The New Financial Normal in College Athletics

By Mark Nagi

If you’ve been living under a rock the last few months, you’ve probably been able to avoid the Name, Image, and Likeness discussions in collegiate athletics.

And good for you if were able to accomplish that goal.

NIL has changed the game and will continue to do so in the future.

Perhaps more pressing are legal settlements which are set to allow universities to share approximately $22 million each year with student-athletes directly.  This is money coming through broadcast rights and ticket sales, among other things. Revenue sharing could begin as soon as the 2025-2026 season.

That’s terrific news for the teenagers who have been severely limited over the decades in being compensated for their hard work and God given talents. Their financial futures are more secure than ever.

The problem with that for athletic departments across the country is that now they need to find up to $22 million more in revenue.

Not every school will be able to do this of course, but you can bet that the majority of SEC and Big Ten will be shaking the money tree for every dime.

Keeping up with the Joneses has been a part of college athletics for a long time, and this is simply a new level. Now, athletic departments could always choose to spend less money, but that’s not going to happen.

So, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a change recently to allow commercial sponsor advertisements starting this Fall on college football fields for all regular-season games in all divisions.

The new rule will allow corporate ads in three spots. There could be a single advertisement centered on the 50-yard line. Plus, you could have up to two smaller advertisements elsewhere on the field. Each will be allowed on a game-by-game basis or for an entire season.

Traditionalists will look at this and rue the day, but the only constant in college athletics is change. Heck, the NCAA fought to keep most games off television and now you can see any game you want, pretty much across the entire landscape of college football.

But this is going to take some getting used to. Are we going to see the Waffle House logo at midfield at Georgia?  Will the Nike swoosh be plastered across the field at Oregon’s Outzen Stadium?

Closer to home, what could this mean for Tennessee?  Is DICK’s House of Sport about to write a big check to see their logo at Neyland Stadium? Pilot Flying J? There are a lot of possibilities.

If you don’t think this is happening, look no further than Tennessee’s basketball arena. Thompson-Boling Arena is now the Food City Center.

Tennessee AD Danny White has done a terrific job since taking over in 2021. UT brought in $200 million in revenue in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year, and we’ve seen a lot of on the field success as well.  But there’s no time to stop the train.

The only non-negotiable would probably be Neyland Stadium.  You won’t see a day come when the Vols Run through the T at Weigel’s Field.

This is the world we live in…