Published: July 8, 2021

With new state legislation and a recent change in NCAA policy that went into effect on July 1, student-athletes are now allowed to receive compensation for use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). 

Gov. Jared Polis in late June signed into law a bill moving up the effective date of Colorado’s own NIL rules from Jan. 1, 2023, to July 1, 2021. Just days later, the boards of directors for all three NCAA divisions adopted a uniform interim policy suspending NIL rules.

Name, image and likeness has been a hot topic in recent years as the NCAA and Congress have both explored whether to enact legislation that would create a national framework for student-athletes leveraging their NIL for financial gain without losing their scholarship eligibility. While there are various legislative proposals before Congress addressing NIL, no federal resolution has been reached at this point. However, like Colorado, several individual states have legislation that went into effect July 1. 

CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano serves on both the NCAA Board of Governors and the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. CU Buffs Athletic Director Rick George, meanwhile, serves on the Federal and State Legislation Working Group that first presented proposed NIL rule change recommendations to the Board of Governors last year. 

CU Boulder Today caught up with DiStefano and George to discuss what the NIL changes mean and how CU Athletics has been getting ready.

Why is it important that these changes are taking place? 

DiStefano: We have supported the concept that student-athletes should be able to benefit from their name, image and likeness for a long time, and are pleased they will now be able to do so. They deserve the same rights as our broader student body when it comes to earning revenue from projects like writing a book or monetizing a YouTube channel. 

At the same time, our student-athletes remain students first, and we will continue to support their development through CU Athletics’ comprehensive WHOLE Student-Athlete approach that covers academics, physical and mental health, and career and life readiness. 

What does all of this mean? Will student-athletes now be paid to play? 

George: Neither the Colorado legislation nor the NCAA’s interim policy mean that athletic departments will be able to compensate their student-athletes beyond the scholarships and other aid allowed for by the NCAA. 

What the changes do is clear the way for our student-athletes to be compensated for use of their name, image and likeness by third parties without jeopardizing their scholarship and athletic eligibility. That could take a variety of forms, from endorsement deals with companies to getting compensated to do an autograph session. Some of our student-athletes have large social media followings, and they could leverage those platforms by serving as social media influencers for companies. The realm of possibilities is pretty broad.

Colorado’s legislation also allows for student-athletes to obtain professional representation by advisors or attorneys in relation to contract and legal matters.

I’m happy to see this coming to fruition. It’s the right thing to do, and we’ll support our student-athletes as much as we can to make sure they know how to navigate this new landscape. 

If the NCAA is suspending its NIL rules, what does that mean for Colorado’s legislation? 

DiStefano: The interim policy adopted by the NCAA stipulates that student-athletes at colleges and universities in states with their own NIL laws will be able to engage in NIL activities consistent with those state laws. So our state law will govern NIL activities in Colorado.

Student-athletes in states without laws will be subject to policies of their schools or conferences. So even with these changes, we still think it’s important for Congress to act quickly on a national solution that would level the playing field across all states. 

We are appreciative that our state legislators worked with us on a set of rules for our state that provide our student-athletes, colleges and universities with parameters within which we can work. 

What has CU Athletics been doing to prepare student-athletes to navigate this landscape? 

George: Knowing NIL reform was imminent, last summer we launched Buffs with a Brand. The program is a partnership between our Scripps Leadership and Career Development program and the Leeds School of Business, where we’re educating our student-athletes and equipping them with the expertise to be able to capitalize on their name, image and likeness. The program includes workshops, videos, mentor sessions and other tools to teach them about topics like brand management, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. We were one of the first in the nation to implement that type of innovative program, and it’s something we’re starting to see more and more schools do as the NIL landscape shifts. We plan to adapt this program to fit seamlessly within the confines of the new legislation while also best serving the needs of our student-athletes. 

In addition to Buffs with a Brand, CU Athletics has a partnership with INFLCR, a leader in athlete brand building. That service is now available to all student-athletes

How does the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the NCAA v. Alston case fit into all of this?

DiStefano: It is similar in that the decision affects our student-athletes and what benefits they can access. Our campus leadership continues to work in conjunction with conference leadership to thoughtfully approach the implications of the ruling and what our policy and approach will be.