The topic of NIL has dominated the college sports news cycle over the past year, with media reporting almost exclusively focused on Division I athletes. Meanwhile, those competing at other levels of intercollegiate sports have received far less attention regarding NIL deals and regulations. Community-college athletes, in particular, have been marginalized in the nationwide NIL discussion. Some state-level NIL laws even expressly exclude community colleges, thereby continuing to restrict the economic rights of athletes at these institutions.
For our recent article in the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, Anita Moorman and I explored the NIL value of community-college athletes by treating them as potential social media influencers and using standard influencer marketing rates to estimate their earnings potential. This research stemmed from a wider scope of work focused on community-college athlete NIL rights in California, a process mandated with the passage of SB-206 in September 2019.
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This research began by attempting to locate an Instagram profile for each of the 23,248 athletes competing within the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) during the 2019-2020 athletic season. If a clearly identifiable Instagram profile match was found, the username was recorded to allow for systematic extraction of follower counts and engagement data. In total, 1,168 athletes (about 5% of all CCCAA athletes) were found on Instagram, had a public profile, and contained at least 1,000 followers.
Our analysis on NIL value estimates for this sample found the average community-college athlete could earn $48 per sponsored social media post. Male athletes tended to have a higher ceiling for NIL earnings potential, with nine of the top 11 earnings estimates coming from football, baseball, or men’s basketball athletes. However, the average female athlete had a higher NIL value estimate than the average male athlete ($51 per post compared to $47), a result largely driven by female athletes generating more engagement on their posts.
What do these results mean? For us, it means community-college athletes possess NIL value, should have their NIL rights protected in the same manner as their peers at four-year institutions, and deserve a voice in the national NIL discussion. It also means community-college athletes need access to NIL education and resources. The governing bodies for community-college athletics (the CCCAA and the National Junior College Athletic Association) should support their institutions and the success of their athletes by investing in the development and deployment of NIL educational resources.
Are community college athletes going to get “rich” on NIL deals like some high-profile D-I athletes? Almost surely not. However, for a group of athletes largely attending college without an athletic scholarship and facing a range of financial difficulties, any opportunity for additional income is beneficial. And who knows when one of these athletes might gain fame through, for example, an appearance on a documentary such as Last Chance U on Netflix? It is important for community-college athletes to have the right, and the education, to take advantage of NIL opportunities when they arise.
Adam R. Cocco is an assistant professor of sport administration and a member of the NIL advisory board at the University of Louisville