What is Football Life Like Financially for the Average Collegiate Player?

We think of the NFL draft as a sort of round robin of lottery winners. First round picks get their name called and know they’ve just made enough money for the rest of their lives. For the longest time college players were unable to even make money playing football. This led to many players trying to enter the NFL draft early. One injury sustained in college could drastically impact their chances of professional success and therefore financial success in the sport. There is still an ongoing enter the draft as soon as possible mentality so you can make money for many top athletes. Players went without salary, endorsements, or much any ability to financially profit off of their popularity or success on the field other than to look more the part of an NFL pro come the draft.

Today isn’t much different than in years past. Most players simply don’t make money. This has created decades of dissension as coaches stand to make millions and guaranteed financial gains off of the backs of the men and women who do the on the field work. In summer of 2021 a step forward came in the means of financial compensation for college football athletes. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of student-athletes so that they could now make money from their names, images, and likenesses (NIL). These people were being used to sell tickets, advertisement air time on TV and radio, jerseys, even their likeness being used in video games every year. Until recently they saw no profit from that.

But things are changing. About a fourth of athletes have some form of NIL deal. So it seems as though there is some potential for athletes to make some big bucks. Some students can make tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. But in comes the licensing. Video game publishers pay licensing fees to sports leagues. In an article written by AJ Maestas and Jason Belzer it was revealed that EA Sports executive Joel Linzer testified the NCAA football game generated $80 million per year. With over 11,000 student-athletes in FBS football and taking into account the small percentage from the licensing fee and you get only about $1,000 per student-athlete. While some make more, few soar above $10,000. A far cry from a retirement plan. Fellow students working part time jobs would easily be making more money each year.

Athletes at the Pro level rake in far more for the exact same undertakings but they have the added benefit of an actual salary. The minimum salary in the National Football League was $610,000 in 2020 and $660,000 in 2021. But with so many college teams and far fewer NFL teams, how many college players even get that chance? A 2022 infographic published by the NCAA showed that of all the high school football players only 6.5% go on to play in college. Out of all of those college football players, only a measly 1.6% end up drafted by the NFL. This is in no way an implication meant to diminish the accomplishments of high school and college student-athletes. The physical and mental health benefits of playing team sports with peers and the scholarships some receive that aids them to get a college degree are certainly noteworthy. But still not the same as many children who grow up aspiring to be professional athlete rich.

So your odds of making it to the NFL are unsurprisingly pretty slim. Sadly, your odds of making some real money in college playing football aren’t any better. According to Opendorse, the average Division I athlete with a name, image and likeness deal made about $171.50 per month when they started off. Division II athletes made 1/10th of that per month and Division III athletes made a whopping $8.75 per month off of a NIL deal. As a reminder, only a quarter of the student-athletes have NIL deals. NCAA athletes are still not allowed to have salaries and benefits. The average NCAA football player doesn’t make much money, in fact most make nothing. Here’s hoping these student-athletes don’t forget about the student part and can successfully use that education to better their lives financially.

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