How Have College Football Scholarships Been Effected by NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) Money?

June 26, 2023 by Staff

It's a fair question to ask. Is Name, Image and Likeness compensation taking over the value of a scholarship, especially for college football players? In general, the answer is 'No'. But, if reducing the cost of your education remains your main reason for becoming a student athlete at the collegiate level, it's important to know the lay of the land.

According to an article at, "the income generated from NIL will likely impact the amounts that students will qualify for under federal award programs (Title IV), including Pell Grants, the largest needs-based federal aid program.".

It's akin to making money 'on the side' in your retirement, only to find that the income offsets your social security benefits, and possibly eliminates your opportunities for further government assistance.

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The NCAA, the governing body of collegiate athletics, utilizes public service announcements on nearly every sports broadcast to inform the aspiring college athlete that over 98% "go pro" in something other than the sport in which they participate. In other words, academics should still be the focus of student athletes.

There has been a loud backlash against paying college athletes NIL money with critics proclaiming that they already get a "free education"? Closer examination suggests that statement is a falsehood as only 57% receive any athletic financial aid. And those numbers only take the Division 1 level into consideration, and more specifically the 133 member institutions that play football at the FBS level. Those schools can maintain a roster that includes 85 scholarship athletes.

But hundreds more participate at colleges and universities below the FBS level.

The FCS level is the next step down, if you will, and the maximum number of scholarships for those schools drops from 85 to 63. The eleven schools that comprise the Pioneer Football League in the FCS offer no scholarships at all. Those schools include Butler University in Indianapolis, Davidson College in the Charlotte area, the University of Dayton in Ohio, Drake University in Des Moines, Marist College in Poughkeepsie (New York), Morehead (Kentucky) State University), Presbyterian College (Clinton, South Carolina), the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul (Minnesota), Stetson University between Orlando and Daytona Beach, Valparaiso (Indiana) University, and the University of San Diego.

Just below the FCS is Division 2. At that level, Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) informs us those 164 football programs are limited to just 36 full or partial scholarships per year. "Since a college football team's roster size is much larger than 36, most D2 programs will decide to divide up the sum of scholarship money so more players can receive athletic aid" and share the financial benefit.

Some of the top D2 schools have excellent high academic ratings, and an equally high cost of attending. The Colorado School of Mines in Golden will provide up to $13,000 in student aid and still cost you $26k. Bentley University, which is not far from Harvard in the Boston suburbs, will set you back $30,000k annually after aid.

At the Division 3 level, there are a whopping 240 programs that participate in football and those schools do not offer athletics scholarships at all. The student athletes at those institutions must solely rely on some form of merit or need-based financial aid. Most people probably don't know it, but the famed M.I. T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) fields a football team in Division 3 and has captured three conference titles since 2016. Believe it or not, you can actually get your $50,000 tuition reduced to under $17k with aid.

There are still two more levels below Division 3 with the NAIA next in-line. The 96 football schools that are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics are only permitted to award 24 scholarships annually.

Ironically, the 121 junior college (JUCO) football programs can offer 85 scholarships. A large number of those schools - 20 to be exact - are concentrated in California. These are typically two-year schools that offer athletes the help they need to improve their grades and give them a better chance of acceptance to a Division 1 school.

Student athletes are allowed to earned NIL money at each of those levels below Division 1. However, those who will reap the lions' share of benefits are obviously going to be those who star at the schools that receive the most exposure, routinely compete for championships, and have rabid fan bases. Think Alabama and Florida State in football, Kentucky and Duke in men's basketball, Oklahoma in softball and schools like Iowa, LSU, South Carolina and Virginia Tech which comprised last year's final four in women's basketball.

Unfortunately, chasing the NIL money seems to be contributing to a contraction of the number of schools that can afford to compete at the highest level. The transfer portal plays a major role in that contraction, as it allows student athletes to pick up their ball and run home if they don't instantly become the starting quarterback, running back, or wide receiver, and then immediately transfer to another school and play for a second school that offered them their pipe dream.

NIL money, or at least the dangling carrot, is the primary reason that the top 2021 football recruit, Travis Hunter, went to Jackson State to play for Deion Sanders and then followed the coach to Colorado at the end of the 2022 season. Sanders has primarily focused on the portal, and not traditional recruiting, in an attempt to make Buffaloes' football program relevant. In doing so, the program has received a whopping 51 transfers. Of course, that also means that 51 other players who committed to the school have lost their scholarship and many may not find an equal scholarship opportunity elsewhere.

Thus, we end with the reinforcement of the fact that not many people actually get paid to play a sport in college. We are not suggesting to anyone that they shouldn't pursue a dream, but don't dismiss the notion that your best choice in life may be the choice of spending four years playing the sport you love at a school that offers a great education.