Student-Athletes and Tax Obligations in NIL Agreements

March 25, 2024

Student-Athletes and Tax Obligations in NIL Agreements

In the ever-evolving landscape of collegiate athletics, one topic has recently taken center stage: Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) agreements. These agreements mark a significant shift in how student-athletes can leverage their own personal brand for financial gain. As television rights deals, conference realignment, and recruitment continue to shape the multibillion-dollar business of collegiate sports, the introduction of NIL agreements adds a new layer of complexity to the equation.

However, amidst the excitement and potential financial windfalls associated with NIL agreements, there are important considerations that student-athletes must be aware of, particularly when it comes to their tax obligations. As student-athletes navigate the world of NIL agreements, understanding the tax implications of their earnings is crucial to avoid potential pitfalls and ensure compliance with federal tax laws.

What are NIL Agreements?

NIL agreements are contracts that enable student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. Traditionally, student-athletes were prohibited from earning income from their athletic prowess due to amateurism rules enforced by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). However, recent legal and regulatory changes have overturned these restrictions, paving the way for student-athletes to capitalize on their celebrity status and commercial appeal.

NIL agreements allow student-athletes to engage in a wide range of commercial activities, including endorsements, sponsorships, appearances, and social media promotions. These agreements give student-athletes the opportunity to monetize their athletic achievements and build their personal brand while still maintaining their eligibility to compete in collegiate sports.

Financial Opportunities and Tax Implications

NIL agreements present student-athletes with exciting new financial opportunities. By leveraging their name, image, and likeness, student-athletes can earn income through various channels, such as endorsement deals, merchandise sales, and social media partnerships. These agreements have the potential to provide significant financial rewards, allowing student-athletes to supplement their scholarships and support themselves financially during their college careers.

However, along with the financial benefits of NIL agreements come potential tax consequences that student-athletes must consider. Income earned from NIL activities is generally considered taxable income and must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This includes both cash payments and non-cash benefits received in exchange for endorsements or promotional activities.

Student-athletes should be aware of their tax obligations and take steps to ensure compliance with federal tax laws. This may involve tracking and documenting NIL income, determining their tax filing status (e.g., employee or independent contractor), and filing the appropriate tax forms, such as Form W-9 or Schedule C.

Tax Considerations for Student-Athletes

NIL income refers to any money, goods, property, or services received by student-athletes as a result of their participation in commercial activities, such as endorsements, sponsorships, appearances, or social media promotions. This income is considered taxable and must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on the student-athlete's tax return.

For tax purposes, NIL income is treated similarly to other forms of earned income. This means that student-athletes are required to report all NIL earnings on their tax returns and pay taxes on the income they receive. NIL income may come in various forms, including cash payments, free products or services, or other valuable considerations, all of which are subject to taxation.

To ensure compliance with tax laws and fulfill their tax obligations, student-athletes should take the following steps:

1. Determine Tax Filing Status: Student-athletes must determine their tax filing status, which may vary depending on their specific circumstances. In most cases, student-athletes will be treated as independent contractors rather than employees when participating in NIL agreements. This means they will need to complete and submit Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, to the entity paying them for NIL activities.

2. Track Expenses: Student-athletes should keep detailed records of any expenses incurred in generating NIL income. This may include expenses related to travel, equipment, marketing materials, or other business-related costs. Tracking expenses can help reduce taxable income and maximize deductions on their tax returns.

3. File Appropriate Tax Forms: Depending on their income and filing status, student-athletes may need to file specific tax forms to report NIL earnings and calculate their tax liability. For example, student-athletes who are considered self-employed may need to file Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, along with their Form 1040 tax return to report NIL income and determine taxable income.

4. Remit Estimated Quarterly Payments: If student-athletes anticipate owing a significant amount of taxes on their NIL income, they may be required to remit estimated quarterly tax payments to the IRS throughout the year. These payments help spread out the tax burden and avoid underpayment penalties at the end of the tax year.

Legal Landscape and Challenges

One of the most notable legal developments in the realm of NIL agreements was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in NCAA v. Alston, handed down on June 21, 2021. In this case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the NCAA's restrictions on education-related benefits for student-athletes violated federal antitrust laws. This landmark decision marked a significant victory for student-athletes' rights and paved the way for further changes in collegiate athletics.

Following the Alston decision, several states moved quickly to enact legislation allowing student-athletes to profit from their NIL. As of now, more than 30 states have passed NIL laws, with varying provisions and requirements governing NIL agreements. Additionally, the NCAA implemented an interim NIL policy, allowing student-athletes to engage in NIL activities while maintaining their eligibility to compete in collegiate sports.

Despite the progress made in expanding student-athletes' rights to NIL compensation, the legal landscape remains complex and fraught with challenges. One significant issue is the potential conflict between state NIL laws and NCAA policies. While many states have passed NIL legislation, the NCAA's rules and regulations still govern college athletics on a national level. This creates a patchwork of laws and regulations that can be confusing and difficult to navigate for student-athletes, universities, and NIL collectives.

Moreover, the evolving legal landscape surrounding NIL agreements may give rise to legal challenges and disputes between student-athletes, universities, and third-party entities involved in NIL agreements. Questions about contractual rights, intellectual property ownership, and compliance with state and federal laws may arise, requiring legal expertise to resolve effectively.

Tax Implications of Legal Changes

The legal changes surrounding NIL agreements also have significant tax implications for student-athletes and NIL collectives. As student-athletes begin to earn income from NIL activities, they must navigate the complexities of federal and state tax laws, including reporting requirements, deductions, and compliance with IRS regulations.

For NIL collectives, the recent guidance from the IRS regarding tax-exempt status has raised questions about the tax treatment of NIL income and the structuring of NIL agreements. Organizations that develop paid NIL opportunities for student-athletes may need to reassess their tax-exempt status and consider the potential tax implications of their activities moving forward.

Resources for Student-Athletes

One valuable resource for student-athletes is the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that provides free assistance to taxpayers experiencing tax-related issues or disputes. TAS has developed educational tax resources specifically tailored to the needs of student-athletes participating in NIL agreements.

In addition to TAS, student-athletes and their families can access a wealth of information and support from various sources, including:

IRS Website: The IRS website ( offers a wealth of educational materials, publications, and resources to help taxpayers understand their federal tax obligations. Student-athletes can find information about filing requirements, deductions, credits, and tax forms relevant to their specific circumstances.

Professional Tax Advisors: Seeking guidance from qualified tax professionals, such as certified public accountants (CPAs) or tax attorneys, can provide personalized advice and assistance tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of student-athletes. Tax advisors can help student-athletes navigate the complexities of NIL income, deductions, and tax planning strategies to optimize their tax situation.

Educational Workshops and Seminars: Many universities and athletic departments offer educational workshops, seminars, or training sessions on financial literacy and tax planning for student-athletes. These resources provide valuable insights and practical tips on managing finances, understanding tax obligations, and making informed decisions about NIL agreements.

Online Forums and Communities: Joining online forums or communities dedicated to student-athletes or collegiate athletics can provide a supportive network of peers and professionals who can offer advice, share experiences, and answer questions about tax obligations and NIL agreements.

By leveraging these resources and seeking assistance when needed, student-athletes can gain a better understanding of their federal tax obligations and navigate the complexities of NIL agreements with confidence. Empowered with knowledge and support, student-athletes can effectively manage their finances and ensure compliance with tax laws while pursuing their athletic and academic goals.