Joe Burrow put together one of the greatest college football seasons of all time in 2019 en route to earning the Heisman Trophy and leading LSU to a national championship — all without earning a dime for his name, image and likeness (NIL).
Pay for play has been a major point of contention for the NCAA, with the multi-billion-dollar organization claiming there isn't enough money to pay every athlete. But what if athletes such as Burrow were simply allowed to make money off their NIL? Some of them would make a hell of a lot of cash.
Athletic Director U and Navigate Research conducted a study that projected annual endorsement values for college athletes, based on typical values for group and individual licensing fees. Burrow topped the study's projections with a whopping annual endorsement valued at $700,000. And he wasn't the only one with the potential to rake in big money.
UNC basketball freshman Cole Anthony came in second with a projected $476,000 annual endorsement value. Based on the average rate athletes and celebrities charge for commercialized Instagram posts — and Anthony's nearly 600,000 Instagram followers — he could have made roughly $4,000 per post.
Female athletes would also have the opportunity to make bank. Olympian and UCLA gymnast Madison Kocian had a projected annual endorsement value of $466,000 — more than high-profile quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa ($450,000), Jalen Hurts ($400,000) and Trevor Lawrence ($390,000).
It's not just the gymnasts though; Oregon superstar Sabrina Ionescu has the top projected value among women's college basketball players at $251,000. The only men's basketball players projected to make more than her are Anthony and Duke freshman Cassius Stanley ($400,000). UCLA guard Jaden Owens is right behind her at $227,000. And Oregon outfielder Haley Cruse was projected to make more at $115,000 than any college baseball player.
The study also touched on the potential for even higher sums for future athletes, as more and more players enter with a greater number of followers each year. Jalen Green, the top-rated men's basketball player in the class of 2020, would have a projected annual endorsement value of $673,000 before playing a single minute of college basketball. Zion Williamson had more than 2 million Instagram followers while he played at Duke (he's up to more than 5 million now). The study didn't address how much he would have made, but it's safe to say it would be a lot more than anyone else on this year's list.
It's important to note thant only the athletes at the very top of their respective sports (and with the largest social media followings) are projected to make large sums of money. The study estimates that most of the less popular student-athletes would make somewhere in the range of $5,000-$30,000. Athletic Director U also left the following disclaimer at the end of the study:
"There is no way of knowing exactly how much student-athletes will be able to garner for their NIL, especially in uncertain economic times where the continued threat of COVID will almost certainly have a deflationary effect on brands willingness to spend large amounts of dollars in sponsorship, whether on the professional or amateur levels. That being said, these projections do show the possibility of substantial amounts of money that student-athletes can generate from NIL deals, which means there may be a new and lucrative frontier of revenue opportunities for college athletics programs to explore to help mitigate possible budget deficits in the coming years."