The name, image and likeness debate has upended the sports world's idea of amateurism and, at a deeper level, left coaches, parents, athletes and fans to reevaluate what sport means to them. So far-reaching are the implications of NIL policies being enacted by the NCAA that the National Federation of State High School Associations has been pressured to take a stand on the new rules.
Regardless of where you fall on the issue of college student-athletes profiting off their participation in athletics, money rules the collegiate arena. The state-of-the-art facilities where fans worship can only be realized in a world of multimillion-dollar broadcasting contracts and steep ticket and concessions prices. However, without the blood, sweat and tears of the athletes who compete in these cathedrals — there is no game.
Money is a fact of life in athletics today, and I think the demands from student-athletes for a cut of the action is an organic product of the modern collegiate athletics machinery. But will all those dollar signs cause us to lose sight of the reason why athletes compete, why coaches coach, why administrators facilitate and why fans revel in sitting through a football game on a frigid October night?
he majority of professionals in this industry, I'm guessing, are paid a small fraction of the million-dollar salaries of a Division I coach, and they often put in long, thankless hours. Most in this industry have landed in their positions because they want to share their passion and expertise with the people around them. Whether that means helping a third-string point guard prepare for her minute of collegiate playing time, assisting a star D-I quarterback through injury rehabilitation, or ensuring that a college rec intramural volleyball game goes on without a hitch, these professionals are showing up for a lot more than the money — and, in some cases, despite the meager paycheck.
My hope is that we can maintain the purity of sport as we enter these uncharted waters. The money isn't going anywhere, but when the lights come on and the players take their positions, I hope the groundskeepers, the facility operators, the athletic trainers, the administrators, the players, the coaches and the fans are all still showing up for the right reasons — a love of competition, the pursuit of excellence, and a firm commitment to better the lives of those around them.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "More Than Money." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.