Should High School Student Athletes Be Able to Sign NIL Contracts?

Updated: Jul 20


Mikey Williams' college legacy has yet to be written, he might not live up to the hype. He may get selected late in the NBA draft. Have a short three year stint in the league. Suffer from countless injuries. Make silly decisions that lead to him developing a bad reputation. Whether Williams’ career ultimately flourishes or flops, he has already made history at seventeen years old. In July of 2021, Williams was the first high school athlete to sign a NIL contract.


Last summer, the NCAA gave college athletes the opportunity to license their NIL (name, image, and likeness). However, this has been one of the most controversial issues in college athletics in recent years. Many athletes had argued that it was unfair that they could not earn money themselves when the NCAA and its member schools were generating millions of dollars every year from their name, image and likenesses. The organization countered these arguments by explaining that it was important to preserve the amateurism of collegiate athletics.


In response to this, protests were staged, petitions signed and lawsuits were filed. Outraged athletes voiced their grievances on social media platforms. Eventually, their voices were heard. Last summer, the NCAA allowed college athletes to license their NIL. Companies and athletes moved quickly to sign deals.


Although he was barely seventeen at the time, Mikey Williams was ready. Roughly twenty days after the policy was established, Williams signed a contract with Excel Sports to handle his future NIL deals. Three months later, he signed a multi-million dollar deal with Puma, becoming one of the youngest players to sign with a global sneaker company.


The newly adopted NIL policies have given high school athletes, like Williams, amazing opportunities. Despite this, many are worried that the opportunity to sign NIL contracts threatens the core values of high school athletics and question the impact that they will have.


NIL Threatens Students’ Future


From impacting students’ education to relationships with family and friends, the contracts have many potential negative effects.


Even though there has always been a healthy amount of competition and rivalry in high school sports, administrators have generally tried to protect them from the worst aspects of professional sports. Ensuring that students were amateurs prevented athletics from becoming higher priority than education. Now that students are entitled to their NIL, they may focus on negotiating contracts, earning money, and marketing themselves to earn sponsorships. Composing a well written essay, doing their calculus homework, or even showing up to class may no longer seem like the most valuable use of their time.


Students may choose to transfer to schools with greater emphasis on athletics to meet their own goals. This can be an issue, as these types of schools often spend most of their budget on sports. As a result, education becomes a lower priority. Although it is ironic for an educational institution to be more concerned with sports than academics, this is the case for many wealthy school districts.


Back in 2017, a school district in Houston spent seventy million dollars on a football stadium for high school athletes. With such an expensive stadium, one would expect lots of money to be spent to develop stellar academics. However, the statistics of one of the district’s high schools show the clear discrepancy between education and athletics. With a national rank of #4199 in math and reading proficiency, it is evident what the school’s prime focus is. The average salary of the teachers in the district is less than $50,000, while the football coach earns more than triple that amount, making it even more clear where the school’s priorities lie.


If a student-athlete prioritizes the wrong things, they may end up damaging their academic future. Even among talented high school athletes, very few succeed at becoming professional athletes. Although many of them can earn small NIL contracts while in high school, less than 1% will have a future in the major sports leagues. If they focus on athletics over academics as a teenager, they may be unable to find suitable jobs as adults or have less opportunities in the future.


It’s difficult to tell whether the positive effects of NIL contracts will outweigh the larger impact they will have on high school athletics. Although they may negatively impact high school sports, the contracts can potentially improve the lives and careers of certain athletes. As more students sign NIL contracts, the answer to this question will become clearer.