NIL Timeline: Key moments that have defined the era

On3 imageby:Pete Nakos02/26/24

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The NCAA prohibited college athletes from profiting from their name, image and likeness for more than a century. 

That all came to a halt in the summer of 2021, as the prohibition on athletes monetizing their own publicity rights was lifted. In the 31 months since that moment, the future of college sports has shifted. Booster-funded NIL collectives have become crucial to finding success in the top echelons of college football and basketball.

The NCAA has struggled to govern the space as it now faces mounting legal challenges. New president Charlie Baker turned to Congress for assistance but has yet to find any relief. Meanwhile, some players are thriving off roster value deals while most college athletes do not provide marketability to major brands. 

As the NCAA faces a courtroom battle brewing over its NIL rights in Tennessee and the college sports enterprise is creeping closer to an employment model with possible revenue sharing, On3 looks at a timeline of events in the NIL Era that have led to this moment:

July 1, 2021

The NIL Era begins as the NCAA rushes to put together an interim policy after decades of mounting pressure, highlighted by the O’Bannon v. NCAA decision, a blistering opinion from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh following the NCAA’s loss in the Supreme Court and states enacting laws that would allow college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness rights.

August 2021

Roughly one month after the launch date of college athletes being allowed to monetize their publicity rights, booster-funded organizations called NIL collectives begin to form. Collecting funds to funnel back to athletes has become crucial in retaining and attracting talent. 

December 2021

The first transfer portal window, including the one-time transfer rule, coincides with the start of the NL Era. Collectives use their dollars to leverage athletes to enter the portal and commit to schools. 

Jan. 5, 2022 

The On3 NIL Valuation launches, the industry’s leading index that establishes high school and college athletes’ projected annual value by combining Roster Value and NIL. An educational tool, the valuation calculates the optimized NIL opportunity for athletes relative to the overall NIL market and projects out to as long as 12 months into the future.

March 11, 2022

The Athletic reports a five-star recruit in the Class of 2023 signed an agreement with a school’s NIL collective that could pay more than $8 million by the end of his junior year of college. The athlete is later identified as now Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava, jumpstarting the race for institutions to establish NIL collectives.  

April 23, 2022

Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack agrees to terms on an NIL deal with John Ruiz’s LifeWallet company shortly after his commitment to Miami. Ruiz announces on Twitter that Pack signed a two-year deal, which will see him make $400,000 each year plus the keys to a car.

May 2022

The first real sign that college sports stakeholders are seeking Congressional assistance in the NIL space as the SEC’s Greg Sankey and Pac-12’s George Kliavkoff head to Washington, D.C., for meetings with Senators. The commissioners addressed the employment status of college athletes. 

Aug. 3, 2022

A busy day on Capitol Hill as Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and three other Democratic senators announced plans to file the newest version of the 2020 College Athlete Bill of Rights. Former Auburn football coach turned U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville announces he’s leading the drive to regulate NIL on a federal level.

September 2022

With high schoolers able to monetize their NIL in the state of California, 2024 recruit T.A. Cunningham and his family moved from Georgia to California for his junior year of high school football. Initially ruled ineligible by the California Interscholastic Federation, he was deemed eligible by the end of September. The situation serves as a warning sign of the dangers facing highly-touted prospects leaving their home state for the potential to make NIL cash.

Oct. 10, 2022  

Nike makes its biggest statement yet in the NIL world, announcing endorsement agreements with Bronny James, Caitlin Clark, Haley Jones, DJ Wagner and Juju Watkins. More importantly, it marks the NIL arrival of Bronny James, the son of LeBron James. 

January 2023 

After flipping his commitment from Miami to Florida in November, highly-touted transfer quarterback Jaden Rashada asks out of his National Letter of Intent after his NIL deal with the Gator Collective is voided. Rashada lands at Arizona State as news breaks the deal was worth upwards of $13 million. The most high-profile situation of NIL gone wrong in the high school recruiting ranks. 

Feb. 24, 2023

The NCAA announced its first NIL ruling regarding an infraction related to impermissible contact between Miami booster John Ruiz and The Cavinder Twins, NIL stars who later enrolled at Miami. Ruiz was not disassociated from the program, however, Miami coach Katie Meier sat out the first three games of the 2022-23 season. 

Spring 2023 

As the Year 2 anniversary of NIL nears, states including Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, New York, Oklahoma and Texas, pass laws or consider reform aimed at bypassing NCAA NIL oversight. Some bills are designed to prevent the NCAA from launching investigations into NIL activities.

April 2, 2023

Iowa and LSU meet in the women’s basketball national championship game, a back-and-forth game that shatters TV records with an average 9.9 million viewers. The Tigers pull off the win, but Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese walk away as social media sensations primed for NIL success.

May 17, 2023

EA Sports contracts OneTeam Partners to facilitate college athletes’ likeness for the 2024 EA Sports College Football video game. Full details of the agreement are unclear, but a source tells On3 the cash pool for athletes is roughly in the $5 million neighborhood, which would pay out to $500 per player.

June 1, 2023

The inaugural On3 Elite NIL Series is held in Nashville, an invitation-only event for elite 2024 football prospects. On3 brought in marketing executives, legal and financial experts and other relevant NIL voices to the private, closed-door event. LSU gymnast and social influencer Livvy Dunne and nationally known football analyst Kirk Herbstreit were featured speakers. 

June 9, 2023

In a 12-page memo released from the office of the IRS Chief Counsel, the revenue service believes donations made to nonprofit NIL collectives are not tax-exempt. The memo comes after nearly two years of collectives accepting tax-deductible donations, which can make a significant difference when dealing with top-level donors. A handful of organizations shut down their operations while others continue to move forward.

Summer 2023

NCAA president Charlie Baker, the SEC, NIL collectives and coaches all spend time in D.C. to lobby Congress for an NIL mandate. The result is several bills and draft discussions being announced. Yet, Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on much of the language being introduced and no bill makes it to the floor for a vote.

July 12, 2023

Seven NIL collectives form The Collective Association to serve as a voice for athletes and their best interests, provide a forum for collectives to discuss current NIL issues and share best practices, and provide a unified voice for collectives to leverage their position. Since then, the organization has grown to 32 NIL collectives and has become a proponent of revenue sharing without classifying athletes as employees. 

Dec. 5, 2023

In a letter to NCAA membership, NCAA president Charlie Baker lays out his plans for Project D-I, which would include creating a subdivision of Division I that affords institutions more freedom to craft their own policies and enables them to compensate athletes in innovative and consequential ways. The plan includes a potential new FBS subdivision that would include institutions with the highest resources. The plan entails the annual investment of at least $30,000 per athlete into an enhanced educational trust fund for at least half of the institution’s eligible athletes.

Dec. 15, 2023

A U.S. District Court judge in West Virginia issues a temporary restraining order, suspending all NCAA transfer restrictions through the end of the 2023-24 academic year. As more states sign on to the antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA’s transfer rules, the NCAA sends out a memo stating multi-time transfers are free to transfer and play immediately in 2024-25 without securing a waiver. 

Jan. 10, 2024

The NCAA Division I Council votes to create a standardized NIL contract and create an optional registry of approved agents to limit bad actors in the space. The NCAA also plans to establish an NIL database to distribute aggregate NIL data to bring transparency to the marketplace.

Jan. 11, 2024

The NCAA levies its first real NIL sanctions against a school, coming at Florida State. The findings released by the NCAA Committee on Infractions describe Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins facilitating impermissible contact between a transfer portal athlete and a booster. On top of the booster and NIL collective being disassociated, Atkins is handed a two-year show-cause and three-game suspension in the most drastic step by the NCAA to govern NIL activity. 

Jan. 30, 2024 

The NCAA formally launches an investigation into Tennessee athletics, inquiring about multiple alleged NIL violations centering around Nico Iamaleava. The attorneys general in the State of Tennessee and Commonwealth of Virginia respond by filing a lawsuit challenging the NCAA’s ban on NIL in high school recruiting. A federal judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee denied a temporary restraining order motion filed by Tennessee and Virginia but noted that the NCAA limits NIL and is in clear violation. The judge wrote that, “considering the evidence currently before the Court, plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim under the Sherman Act.”

Feb. 2, 2024

With the NCAA facing multiple legal forces, struggling to enforce NIL rules and tampering in the transfer portal, the Big Ten and SEC announce the formation of a joint advisory group to find solutions and steer college sports into the future.

Feb. 5, 2024

A National Labor Relations Board regional director deems Dartmouth men’s basketball players employees and calls for a union election. The news sends ripples across college sports, serving as a reminder of the slow march toward athlete employment. 

Feb. 6, 2024

On3 reports that the projected spend for roster management for NIL collectives and schools at the Power Five level over the next 12 months is roughly $325 million. Closing in on the third-year anniversary of the NIL Era, roster value, mostly distributed by collectives, makes up 90% of all the dollars flowing in the marketplace.

Feb. 23, 2024

Federal judge Clifton L. Corker grants a preliminary injunction in favor of the attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia in the Eastern District of Tennessee, lifting the NCAA’s policy of prohibiting booster-funded NIL collectives from communicating with high school recruits and transfer portal players. The landmark decision sets the tone for the remainder of the lawsuit and allows athletes to have free reign over negotiations. Corker wrote in his decision that “without the give and take of a free market, student-athletes simply have no knowledge of their true NIL value. It is this suppression of negotiating leverage and the consequential lack of knowledge that harms student-athletes.”