Becoming a Professional
or Maximizing NIL
Donavan Brazier and Sydney McLaughlin are two examples of track athletes who were high school phenoms and went on to run collegiately for one year before turning pro. As a freshman competing for Texas A&M University, Donovan won the 800-meter event at the NCAA 2016 Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a collegiate record time of 1:43.55. He immediately turned pro with a sponsorship deal from Nike, ending his collegiate career in track and field.
If you’re in the top percentile of your event and are intent on becoming a professional, you would probably limit your recruiting search to a few select college track and field programs, where there is a history of the coaches assisting their athletes to obtain sponsorship contracts and providing professional training groups. Some elite recruits want to have the college experience for one or two years, where their goal is to set collegiate records, as well as win championships and prestigious awards. Once becoming a pro, the athletes wouldn’t be allowed to compete for the college in track and field, but might remain with the college coach who is likely to be training other professional athletes.
Collegiate 800m record holder
Similarly, as a freshman competing for the University of Kentucky, Sydney broke the collegiate record in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 52.75 and separately won the event at the NCAA 2018 Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She forfeited the remaining years of her collegiate track and field career by turning pro with a New Balance sponsorship.
Collegiate 400H record holder
New Balance-sponsored professional
To be sure, only a select few NCAA athletes are fortunate enough to go on to earn a living as professional athletes where they are sponsored by an athletic-wear company and have to sport their brand. The good news is that as of July 1, 2021, the NCAA rules that prohibited college athletes from monetizing their name, image, and likeness (NIL) have been suspended. This means that athletes are now permitted to supplement their athletic scholarships by capitalizing on their NIL without losing their NCAA eligibility. They don't have to turn pro to maximize their earning potential from their athletic prowess.
NCAA athletes can now get paid to develop and sell their own products, sell memorabilia, promote a company's product to their large social media followings, participate in advertisements for a company's brand, make public appearances and speeches at functions sponsored by a company, be affiliated with or operate a sports camp, and more. Some colleges will facilitate their athletes' rights to publicity more readily than others, and that could be an important factor to consider.