'Pay for Play': Panelists talk NIL at CU Boulder

Apr. 10—Student-athletes are increasingly chasing deals through the transfer portal to profit off their name, image and likeness — a result of the creation of NIL that panelists at the University of Colorado Boulder said is a challenge for athletic programs and jeopardizes the education and future of players.

"It's harder I think now to gauge whether or not you're getting people who buy into the culture and want to be a part of a winning program, or if they're just coming for the money or leaving for the money," University of Colorado women's basketball player Kindyll Wetta said.

Wetta was one of four panelists who spoke about NIL during the Conference on World Affairs at CU Boulder on Wednesday. Tad Boyle, CU's head men's basketball coach, said the original intent of NIL was great when it was established about three years ago.

"These kids should be able to profit from their name, image, and likeness and that's what it was intended to do," Boyle said. "It's morphed into where we are, and we don't like where we are, and we need some federal assistance because we have national sports competing across all 50 states and we need some rules. We need some guidelines, we need some equity."

NIL refers to an athlete's right to profit off their name, image and likeness through marketing or other business endeavors. For example, a student-athlete might create a post on social media endorsing a brand or make an appearance at an event in exchange for financial compensation.

The establishment of NIL resulted in collectives, which are independent organizations created to fundraise money for a specific university and give the money to college athletes in the form of a NIL payout agreement. In some cases, collectives compete against one another for certain athletes, often through the transfer portal.

"It's pay for play. Let's not make any bones about it, that's what it is. They're using money to lure kids away from schools to their schools and I feel like I'm playing poker every day," Boyle said, adding, "As coaches, you find yourself in bidding wars that you didn't ever want to be in and you've got to be really, really careful with that."

The transfer portal allows college athletes to transfer colleges an unlimited amount of times.

"Something has to be done because this thing is going to melt down, and to be able to hire a kid away from a university that has the transfer portal ability now — it used to be you had to sit out a year — those collectives are giving certain players money in order to entice them to come to the university," Jim Martin, sports law expert and former University of Colorado Regent, said.

"No one wants to admit the realities of this, but it is pay for play."

Rick George, CU Boulder's athletic director, said the industry has many challenges with NIL and the transfer portal, and one can't be talked about without the other.

"There are 2,000 student-athletes in the portal today," George said. "They're going into the portal, so where does the education fit into that? Where does graduation fit into that?"

Boyle said the players are fine now, but he worries about them down the road.

"In our sport, there are many many kids that might have their highest earning years of their life when they're 20, 21 years old and that sets them up for mental health problems down the road in terms of their self-worth," he said.

George said student-athletes become doctors, politicians, lawyers — successful people and community leaders who do amazing things.

"It's just incredible and we can't lose sight of that," he said. "I think we are losing sight of that and that's a concern to me."

He said he's proud of Wetta, who is using NIL the way it was meant to be used. Wetta said she's been successful working with the community and getting her name out there. She plans to attend medical school after she graduates, and the NIL money she's saved will help pay for it.

"It's been really nice to be able to market myself in and around the community and try to create value around that," Wetta said.

However, she said NIL is starting to get out of control. On her team, they've had a lot of people transfer — which is difficult when they're talking about building a team culture.

"I am very thankful for the opportunities that NIL has provided me with over my time here, and I think it is generally a good thing for student-athletes when it is done correctly," she said.

George said these challenges need to be addressed to make sure student-athletes are being provided meaningful opportunities.

"We're going to continue to make sure that we set up our student-athletes, whether they're here one year or four years, for the next 40 years, and that's our responsibility," George said.