College sports and higher education have a long relationship. Monetary compensation for the college athlete has long been prohibited. In 2021, we entered a new era of compensation for college athletes with the allowance of NIL compensation. This paper reviews the history of how this happened.

Key points:

  • We provide a brief review of the history of intercollegiate athletics in America and look at changes in college athletics, especially college athlete rights to their name, likeness, and image (NIL) and their ability to profit from their personal brand as any other college student can.
  • Unlike their counterparts in Europe, American colleges and universities desired to keep student run sports under the academic umbrella to better manage the students and games, but to also gain perceived tangible benefits of having a successful program.
  • The desire to maintain amateurism has long been a driving force in restricting college athlete compensation. As professional sports had not really developed at this time, it was widely believed that sports should be an avocation and not a profession at virtually all levels.
  • The industry has grown exponentially in commercial popularity to include massive television contracts, highly compensated coaches and administrators, and many others profiting from the industry except the athlete whose compensation has often been capped to the value of an athletic scholarship. It was only a matter of time before college athletes challenged the concept of amateurism and worked to gain a larger share of the revenue they primarily generate.