UT Offers Students a NIL Playbook

June 2, 2022

A popular topic for years, NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) is now allowed by the NCAA. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, created a course to equip its students with the tools to navigate it. 

What is NIL?

In simplicity, NIL allows students to receive financial compensation from their own name, image and likeness through marketing and promotional endeavors. NIL does not change the rules around students playing for a certain university. It is not the university paying an athlete to come and play (“pay for play,” improper inducements, etc.) at a school. It allows students to work with an independent third-party for sponsorship. Neither universities nor third-party companies are allowed to reward student-athletes based on performance.

Why is NIL important?

As a new development, NIL is a big financial opportunity for student-athletes. With new trends in how brands are marketing, there is a growing importance on influencers. NIL allows students to take advantage of their own name, image and likeness and capitalize on being a paid influencer. 

Who qualifies for NIL?

NIL applies to any student that can benefit from their name, image and likeness. While most people associate NIL with student-athletes (football, baseball, soccer, track and field, golf, etc.), NIL also may apply to non-athlete students such as musicians and artists. 

How is UT helping students with NIL?

With an abundance of information being constantly published, UT set out to assist its students in how to move forward intelligently, strategically and effectively in the new space of NIL. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) launched its first course, “Introduction to NIL,” in the fall of 2021, led by Lynn Youngs, senior lecturer and executive director of the ACEI, as well as a team of faculty experts in related areas. The three credit-hour course is part of the entrepreneurship minor offered by the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at the university’s Haslam College of Business

“We empower our students to think beyond social media sponsorships and create a business that they will be able to take with them after graduation,” Youngs said. “Equipping these student entrepreneurs with skills such as business formation, taxes and personal finance is the best way that we can prepare our students for all the opportunities that will come their way.”

The course objective covers topics related to the fast-changing world of NIL, including how to make strategic long-term decisions, develop the necessary skill sets and capitalize on each opportunity. It instructs students in how to make a business out of their NIL opportunities and take that business with them after they graduate. 

Throughout the semester, field experts teach students the best strategies for success in every aspect of a business. The semester closes with a mock “hot seat” interview where students experience what it is like to be interviewed on a variety of topics and the importance of their diction. 

Grad transfer track sprinter Nicole Sreenan said the NIL class being offered can’t be found at any other university right now. “Because NIL is such a new concept, there are a lot of unknowns, so it’s great to have people willing to teach us and work through all of it,” Sreenan said. “We are being given so many great resources to help build our own brands while we are at UT and make great connections for things down the line as well.”

In the two semesters that UT has offered the course, it has had more than 10 different sports as well as non-athletes such as musicians represented by student enrollees.

Vols football quarterback Hendon Hooker said the power of the Tennessee brand has helped him and his teammates earn numerous NIL opportunities. “Knoxville and the University of Tennessee are a destination to fulfill all of your aspirations – academically, athletically, socially and in the NIL space. Heading into my final season, I am grateful to take advantage of the NIL opportunities that have been presented to me in this new era.” 

UT Student-Athlete Resources

In addition to the educational offering, UT offers many other resources to student-athletes as they navigate this new opportunity. The UT Athletic Department hired Kat Jones as the Director of NIL to help student-athletes with resources, contracts, updates about national and local laws and much more. She also helps fans, local businesses and donors understand how to follow the correct protocols when it comes to NIL. She strives to educate and empower students to take advantage of NIL and make it what they want it to be.

“The University of Tennessee combined with the power of the city of Knoxville creates the perfect setting for NIL success,” Jones said. “Tradition runs deep in this community full of supportive local businesses and passionate fans. Our student-athletes receive the personal attention that empowers them to let their individual brands shine in unique ways while also receiving the educational resources that will set them up for success during their collegiate careers and beyond.”

Having Jones on staff with UT, and her expertise in the position, is something most universities do not have. Jones and UT Athletics have the goal of helping students succeed during their time at UT and beyond.

Men’s basketball freshman Zakai Zeigler said the opportunities have surprised him. “As an under-the-radar prospect, I didn’t have big expectations about NIL stuff when I first got to UT,” he said. “But this city and these fans are crazy about the Vols. I’ve been amazed by the opportunities we have.”

As NIL continues to develop, it is ever crucial to stay relevant and offer students the most pertinent information and courses. UT is proud to be one of the first universities to offer a NIL course. The ACEI’s “Introduction to NIL” is one of the many examples of the University of Tennessee’s commitment to discovery, creativity, learning and engagement.

About the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 

The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) is a university-based resource for entrepreneurship across the region and the state of Tennessee. Its mission is to foster an entrepreneurial culture at UT and across the state by developing student skills, providing experiential learning opportunities, conducting meaningful entrepreneurial research and connecting students with mentors and resources that enable them to successfully start and grow new businesses.