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Making Money as a College Athlete: The Rise of NIL Opportunities


When University of Notre Dame sophomore Calyn “KK” Bransford takes the court this upcoming basketball season, she’ll do so with a touch of glam thanks to her false lashes. She wants to look good while hooping, but wearing the lashes is also her job.

Embracing New Opportunities

Bransford is under contract as a brand ambassador for Opulence Lashes and earns money by promoting the company’s products. That’s possible thanks to a sea change in NCAA rules governing college athletes, who can now make money from their “NIL” — name, image, and likeness.

A Shift in NCAA Rules

Prompted by a Supreme Court decision that invalidated restrictions on certain payments to student-athletes, the NCAA changed its rules on NIL income in 2021. While student-athletes still can’t be paid to play their sport or attend a specific school, they can receive money for things like ad deals, endorsements, and appearances. Student-athletes’ NIL earning opportunities are governed by a patchwork of state laws and school and conference rules.

Before Bransford went to college, she and her parents studied the NIL rules that apply to her. Now, her parents help her manage the money she earns. “A percentage of the money I spend, but my parents put the rest in a savings account,” Bransford says. “It’s important to have someone helping you who is older, more experienced, who knows about taxes and bills.”

Managing NIL Income: A Guide for Student-Athletes

In the world of college athletics, not every student-athlete has access to a solid financial support system like Bransford. Many of them require guidance in managing their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) income. For this group, the money earned through NIL deals can serve multiple purposes – paying for education expenses, hiring professional support, and investing in their future. With a smart financial strategy, NIL income has the potential to become the foundation for generational wealth for these athletes.

Consider a Marketplace

If you’re a student-athlete looking to monetize your NIL, joining a marketplace can be a valuable option. These digital platforms connect athletes with companies or individuals who are interested in collaborating with them. While some marketplaces are affiliated with specific schools, others are independent entities.

Although not mandatory, working with a marketplace can simplify the process of monetizing your NIL. Student-athletes should always report all NIL activity to their school, as each deal must comply with state law and the school’s policies. College and university marketplaces streamline this process by handling NIL contracts through their compliance departments, alleviating the burden on students to submit paperwork.

It’s worth noting that some marketplaces charge fees. Before committing to a marketplace, students should weigh the costs against the benefits of being promoted by the platform. Conduct thorough research to ensure that you’re getting more value for the fee charged.

Explore Opportunities for High School Athletes

It’s not just college athletes who have the potential to profit from their name, image, and likeness. High school athletes can also find opportunities to capitalize on their personal brand. This presents an exciting avenue for entrepreneurial teenagers to kickstart their financial future.

By leveraging their talent and building a strong personal brand, high school athletes can attract attention from companies and individuals who are willing to collaborate with them. Exploring these opportunities early on can set the stage for a successful NIL journey when they transition to college.

For more information, check out our article on NIL deals for NCAA athletes: College collectives that pay students are here to stay.

Pay for school

Only 1% of student-athletes receive full-ride scholarships that cover all college expenses, so it makes sense to use NIL income to pay for school. NIL compensation doesn’t affect athletic scholarships, but depending on the amount of the NIL earnings, a student-athlete may no longer qualify for need-based financial aid.

Get professional help

Managing NIL rules and income can be overwhelming, especially when combined with the demands of athletics and academics. To ease the burden and make informed decisions, it is worth considering hiring a financial adviser who specializes in this area. However, it is crucial to thoroughly vet anyone before adding them to your team.

Lauryn Williams, a former University of Miami track star and Olympian, had firsthand experience dealing with substantial sums of money. After accepting a $200,000 contract from Nike in 2004, she realized the importance of making sound financial choices. Recognizing the lack of support she received during her college years, Williams became a certified financial planner after retiring from professional sports. Now, she offers the financial guidance she wishes she had as a 20-year-old student-athlete.

When seeking professional assistance, Williams emphasizes working with a fee-only certified financial planner and a certified public accountant or enrolled agent for help with tax filing. It’s important to bear in mind that student-athletes who earn more than $400 need to file taxes. The complexities of tax regulations can be particularly overwhelming for those who earn NIL income in different states.

Maximizing Your NIL Income: Investing in Your Future

In the ever-evolving world of student-athletes, the recent implementation of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rights has opened up new opportunities for financial growth. However, with less than 2% of student-athletes transitioning into professional careers, it is crucial to make wise decisions with your newfound income. To ensure a secure future, consider investing in your financial education and exploring retirement account options.

Planning for the Long Term

According to the NCAA, the average professional athletic career only spans five to seven years. These statistics highlight the need to plan for the future, regardless of whether sports remain a significant part of your life. By allowing compound interest to work in your favor, you can let your money transform your life over the next two to three decades. Recognize the potential of your NIL income and embrace it as an opportunity to cultivate a secure financial foundation.

Seizing Retirement Account Opportunities

Thanks to their self-employed status, student-athletes with NIL income now have access to various retirement account options. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), Simplified Employee Pension IRAs, and Solo 401(k)s are just a few examples. However, navigating these choices can be daunting. Therefore, enlisting the help of a financial adviser is highly recommended. A professional can guide you in selecting the most suitable retirement accounts to meet your long-term goals.

Investing in Financial Education

To make informed decisions about your finances, investing in your financial education is an indispensable step. If your school does not offer personal finance courses, consider utilizing a portion of your NIL income to enroll in an online course. By expanding your knowledge and enhancing your financial literacy, you can establish a solid foundation for your monetary decisions.


As you embark on this unique earning journey through NIL income, it is essential to be proactive and make purposeful choices. Ensure that your financial well-being transcends short-lived success on the field or court. Embrace the transformative power of your money and envision how it will shape your life decades from now. Remember, this is your opportunity to steer yourself towards a comfortable retirement.

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