Are Foreign Student Athletes Missing out on Millions in the NIL Era?

Blog by Douglas Spraul, Junior Associate

This past Sunday and Monday the world watched the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament championships, which brought in an average viewership of 18.9 million for the Women’s Championship and 14.8 million for the Men’s (side note this is the first time the Women’s championship has outdrawn the Men’s). The stars of the Championships included players such as Caitlin Clark, Zach Edey, Donovan Clingan and Kamilla Cardoso. While the NCAA makes approximately $1 billion in media rights, merchandise licensing, ticket sales, and corporate sponsorships from the tournament they were not the only ones to cash in this year. Due to the recent enactment of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules college players have been able to be compensated without jeopardizing their amateur status and college eligibility. Caitlin Clark has made an estimated $3.1 million in NIL earnings from companies such as Gatorade, Nike and State Farm. Donovan Clingan and Kamilla Cardoso have similarly been able to profit from the new NIL rules earning approximately $1 million each. However, one student athlete, Zach Edey has been limited in his NIL earnings due to his immigration status. Zach Edey is the back-to-back National Player of the player (the first since Ralph Sampson in 1982 and 1983) and plays for Purdue under a student visa.

The F-1 student visa category strictly limits an athlete’s ability to be compensated in the U.S., including money earned from NIL deals. A student athlete that profits from their NIL while competing in the U.S., is in violation of the terms of their F-1 student visa. Their designated school official (DSO) is responsible for reporting the violation to the U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and their visa will be revoked.

One potential loophole is student athletes are permitted to benefit from NIL deals while off US soil which has been permitted by US immigration services. Alternatively, student athletes are permitted to receive compensation from foreign companies or corporations. This was the case for University of Connecticut forward Canadian National, Aaliyah Edwards  who recently signed an NIL deal with Adidas Canada. Another option is for student athletes to pursue another visa category (O-1, P-1, etc.) or a green card (which can take years and has different requirements and can cost a student athlete thousands of dollars).

Zach Edey has been able to profit in some respects from his NIL from out-of-country deals and his domestic jersey sales. However, both Edey and his coach Matt Painter recognize money is being left on the table due to his immigration status. While a number of bills have been introduced, they have stalled and progress is slow. In the meantime, foreign student athletes won’t be afforded the same benefits as their teammates.

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