Jon Fagg: Public Perception Versus Reality of NIL in College Athletics

Jon joined the UTA Mavericks in August of 2022. During his first year in 2022-23, UTA won three Western Athletic Conference championships: men's tennis (tournament), men's tennis (regular season) and women's tennis (regular season). In total, 19 Mavs received WAC all-conference honors, including four player/coach of the year selections.

In the classroom, UTA student-athletes posted a combined 3.01 GPA in 2022-23 – extending the department’s streak to 19 consecutive semesters of a 3.0 or better GPA. As part of that academic success, 86 Mavs were named Academic All-WAC honorees during the year. Those student-athletes once again gave back to Arlington and surrounding communities in 2022-23 as they volunteered at 22 events totaling more than 1,200 hours, and donated 6,500 canned food items throughout the year.

In an effort to keep up with the ever-changing Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) landscape within intercollegiate athletics, UTA Athletics partnered with Opendorse to establish an official NIL marketplace: MAKIN' BUCKS. UTA also entered into a group licensing agreement with The Brandr Group (TBG) to enable student-athletes to profit using the school’s official trademarks and logos on merchandise such as jerseys and t-shirts purchased by supporters.

For the 14 years prior to joining UTA, Fagg served in various positions at Arkansas, culminating as its Deputy Athletics Director. With the Razorbacks, Fagg assisted the Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics in the daily administration of the department and provided direct oversight of its NCAA compliance program; academic support; student-athlete development; and Name, Image and Likeness units. He also oversaw other administrative units, including mental health and performance, strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, and major gift development. He most recently served as the sports administrator for the football and swimming & diving programs and had oversight of the women's soccer and men's basketball programs.


I’ve been in college athletics my entire life. My dad was a major college football coach, so I grew up in the business to a degree. He was a career offensive coordinator, which resulted in me living everywhere: North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and Hawaii. I’ve lived through, experienced, and witnessed transformations to the landscape my entire life, and we are absolutely going through another one right now. It’s an amazing time in college athletics because students have the ability, finally, to go to school, to play sports, and to work. People oftentimes lose focus of what NIL is - but it’s work.

Athletes don’t just receive money and then do nothing. We’ve gotten a little too focused on the dollars and have forgotten what athletes need to do for the money. If we think about the current college sports environment as a company, the employer is the athlete’s name, image, and likeness. They are able to derive value from it. It has always been this way. In the early days, you’d lend your name, image, and likeness to a product and the product would compensate you for the use of that. And now, public discussion has veered into a space where NIL is just athletes receiving money.

Ultimately, I think we can look at the current landscape as a time of great student-athlete empowerment. Athletes now have value beyond their respective institutions. There are many impacts to contend with.

I think the portal is hard to deal with. I’m not even a coach, so there are aspects of it that I don’t have to deal with. But the portal, at its core, is about mobility - like every other person going to school who may want to transfer after their freshman year.

When we see big-time athletes entering the transfer portal and receiving new NIL deals upon arrival at a different campus, I don’t necessarily think the NIL incentive and the academic transfer incentives go together. The public has been lumping them together. I think if a student decides they want to go from school A to school B, that’s an independent decision. And if they can utilize their name, image, and likeness at school A and school B, that’s a separate thing - even though we all know they are tied together to a certain degree, based on the size of the school and potential value.

I think there will likely be constraints built into the system. The first regulation that has always been in place and will continue in place is educational. There are programs and defined progress toward degree requirements that have been in existence for a long time. What that means is every semester you have to pass a certain number of hours to keep playing. At the end of your second year, you have to have 40% of your degree done, 60% after your third year, and 80% after your fourth year.

What all this means is that athletes must be conscientious about their transfer frequency. If I’m an athlete and I transfer five times, it’s going to be really tough for me to graduate in five years. The constraints are in place, we will just be using them differently going forward. We used to say, “You have to do X, Y, and Z to transfer - and you can only do it once.” Now, we’re just saying, “If you can transfer every year and meet those benchmarks, then you’re actually on your way to graduating as you should be.”

I think public discussion of the issue has entered a space where people have forgotten what athletes must do to receive money. As a result, people oftentimes get caught up in this idea that regulations don’t exist when in reality, there are a multitude of constraints that have always existed and will only continue to.