Rob Oller | Nitpicking and professional pressure; NIL will lead to unintended consequences

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch
Beginning Thursday, college athletes could profit off their names, images and likenesses.

The drip, drip, drip of professionalism that for decades has leaked into college athletics is about to become a torrent of careful-what-you-wish-for unintended consequences for the athletes.

Is that bad? Not necessarily. Cause and effect can result in unforeseen happy endings. Other times, headaches develop. With every positive there is potential for negative. Welcome to real life, which plays by its own rules.

Those rules often tend more toward the ruthless than the romantic. Whether fairly or not, amateur athletes getting paid based on their celebrity changes how we perceive them. Just as the public looks differently on those volunteering their time compared to those getting paid to show up and support the cause — of course they want to help — fans, media and businesses will expect more from athletes who are being compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

Drop a touchdown pass as an unpaid Ohio State receiver and you’ll hear about it during and after the game, but the cacophony is muffled somewhat by the reasonable response that, “Hey, this is college, not the NFL. Give him a break.” 

Making money: Which Ohio State athletes have endorsement deals?

But with NIL, the archaic label of student-athlete deserves to get deep-sixed in favor of the more accurate “student-pro,” because much of the marketing work that will be done by college athletes operates outside of sports.

Ohio State tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere already has reached a deal with Flix CV, a technology startup based in Tampa, Florida. The agreement was revealed Thursday, the day it became permissible under NCAA rules for players to make money off their NIL and work with third-party companies without forfeiting their eligibility. Details still need to be ironed out, but it is likely that the work can include live appearances (e.g. autograph signings) and personalized coaching. Much of the money will be made by sponsoring products and events on social media. 

Petit-Frere will serve as a public spokesman for the company. No longer will he simply be protecting the quarterback, but also the company. Such endorsement deals can be tricky to navigate, because one public slip-up risks ruining the reputation of both the celebrity and corporation. I assume Petit-Frere is up to the task, but the bar of acceptable behavior instantly gets raised for the newly minted marketer.

Also, where professionalism is concerned, nothing is too nitpicky. Not even typos. Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert shared a tweet on Thursday that included the line “when this goes into affect student-athletes are going to be able to brand ourselves and other business and companies … DMs are open for business. Message me if interested.” 

I showed the tweet to the owner of an employee placement company who immediately pointed out the improper use of affect (it should be effect). 

Grammar mistakes happen, especially on social media, but they tend to be taken more seriously in the professional world.

“When I see a typo on a resume, I toss it,” the owner said.

How NIL will impact fans is another matter. Fumble in a playoff game and critics will castigate the runner for focusing more on building his brand through TV commercials than improving his ball security skills. The point guard who misses 6 of 8 foul shots, then shows up pitching products on social media will get an earful.  

And guess what? Criticizing 18-year-olds for poor play becomes more acceptable, if not really any more logical, when they’re making $600, six grand or six figures. 

“I have a hard time imagining Buckeye fans being any more that way on a Saturday afternoon than they already are, but it’s definitely possible,” said Robert Carrothers, my go-to sociology professor at Ohio Northern. “Or another scenario: Let’s say I’m paying for my kid to take swimming lessons and you just finished last in the Big Ten. I’m now thinking, ‘Why did I do that? Certainly, you’re not as good as we thought you were.’ That’s now a different kind of pressure.”

Then again, different pressure potentially brings improved behavior. Adding fear of financial failure to the threat of suspension or loss of playing time should further motivate amateur athletes to keep their noses clean.

“Especially at the highest level, athletes are already thinking, ‘This (screw-up) might hurt my draft position and career going forward,’ ” Carrothers said. “Now they’ll be thinking, ‘I could lose sponsors on YouTube for doing that.’ ”

In the end, any negative risk associated with NIL is relatively small compared to what has been gained. After years of making money for their athletic departments and colleges, amateur athletes deserve to receive financial fruit for their labor.

The fruit will feel rotten at times. Absolutely these student-pros will be scrutinized more than ever, both on the field and off. Some Ohio State athletes will feel the sting of Buckeye Nation family betrayal. When that happens, remember the words of Michael Corleone: it’s not personal, it's strictly business.



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For a list of Ohio State athletes with NIL deals, visit