NIL – Tough Conversations

Barbara IMAGE

Student-athletes of all generations have had to learn how to manage the demands of playing their sport at the collegiate level.   No matter which division they compete in, many of the demands are the same; balancing athletics, academics and social life while, for many, being away from home for the first time in their lives.  The coaches I have worked with over the years have done an outstanding job of discussing expectations during the recruiting process.  Student-athletes usually include parents, family members and/or close friends during these discussions and their focus is clear when financial matters are covered.  A new dimension has been added to this process, that of the implementation of “Name Image and Likeness” into the program.

Coaches need to have a clear policy regarding NIL and it needs to be discussed openly and frankly with the student and their family.

Many student-athletes (and their parents) have dreams of greatness on the playing field which will lead to a professional sports career.  They will view  NIL opportunities as a way to not only gain more exposure, but gain financially as well.  Coaches will need a clear understanding of the financial profile of each student-athlete to make sure the student-athlete makes an educated decision regarding any outside income.  With the help of compliance and financial aid experts, the coach can be armed with information about aid that could be compromised as well as tax implications and who will be responsible for payment.  Conversations about this will take place during recruiting and throughout the career of the student-athlete.

Discussions involving money will likely be the most important AND the most difficult. If financial aid is not a consideration, other discussions will be taking place between coach and athlete regarding opportunities that are being presented.  For example, if promotional appearances are expected from the sponsor, a clear understanding of when they take place and where, what the student-athlete is allowed to wear (branding issues), etc.  Coaches will support opportunities for their athletes as long as it does not prove to be a distraction to the player or the team.  If a student-athlete is struggling academically, most coaches will not support involvement in anything that will take away from academic focus.

Thousands of conversations take place between player and coach during the course of a season and academic year.  Many of these are and should be initiated by the student-athlete.  It is important for the lines of communication to be open, particularly regarding NIL which will be a learning process to be discussed and evaluated as the season progresses.

Barbara Walker


Barbara is a highly experienced athletic director who has dedicated over 25 years of her professional career to working in the field of intercollegiate athletics. Her expertise and passion for sports have led her to become a respected figure in the industry, and she has held various leadership roles throughout her career, including serving as the Deputy Athletic Director at Wake Forest University.