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ASU Cronkite School's NIL Research Initiative faces challenges to complete its missions

As the school looks to collect name, image and likeness information nationwide, experts and collectives say details of NIL deals are increasingly difficult to find, even for athletes in Tempe

cronkite stock 2019

ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication building is pictured on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, on the downtown campus. 

More than a year ago, the United States Supreme Court granted collegiate student athletes the opportunity to make money on their name, image and likeness. Since then, the question of how much information regarding deals signed by athletes will end up available to the public has remained an open one.

In July 2022, ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication announced its intention to answer that question by developing a "data-driven, transparent view of NIL activity," called the NIL Research Initiative

The Cronkite School, in partnership with its faculty, Elon University and analytics firms like Tableau and Keyrus, aims to compile data from athletic departments, NIL collectives and third-party groups assisting athletes in negotiating deals to create a holistic database of contracts signed across the country. 

Cronkite School Dean Battinto Batts, now in his second year at the school, said involvement with NIL's evolving impact on the landscape of collegiate athletics is critical to the school's goal of remaining on the cutting edge of the trends impacting sports.

"Name, image and likeness is ... certainly one of the biggest stories right now in athletics," Batts said. "We felt like this was an opportunity for us to try to … get our arms around what was going on with NIL — in terms of what types of deals were being made, where they were being made, and by whom — to sort of track those trends and to position the Cronkite School to be a resource for understanding NIL as it continues to play out."

Batts acknowledges the project is still in its early stages, but sees a future in which athletes can use the database as a tool to navigate the NIL marketplace to ensure they receive fair compensation.

"We see this being certainly a resource for athletes as they're considering some of these opportunities," Batts said. "If we're doing our jobs effectively and really keeping up with the data, poring through it and reporting on it, (we'll) be drawing a lot of eyeballs and attention to NIL as it continues to thrive. And hopefully, there will be an awareness amongst athletes and others that they can come and earn more through us."

The initiative's goals however noble, will be stifled by the immense challenge of gathering reliable data from parties involved in signing NIL deals. 

On Oct. 7, Paula Lavigne and Dan Murphy of ESPN outlined the outlet's attempts to gather information on NIL deals from universities across the country. Of the 23 universities they requested data from, including ASU and UA, none provided a complete picture of NIL activity, and some provided no information at all. 

According to the report, ASU issued a summary document that included no dollar amounts, but indicated over 110 deals had been signed, including over 75 by football team members and over a dozen by ASU swimmers.

It has since been reported that players on the ASU's men's basketball team have various NIL deals from varying sources, including at least one with a donor negotiated through the Sun Angel Collective that compensated all team members.

READ MORE: Name, image, and likeness makes an impact on ASU men's basketball team

The Sun Angel Collective, established in August as ASU's only booster-led NIL collective, has received a flurry of activity since prominent donor Nap Lawrence announced, seemingly impromptu at the introductory press conference of new head football coach Kenny Dillingham on Nov. 27 that he would be donating $1 million to the collective.

READ MORE: Arizona native and ASU alumnus Kenny Dillingham to be next head football coach

Brittani Willett, hired in November as the collective's executive director, indicated that the collective does not disclose the terms of deals they help broker between players, donors, businesses and other parties.

The collective's president, Jeffrey Burg, made it clear the collective would not involve itself in a public NIL database, including the Cronkite School's NIL Research Initiative.

"If your question is, 'Are we going to contribute data to that database?' At least the answer now would be no," Burg said.

Burg also expressed his general skepticism of the project's success.

"I have my doubts about the feasibility of that project," he said. "I think that it will be extremely challenging to get quality deal data that are verifiable and accurate from any collective. There's really no incentive on the collective's end to publish the full deal terms. There's no upside to the collective, and there's only a potential downside. I don't see how that project is going to come together."

Mit Winter, an NIL attorney at Kennyhertz Perry LLC in Missouri, agrees that gathering a complete dataset, especially from collectives, will be complicated. 

"Even if you get some people to report deals, in my opinion, there's no way it's ever going to be a complete dataset," Winter said. "To me, that's going to be impossible. There's no way you're going to get everyone to report all the deals from collectives."

Winter acknowledged the possible marketplace benefits athletes and other parties looking for fair value in their deals, but everyone might not be on the same page. 

"Some agents and athletes probably are not going to be in favor of a database like this because if they're negotiating with a business on the value of a deal, (if there is a database) that business is going to know where similar types of deals have been priced at," Winter said.

Winter said universal disclosure of NIL deals would only be possible in a world where a collective bargaining agreement between collegiate athletes and the NCAA or another governing body requires it.

Batts agreed that some pushback to publicly disclosing deals could be from athletes looking to gain advantages in an emerging marketplace. He also addressed rumors that non-disclosure could shield athletes from tax implications from signed contracts. Making it clear this was not the case, Batts said the NIL Research Initiative could double as an educational resource, providing guidance from legal and tax perspectives.

The database is part of the Cronkite School's ongoing efforts to stay involved in relevant trends across the college sports landscape, Batts said.

"We also do a fair amount of investigative journalism (at the Cronkite School)," Batts said. "(We know) that it's not necessarily going to be easy and that people may not willingly turn over that information. But we want to track the trends. We want to see what the collectives are doing. We want to hopefully feature stories about athletes and the types of endorsements that they're getting and what that's meaning for them. Because again, we just think this is going to have tremendous implications."

Edited by Walker Smith and Piper Hansen.

Reach the reporter at and follow him @_alexwakefield on Twitter. 

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