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Benefits Beyond Name, Image and Likeness Revenue: A Reflection from a Former NCAA Student-Athlete Turned Sports Marketer

May 4, 2023

When it comes to the everyday discourse in college sports, there are endless discussions about Name, Image and Likeness, and its many nuanced sub-categories including collectives, recruiting inducements, transfer decisions, student-athlete employment status, and athlete valuations. And while seemingly complex, the root of all these topics is money: who earns it, who should make it and how much of it one should be entitled to. Plain and simple.  

But I’m not here to offer a hardline stance on that. There are enough of those extreme takes out there already. I’m here to reflect on my own personal experience as a NCAA student-athlete.

I want to offer a rarely voiced or publicized perspective on what the experience of being a student-athlete is like for the vast majority of the 520,000 NCAA student-athletes. Yes, you read that number correctly — between the NCAA’s three divisions, there are more than half a million young adults competing in college sports each year.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be one of those 520,000 while playing Division III lacrosse at Tufts University.

Lacrosse has meant a lot to me throughout my life and has long provided me with a community in many of the places I have lived. My dad grew up on Long Island and played collegiately at New York Institute of Technology. My uncles played. My younger brother played at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and still coaches to this day.

From a young age I knew I wanted to play at a high level and that I had a chance to use the sport to help me get into a school that I would not have been able to attend without it. And it was no easy task to make that happen. I wasn’t the most skilled player and getting recruiting exposure wasn’t easy. I spent entire summers traveling to tournaments around the country so I could have the chance to play in front of every coach I could. I trained and worked harder than I ever had at any point in my life.

Eventually it paid off and I’ll never forget the feeling of achievement when I opened my acceptance letter to Tufts. College sports gave me that feeling. 

At Tufts I had the opportunity to play under legendary coach Mike Daly and consider myself fortunate to have learned countless lessons from him, as well as from coaches Mike Higgins, Scott Rynne, Brett Holm and the rest of our support staff. Many of those lessons had nothing to do with the sport and I carry them with me to this day. College sports gave me those lessons.

Over my four years at Tufts, I had the privilege of playing alongside upwards of 75 teammates. I have stayed close with many; I have lost touch with some. But I can say with certainty that I have love for all of them. College sports gave me those relationships.

On the field, my classmates and I went through a journey of highs and lows throughout our first three years and continued to work tirelessly in pursuit of both a conference and national championship. Our commitment bore results, as we capped our senior year by winning our program’s first conference title and the school’s first National Championship in any team sport.

While the ensuing celebration with teammates and coaches is something I will never forget, what I remember most following my final game was being greeted by parents, brother, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles in the parking lot of M&T Bank Stadium. Without my dad’s love for lacrosse, my parents’ collective dedication to helping me get recruited, and the rest of my family’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to experience that incredible on-field achievement. College sports gave me that moment with my family. 

As a result of that national championship run, my classmates and I were unable to attend the 2010 Tufts Commencement. Instead, the school graciously set up an early graduation ceremony for our nine seniors. It was unique to say the least. We all huddled in the admissions building, joined by our families, to hear an intimately delivered commencement address. I got to walk across the stage with eight of my closest friends. Coach Daly fondly remarked that it was “as special of an experience and moment as any other in Tufts lacrosse history.” I couldn’t have said it better. It is something that my teammates and I will never forget. College sports gave us that.

So again, I am not writing this to debate the merits of whether student-athletes deserve to get paid, because frankly, there isn’t a uniform answer – some do and some don’t. There is no catch-all.

I can say unequivocally that I personally did not deserve to get paid. I didn’t make one single cent for the NCAA, and at the time, the idea of compensation never even crossed my mind. With that said, I consider myself fortunate that I never had to think about how being paid to play college sports could alter my life, and I recognize the very serious reality that many student-athletes don’t have that same luxury.

However, what I will say is that these conversations about NIL often overshadow the meaningful life-long impact that the NCAA makes on many of its 520,000 student-athletes. I’m grateful for all of the wonderful experiences that college sports provided me, and I don’t want that perspective to get lost in the discourse.

And finally, thanks to the dedication and support of Tufts lacrosse alumni, I was exposed to an incredible professional network that ultimately put me on a path to pursue a career in sports. College sports gave me my dream job and career. 

In fact, the NY Consumer Lifestyle and Sport group has several other former NCAA athletes on the team who, like me, pursued a career in sports business thanks to their background. Our intimate understanding of the student-athlete experience gives us a unique perspective in our work across the sports industry – from women’s sports to virtual reality sports to action sports and beyond.

TAGS: Sports Marketing

POSTED BY: Zach Groen

Zach Groen