To Pay or Not to Pay – The Case for Amateur Athletes

By Steven J. Thayer, MBA, JD | March 3, 2023

As everyone in the college sports world should now know, college athletes can now be paid for their name, image and likeness (“NIL”). The Supreme Court said so when they ruled against the NCAA in 2021, and forced them to change their rules to let college players earn money on their NIL. Not everyone is a fan of NIL and some think it will ruin college sports. Some people believe that “amateurs” should not get paid, and that only “professionals” should get paid. It’s a simple choice, either choose to be an amateur or choose to be a professional.

Fortunately or unfortunately, those days are gone. The tides have turned and state legislators and courts have decided that it is no longer permissible to prevent kids from earning a living while they play amateur sports. In some cases, states are passing laws that outlaw rules that would otherwise prevent college kids from making money on their NIL. Some high school associations are now permitting kids to make money. For all of the kids who play amateur sports, Welcome to America – the Land of the Free. We are sorry that we prevented you from earning a living. We hope that you won’t sue every college, every league, every high school association, or other public league, that has been monopolizing amateur sports for years and preventing you from earning a living. We also understand that some of you have already filed suit and that those cases are still pending.

We are no longer living in the Roman days where they forced prisoners and slaves to fight as Gladiators until their death, for our entertainment, and we are no longer living in the days where you can prevent kids from making money while they play amateur sports. You no longer have to be a professional to make money, you can be an amateur, and use your skills to make a living.

So now what? Will fans still want to watch college sports if players are making money? Can college sports survive if they have to pay the players? My guess is that college sports will survive, but someone will have to pay for it. Fans will likely have to pay more for their entertainment or someone will have to make less. What if instead of paying college coaches $5,000,000 a year, we paid athletes some of that money? What if a share of the advertising revenue went to the players? What if players got formally organized and bargained for their share of the proceeds? What if we just paid more for a ticket and they gave that money to the players? All of these options are now being considered and debated across the country as every conference, league, team, and organization struggles to find a solution.

Perhaps Vegas can put some odds on the future outcome of these questions, and we can bet on it. That would at least provide some entertainment while we watch the court battles, negotiations, and bickering that will undoubtable occur over the next few years. Whatever the outcome, it will be the Future of Amateur Sports, where everyone, including amateurs, will have a say.

While you may not like what is happening, Welcome Back to America, where we all get to fight for our right to earn a living. Fortunately, there is always Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Peacock, Sling TV, Furbo TV, Disney Plus, YouTube, Crackle, and a million other places for those of you who chose to watch other entertainment options. You are also “free” to create your own private league where the players cannot get paid. Good luck with that.

Steven J. Thayer, is a founder of Handler Thayer, LLP, a Chicago based law firm, and a co-founder of NextName, a company that sells digital collectibles of college athletes at

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