tournament –n. a sports competition or a series of contests that continues for weeks or several days leading to one winner
athlete –n. a person who is trained or good in sports
likeness – n. a picture of a person
bounce –v. to cause a ball to hit against a surface and quickly move in the other direction
attractive – adj. having a pleasing appearance
app – n. a computer program that performs a special function, often used on mobile phones
gymnast – n. a person who performs various physical exercises on a mat or special equipment as part of an athletics competition
vitamin –n. a substance found in foods or pills that can be taken to help your body be healthy
consequence –n. something that happens as a result of another action
confusing –adj. something that is hard to understand