NIL Opportunities Can Close the Scholarship Gap

98% of student-athletes will have their athletic career end when they walk across the stage to get their diploma. 

The window is small. To make the most of their time in the spotlight and maximize their college experience, it’s critical that athletes take advantage of NIL opportunities. 

You’ll hear people claim, “They get a free education in exchange.” 

But that’s not really the case. Only 57% of Division I student-athletes receive athletic financial aid, and it isn’t a full scholarship for most. That means 43% don’t get any aid related to their status as an athlete and most have expenses to pay. And that doesn’t even include NCAA DII and DII, NAIA, and NJCAA athletics which have even fewer scholarship athletes. 

Most college athletes are left to rely on academic scholarships, need-based aid, student loans, income (theirs or their family’s), and savings. 

Let’s look at the average roster size of NCAA Division I sports compared to the number of full scholarships each sport is allowed to distribute: 

Men’s DI Sports Average Roster Size Scholarships 
Baseball 40.3 11.7 
Basketball 15.7 13 
Cross Country/Track & Field15.4/40 12.6 
Fencing 17.1 4.5 
Football FBS 124.3 85 
Football FCS 108.2 63 
Golf 10.14.5
Ice Hockey28.518
Rifle (CoEd)5.43.6
Swim and Dive28.39.9
Water Polo23.64.5
Women’s DI Sports Average Roster Size Scholarships 
Basketball 14.615 
Beach Volleyball 18 6
Cross Country/Track and Field16.4/40.418
Field Hockey23.212
Ice Hockey2318
Swim and Dive30.114
Water Polo20.98
Data Sources: &  

Being a student-athlete is more than a full-time job. 

Division I student-athletes can put in up to 20 hours of work into their sport each week, including practices, meetings, games, and traveling, then take 15 credits of course work, typically totaling 30 hours. While many 18-to-22-year-olds are figuring out what to do with their life, they still have to navigate internships, part-time jobs, and other challenges that come with being a young adult. 

While some people might look at NIL as another thing added to a student-athlete’s plate that they don’t have time for, it gives athletes financial flexibility they never had before. Pay tuition. Buy books. Make a phone or car payment. Purchase nutritious food. 

What does this look like for a non-scholarship athlete? 

Consider this: Let’s say an athlete does lessons a couple of times a week in their sport. Maybe the lessons are $50/hour and they do it four times a week throughout a semester. 

That could mean up to $200 a week for 12 weeks in the offseason. Now, that athlete has made $2,400 before taxes and possibly savings. 

Here’s another situation: An athlete partners with a local food company, and that company provides $500 in gift cards or meals. For the activity and to receive payment, the athlete does one social media post about the company twice a month. That’s now $500 less an athlete has to make to pay for food outside of what they get in and out of season from the athletic department or meal plan. 

Matt Henningsen, a fifth-year senior from Wisconsin Football, explained how his NIL dollars have gone to fueling his body correctly for the season. 

“What [NIL] has done is freed my schedule up for the season because I’m not as worried about money and getting my next meal or getting enough nutrition during the day,” he said. “I’m able to invest a lot more into myself when it comes to fueling my body with the right supplements and things like that.” 

So, while flashy deals featuring star players get most of the headlines, most student-athletes aren’t making millions. Most don’t even “get paid with their education.” The reality is NIL has provided new opportunities so every athlete can live more comfortably. A few hundred dollars can make a big difference, and NIL can be easy income that helps set up athletes for success. 



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