Column: An Open Letter to the NAIA Athlete Pursuing an NIL Deal

Photo courtesy of Culver-Stockton College Athletics

NIL legislation has been the hot topic revolving around college football for more than a season now.

For those unaware, the NAIA student-athlete had access to NIL well before any NCAA athlete did. While NIL has been great to many so far, there are few NAIA athletes cashing in on the opportunity. While the opportunity is more difficult for an NAIA athlete, it can be done.

As someone who played NAIA football from 2010 to 2013, this article is going to focus on what NAIA athletes can do to cash in:


  • This is just my experience and opinions. This is not meant for hardcore advice; it is purely anecdotal
  • Your team, and academic ambitions should always come first. NIL shouldn’t get in the way of a team accomplishing its goals.

Step 1: Get in the best shape of your life

You’re already a collegiate athlete and should already be in the best shape of your life, but that’s not always how the NAIA world is. For your own brand to work, and to rope in that sweet NIL deal, you have to look the part. After all, TV definitely did kill the radio star.

No one wants someone out of shape to represent them. There are TikTok “stars” who have struck awesome brand deals, and their only talent is physical appearance. For it to work, you have to look the part.

Step 2: Dominate on the field

No one wants the bench warmer representing their brand. You have to be a heavy contributor somewhere on the team, making an impact for this to work.

Look at big-time college football; there are no backups with solid NIL deals unless they are crowdfunded for the whole team.

Step 3: Build your audience

If you are going to get NIL deals, you have to have eyes on you. If a product were to sponsor you, it would want you to distribute that audience to a group of people. Many have been having huge success on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. The most simple way for an NAIA player to build an audience is utilize a miniature vlog format of “a day in the life of” and put it on TikTok.

He’s not an NAIA player, but Coach Wardlaw’s vlog format is a really awesome template one could easily follow. There are a ton of people who wished they played college football. Many would be genuinely interested to see what the life of a NAIA player was like. Note that social media does take some talent with transitions, editing and capturing the important moments for your audience.

NAIA players should be well-rounded but smart. If you post on Instagram, make sure you select the option to sync that post to Twitter. If you make a TikTok video, post it to Instagram reels. Once you capture an audience, do longform content and make a YouTube channel to funnel that audience to. With Google AdSense, there is a path to revenue using YouTube.

Step 4: Reach out Local

Sometimes, it’s best to start off small. This is easier for the NAIA athlete who might be in a metro area where plenty of businesses are around. If you don’t have the huge audience yet, you may have appeal locally.

A sponsorship from the local restaurant could help drive business. Even if the payout was small, being visible could lead to other opportunities.

Step 5: Be Professional

This is pretty much self explanatory. If someone approaches you with a deal, be transparent of what your expectations are.

If you agree to something, know you are obligated to follow through.