The Sponsoring of College Athletes - Trak | Partnership Activation Software

The Sponsoring of College Athletes
Posted On: Jan 09, 2019

As of today, no student-athlete is allowed to make money off of their own likeness and maintain their eligibility. But what if they could?

Today is going to be sort of a different blog in that this will not be covering a new deal in particular. Instead, I will be delving into college athletics and sponsorship. Of course, no student-athlete is allowed to profit off of their own likeness which would include endorsements and sponsorships. 

This doesn't mean the sponsorship world isn't' involved in college athletics. There are numerous brands that sponsor teams, conferences, tournaments, and even coaches. A large part of the FBI's investigation into certain NCAA coaches stems from those coaches and schools being sponsored by Adidas. 

College athletics are extremely profitable, especially basketball and football. The remainder of this blog post will focus on two current student-athletes and how sponsorship could or would work with them. Those two players are Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and Duke phenom Zion Williamson.

Trevor Lawrence just led the Clemson Tigers to their second National Title in 3 three years as a freshman. Lawrence was a consensus five-star recruit and will now be the top QB talked about for the next two years as he completes his minimum college participation for the NFL.

The majority of the conversation following the National Title game was not about how Clemson crushed Alabama. It was rather a debate on if Trevor Lawrence could start for an NFL team right now. Jadeveon Clowney garnered up similar debates a few years back when he dominated as a DE at South Carolina and everybody remembers Maurice Clarett actually trying to enter the NFL early. No matter your opinion on whether or not Lawrence is good enough for the NFL already, most will agree that he is a superstar already that brands would love to have him be their sponsor. The already destined #1 pick of the 2021 NFL draft could easily sign personal endorsements today and make great money. 

Zion Williamson is perhaps an even bigger name and superstar than Trevor Lawrence as evidenced by his 2.2 MILLION Instagram followers. Known for his freakish athleticism and walking-highlight style of play, there has been more talk about him individually than the Duke team as a whole. It is impossible to scroll through Twitter during a Duke game and not see a Zion dunk or block.

As we speak, Zion Williamson is on the home page of ESPN. Zion could undoubtedly sign endorsement deals now, but he will have to wait until next year when he is most likely drafted in the top 3 of the NBA draft. While he does not have to wait as long as Trevor Lawrence, the point still remains: we have current student-athletes who very easily could be profiting off of their own name or likeness but are not allowed to. 

The debate on whether this should happen or not has been highlighted in recent days with the behavior of some college coaches. While student-athletes are tied down to the university they signed to attend, coaches are able to move around almost at free will. 

Manny Diaz agreed to be Temple's head coach before leaving weeks later to go be the head coach at Miami. Kliff Kingsbury went from getting fired as the head coach at Texas Tech to becoming the offensive coordinator at USC. He then went on to leave that position weeks later to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. At the same time, student-athletes are not able to move around like this. The only way an undergrad student-athlete could go to another school of equal-or-better standing and play without sitting out an entire year is through a waiver.

This problem is not just limited to head coaches either. The University of Michigan has experienced in recent time as well. Last year, Michigan signed on Dan Enos to be their wide receivers coach just for him to leave a month later to go to Alabama with no penalty. More recently, Al Washington will be leaving Michigan to go coach at OSU. This coming despite the fact that he spent a year recruiting and telling high school players to come to play for him at Michigan. To make matters even worse, his move came less than a month after signing day where players locked in their choice to play at Michigan. 

Michigan is not the only school with this problem as it happens at more big-time programs. Why should coaches have this freedom to sign endorsements and move around freely when student-athletes aren't? There are hundreds of brands who would be happy to use Trevor Lawrence, Zion Williamson, or other student-athletes in endorsement deals. The issue is not about profitability or interest. It is squarely about the NCAA who will gladly accept multi-million dollar partnerships for March Madness or the College Football Playoff, but refuse to let their best "employees" earn anything based on their likeness. 

What are your thoughts? Do you think student-athletes should be able to sign endorsement deals? How would college athletics change if they were allowed to do so? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram at @TrakSoftware.

Written by: James Campbell

James Campbell is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan with his B.A. in Sport Management. Throughout his time at Michigan, he has worked with Detroit City FC, MiLife Sport & Social Club, and USA Hockey. - @Jimmy10Campbell