It didn’t take long for the NCAA’s new rule allowing amateur athletes to earn income based on their Image, Name and Likeness (“INL”) to upset the power structure in college sports. Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban accused Jimbo Fisher at Texas A & M, Deon Sanders at Jackson State and Jim Larranaga at U-Miami – of paying athletes to play football and basketball for their schools.  

“We were second in recruiting last year,” Saban said, according to Alabama.com. “A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future, because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough.”

Saban’s comments occurred on the same day the U.S. Soccer Federation announced men’s and women’s players representing the United States will receive equal pay when they compete in international matches and contests. Yes, I think the two issues are related because college athletes compete in these events. I’ve long argued that amateur athletes deserve a fair and equitable wage because colleges have made billions off their unpaid labor.  

I am not an employment lawyer. I have helped college athletes at big and small schools manage their reputations. Some have turned professional and earned a decent living. I have met with their parents and listened to their struggles.

INL Makes Athletes Stand Out Even More

The unique life experiences and physical attributes of college and high school athletes already make them stand apart from their classmates. INL will now enhance this dichotomy. There is an old cliche: money makes people do strange things. Don’t believe it? Then why are Nick Saban and Deon Sanders asking a duck about AFLAC insurance? 

An amateur athlete can now earn enough revenue from his or her INL to pay for their own lawyer and agent. This important because players could be able to have the resources needed to challenge institutions when, and if, they decide to ignore an athlete’s rights. As we have seen time and again, a school, club, or league will always place their reputations before those of its employees and players.

So ignore Nick Saban’s complaints. Here is my message to amateur athletes and agents everywhere: build a strategy that protects your brand before you step foot on campus. INL has turned you all into independent contractors, whether coaches realize it or not.