The increased ability for athletes to gain name, image, and likeness (NIL) benefits has led to an era in college athletics where six-figure deals hardly raise eyebrows anymore. Miami has been leading the charge in this new era with its players earning lucrative NIL deals. Nijel Pack, a third-year sophomore, signed a $800,000, two-year NIL deal with Miami when he transferred from Kansas State. Pack’s teammate Isaiah Wong also has a deal worth at least $100,000 per year. These deals have been possible due to billionaire Miami booster John Ruiz, who has been vocal about his support for NIL and views it as a strategic marketing move. Ruiz’s company, LifeWallet, has been promoted by Miami’s athletes in exchange for their NIL deals.
However, Miami’s strategy has not been without controversy. Last month, Miami’s women’s basketball team was penalized by the NCAA in an NIL-related issue. The team was given one-year probation and minor sanctions after two popular TikTok twins met with Ruiz. Miami also self-imposed a three-game suspension on women’s coach Katie Meier for an inadvertent arrangement for two transfers to meet Ruiz. The NCAA has stated that it will not penalize athletes in NIL cases but will concentrate instead on schools and boosters.
The Miami strategy has set the stage for other teams to follow suit. In July 2021, the NCAA offered a series of NIL guidelines, and since then, the market has exploded as athletes, agents, schools, and collectives have reshaped college athletics. As the legal forces in the form of multiple lawsuits against the NCAA threaten to bring down the collegiate model, many believe that the NCAA needs to embrace NIL or have the structure changed for them.
The Miami strategy also highlights the economic disparities in college sports. Athletes are putting in more than 50 hours a week on their chosen sport, making it more of a job than a leisure activity, but they are not getting a fair share of the revenue generated by college sports. The NCAA can change on its own or have the structure changed for them; the outcome remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the NIL era is here to stay, and Miami’s strategy may well set the stage for other teams to follow suit.