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NIL Solution for International College Athletes

For the last two and half years, there have been ongoing conversations about international college athletes (ICA) engaging in Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) monetization while in the United States. Sessions sponsored by NACDA, NAFSA, and third party NIL providers all discussed the relationship between NIL and the F-1 student visa.

Major media outlets, such as ESPN, have weighed in on the topic highlighting ongoing challenges to compensating ICAs – especially those playing in the 2023 Men’s Final Four. Oscar Tshiebwe, former University of Kentucky basketball athlete and 2023 AP Player of the Year, cashed in on NIL monetization while he and his team played pre-season exhibition games in the Bahamas.


Despite continued conversation and success stories of ICAs who have engaged in compliant NIL activity, NCAA member institutions remain uncertain about what NIL is and is not for ICAs.


So, I was excited to watch the recording of NACDA’s “Examining NIL for International Students” webinar. Moderated by Kristi Dosh, Ksenia Maiorva and Amy Maldonado spoke candidly about their experience working in the NIL space and helping international athletes monetize their NIL through legislation interpretation and new visa approvals. I highly recommend watching this recording for everyone working college athletics, international education, and/or student affairs. I’ve included a few of my key takeaways below:


  • Alternative visa options: P-1A, EB1A, and O-1 (P-1A is preferred)

  • “Just because you did not get caught, does not mean it’s a compliant activity” – FACTS!

  • Failure of government to issue any guidance has been a problem

  • Active v.s. Passive Income – especially with regards to merchandise

  • “What if they find out? --> "What will immigration do when they find out?”


However, I believe this conversation was incomplete.

It’s no secret. A quick “NIL and international athlete” Google search will tell you that NCAA international athletes have heightened restrictions and limitations regarding NIL activity.


We also know that these limitations and restrictions are not exclusive to international athletes, but applicable to ALL international students studying in U.S. higher education on an F-1 visa.


For 30 months, college sport and international education have primarily focused conversation about ICAs and NIL with respect to monetization.


But NIL is more than sponsorships, influencer marketing, and paid appearances.


NIL is career development. NIL is career readiness.


I have seen increasing numbers of colleges and universities host “NIL x Career Fairs.” I have also seen departments incorporating NIL education into their career readiness programming. NCAA member institutions such as Ohio State, Missouri, and Vanderbilt have done a phenomenal job helping college athletes recognize how skills, knowledge, and experiences learned through NIL gracefully transfer to their post-competition career pursuits. International athletes may not be able to profit from their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) while in the United States, but they can and should be learning how to leverage their NIL to prepare for life after competition.


We know the problems. Federal intervention is needed.

When NIL legislation for international college athletes is passed, ICAs will undoubtedly lead the way in NIL monetization.


In the interim, I have the solution.


NIL for international athletes, right now, should be hyper focused on career readiness.


While some ICAs will want to stay and navigate U.S. immigration policies, others will choose to return home or to a third country to continue their academic and professional careers.


The NCAA is not globally known and understood (yet), and it is imperative ICAs understand how they can communicate their NCAA experience throughout their job and/or grad school search to ensure they are competitive in their searches and secure positions they desire.


As you confirm NIL and career readiness programming for Spring 2024 semester, consider the following:

  • Internationalize your curriculum. Curriculum and outcomes that center Western ways of knowing and U.S. norms is not inclusive to international athlete experiences

  • What does storytelling look like in non-U.S. environments? How do you know?

  • How can ICAs create content dedicated to their career development?

  • ICAs and global digital environments – where, when, and how do these athletes need to be active and visible?

  • NIL Collectives: What education can you share with them to support your work in advancing NIL for ICA career development?  


Answer these questions and you will instantly improve your NIL program to better serve international college athletes.


Because the process works. Just ask Ashley Germain.

Ashley is a former international college athlete from Canada. While at the University of Maryland, she served as President of Worldwide Terps – Maryland Made’s international athlete organization.


As a college athlete, Ashley did not allow current NIL legislation ruin her collegiate experience. 


Instead, she leveraged her NIL to secure Optional Practical Training (OPT) so she could continue living and working in the United States. Next up, Physician Assistant (PA) school.


NIL is not impossible for ICAs. It just looks different, for now.


Prospective ICAs are asking about NIL and current ICAs are still looking for clarity.


While some ICAs will secure a P-1A visa to monetize their NIL while in the United States, most of the 25,000 ICAs currently competing in the NCAA will continue to study and compete while on an F-1 student visa.


It’s imperative colleges and universities design NIL programming that also reflect the current lived experiences of international college athletes. New international athlete enrollment has increased 25% in the last three years with no signs of slowing down. Athletic departments and collectives who invest in international athlete inclusion will reap infinite benefits over time.


Internationalization and athletics. It’s happening.


NIL education is not excluded.


Walk With TFB is shaping the present AND future. We continue to work with athletes, brands, and institutions on how to improve current systems, structures, and programming to best support international college athlete NIL and career development. Sponsored by the Biden-Harris Administration, we are also actively involved in global education through sport. In November 2023, we represented the United States and led as a speaker and trainer at TIBU Africa's 2023 Global Sport Entreprenuership Week in Morocco.

I am not a immigration attorney, nor do I want to be.

I am an educator-entrepreneur with several years of evidence helping ICAs land safely at their first destination post-competition.

Walk With TFB looks forward to working with more institutions, conferences, and third-party NIL providers who are student-centered and committed to leading with justice and equity.


NACDA – We gotta run that webinar back! There’s clearly more we need to discuss.


We’re walking!


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