NIL rights have fundamentally changed the business of college sports, but there remains a lot of secrecy about how much college athletes are being paid, and by whom. Former NCAA administrator Oliver Luck and longtime sports and media executive Bill Squadron are hoping to change that.
The NIL Education and Information Center, a nonprofit the pair co-founded in 2020, has signed a new open-ended partnership with Arizona State University’s journalism school, with the aim of jointly creating an independent database to track NIL deals.
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The group plans to collect info from as many schools, NIL collectives, athletes and platforms as possible—many of whom are already on board to share information, they say—to create the most comprehensive accounting of what college athletes are making in this new era of marketing rights. It will then report those findings more widely, giving people across media, academia and college sports a better idea of the market.
“Without data, everything become apocryphal,” Luck said in an interview. “It’s anecdotal, and naturally, people will focus on the most interesting claims. The $12 million quarterback, or whatever. But is that true? Is it not true? A lot of this is going to be mundane, but that’s also important, because that’s a data point.”
The group’s success will depend primarily on how effective it is at convincing NIL stakeholders to share the data behind their deals, which may prove difficult in an industry that values privacy. Those who do share information will be granted access to the database itself, which could be potentially valuable insight into fair market value and general trends across peers and competitors. As it stands right now, readily available NIL data remains limited, fragmented and poorly defined.
Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) and its Tableau platform have agreed to provide the back-end storage and visualization software pro bono. Arizona State’s journalism students, alongside students at Elon University, where Squadron teaches, will be responsible for sorting the data, analyzing it and writing reports.
For ASU and its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the partnership is an opportunity to help create and house a resource for undergrad and graduate sports journalism students, plus others in business and investigative journalism programs.
“We want our students to understand the growing intersection of sports, business, and culture,” Battinto Batts Jr., dean of the Cronkite School, said in an interview. “Name, Image and Likeness has truly upended the system of collegiate sports. It’s continuing to grow, and now it’s spreading down into high school sports. We want to be at the intersection of all this happening.”
It’s also a branding opportunity—though the database name hasn’t been decided, Batts said that the school will benefit from its association with a popular industry resource. (The database will be held within the Cronkite School, so other areas of the university, such as the Sun Devils athletic department, won’t have special access.)
The collected data will be anonymous on the athlete side, Luck said. The partnership is hoping to organize deals by sport, gender and ethnicity, likely separated by conference. The other side of the deal will likely be represented by categories of payers, such as restaurants, collectives or boosters. The database won’t be fully publicly searchable, Batts said.
The idea dates back to 2020, when it appeared the NCAA would be proactive in helping to regulate the looming NIL era. At the time, the governing body was openly soliciting proposals for a “third party administrator” to track deals, educate stakeholders and help enforce regulations. As some of the biggest NIL platforms submitted proposals, so too did Luck and Squadron, who set up the nonprofit to be a different kind of option—one entire unconnected to the deals themselves. The NCAA eventually dropped the search as it gave up on any wider role in monitoring or governing the new industry.
Luck and Squadron, however, kept the idea alive. The two co-founders say they’ve spoken with roughly a dozen collectives (Luck is part of one at West Virginia, where he used to be the AD) that are interested in participating. Big platforms like INFLCR and Opendorse have also expressed support for the initiative.
“What we heard consistently was that without a systematic effort, there would really be no way to understand how the NIL ecosystem was operating,” Squadron said in an interview. “And that if the NCAA wasn’t going to do it, it really was incumbent on some other entity to make that effort.”
Luck will remain involved with Country Roads Trust, the West Virginia collective that he co-founded in January. The former NCAA executive is also chairman of Altius Sports Partners, a company that helps schools with NIL education and compliance.
There’s no money changing hands with the database endeavor, at least not yet. In the future, however, the group could eventually pursue revenue opportunities, such as selling access to the database or the reports generated within it.
“We’d like to first make a self-sustaining initiative,” Luck said. “What that looks like further down the road, it’s fairly difficult to tell. We certainly wouldn’t rule it out. But right now it’s a labor of love.”