Since the implementation of NIL laws in July 2021, some athletic departments have partnered with organizations to support students’ brand development and access to potential deals. Others have hired NIL coordinators that straddle the spaces of college athlete development, marketing, and compliance.

In my research with colleagues at Kansas State and Texas studying financial literacy among college athletes, we highlighted the importance of coupling financial knowledge with competent strategies to make financial decisions. Many students do not have a support system that provides any financial education, such as parents showing them how to budget or save money. Thus, without practice, such students may lack confidence in making financial decisions. Meanwhile, research has shown that Gen Z athletes are overconfident and may make risky financial decisions.

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On a scale of 1 to 10, athletes in our study ranked interest in financial literacy at a 7.3. We surveyed students with three basic financial questions before and after they received financial education. Results showed that students may know the information needed to make financial decisions, but may not know how to best apply it. They also struggled with retaining information from the financial education they received. Only a fifth of the athletes we surveyed followed a monthly budget. Food by far dominated the expenditures of athletes, outside of any food provided to them from the athletic department.

The athletes in our study expressed many different ways to learn about personal finance, and not one method stood out. Interactive tools like Financial Football by Visa and the NFL or Invesco QQQ’s “How Not to Suck at Money”—part of an official partnership with the NCAA—are engaging ways to get students started on financial literacy. However, athletic departments must offer more. Released in June 2022, a white paper from the National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals (N4A) Student-Athlete Development Task Force calls for guiding college athlete development outcomes, the first of which is, “Demonstrate foundational personal enhancement skills including cultural competency, emotional intelligence, and financial literacy.” Financial education is a foundational component of the Personal Enhancement Standard, the first standard for college athlete development programs recommended in the document.

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Our research suggested that athletic departments consider working with an existing corporate partner in the financial industry, invite accountants and financial advisors (perhaps athlete alumni) to speak with students, offer peer and/or professional financial counseling, and encourage enrollment in Money 101 courses if offered at the institution. College athletes are adults and should be empowered to make sound financial decisions when engaging with NIL deals, which are here to stay.

Lisa M. Rubin is an associate professor in the College of Education at Kansas State University, where she focuses on student services in college sports. She has previously worked as an academic and life skills adviser in the athletic departments at Nebraska and UNLV.

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