Big Ten leads way in NIL compensation — and the SEC is fourth
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Big Ten leads way in NIL compensation — and the SEC is fourth

Eric Prisbellabout 2 months
Article written by:Eric PrisbellEric Prisbell


(Graphic by Marina Puhalj/On3)

The most surprising aspect of the three months of NIL data that Opendorse unveiled Thursday wasn’t that the Big Ten leads the way in total athlete compensation. It’s that the mighty SEC is not neck and neck with the Big Ten.

In fact, the SEC ranks fourth among conferences in athlete compensation through September 30, also trailing the Big 12 (second) and the ACC (third).

The data and insights reflect disclosures of deals thousands of athletes have made through Opendorse. Opendorse, which provides technology to the athlete endorsement industry, is widely viewed as the industry leader in assisting college athletes in facilitating NIL deals.

The three months of data is illuminating in revealing that the average athlete who engages in these activities receives just a few hundred dollars. The compensation can assist with living expenses. For the overwhelming majority of athletes, they aren’t hauling in life-altering deals that risk distracting from their academic or athletic pursuits. In other words, concerns about the NIL era ushering in the demise of college sports have been greatly exaggerated. 

Football players overall have earned the most compensation in NIL deals (55.4 percent) since athletes began monetizing their brands July 1. The Big Ten and SEC are the nation’s two preeminent leagues in football; they currently account for 12 teams in the Associated Press top 25. Yet, to date, it’s the Big Ten leading the pack in athlete compensation. 

Also of note, the AAC (ninth) and MWC (10th) trail both the Sun Belt (seventh) and the Big East (eighth) — a league that doesn’t even field FBS-level football teams. The Ivy League isn’t far behind in 11th.

Early takeaways from the NIL landscape have revealed a top-heavy market for the most popular athletes. But one Olympic sport, in particular, has seen striking success: women’s volleyball.

In terms of total compensation, women’s volleyball athletes have earned 6.7 percent of all NIL compensation so far. That figure trails only football and men’s basketball, both of which feature high-profile athletes who skew the data with some lucrative six-figure deals.

But in terms of total NIL activities by sport, women’s volleyball actually eclipses men’s basketball, ranking second with 8.4 percent of all deals. Football tops all sports with 35 percent.

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of all NIL compensation has been generated by athletes in men’s sports. Men have earned more compensation than female athletes at the Division I and Division III levels, but not in Division II. At the Division II level, 61 percent of the total NIL compensation has been generated by female athletes.

The average compensation for each division level? In Division I, it’s $391, while Division II athletes have earned an average of $78 and Division III athletes have received an average of $35.

The most common NIL activities, by far, have been deals involving athletes receiving compensation for posting content. This type of activity represents 87.7 percent of the total market. Deals involving selling products represent less than 1 percent of the market.

The NCAA tourney and ‘the other people’

Ever since conference realignment machinations started over the summer, there have been whispers about what it all could mean down the road for the NCAA basketball tournament. In short, could power conference programs break away and stage their own postseason tournament, keeping out “the little guy”?

Among prominent coaches, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ comments to ESPN’s Myron Medcalf at the recent Big 12 media day were the most vocal in support of the idea. Huggins had some good points, saying it’s being done in football already. And it’s fair to question why more money — the tournament produces some $800 million in revenue — doesn’t flow to the schools that make the event the American treasure that it is, and why power conferences couldn’t use the event to angle for more leverage overall. Everything now is driven by football.

“We have no power because we don’t generate the same kind of TV income that football does,” Huggins said. “But we don’t try to.”

Huggins also said, “I think it’s more, ‘Why wouldn’t they (stage their own tournament)?’ than ‘Why would they?’ And then the other people, they can have their own tournament.”

“The other people,” namely mid- and low-major programs and their conference commissioners, have been talking privately about the possibility of this occurring, and there exist varying levels of concern. One conference commissioner told On3 that it is “the elephant in the room” and isn’t going away. 

The NCAA tournament is such a captivating event in large part because it transcends the traditional sports fan, offering an intoxicating assortment of opening-weekend upsets — “the other people” toppling power conference teams. Delete that element from the equation and you’re left with dozens of power conference teams, many of them middling, playing one another. That sounds a lot like the regular season — the same regular season that has seen its national relevance steadily decline. 

Break away from the NCAA tournament at your own risk.