College Athletes Getting Paid: Estimated Earnings Of The Past And Present

Athletes | 7/28/21

2021 brought a major shift to college athletics. After decades of NCAA stars getting punished for being paid for their likeness and image, they can now cash in. That means college football legends like Reggie Bush would never have had their Heisman Trophy vacated. It also means current stars like Spencer Rattler can start signing endorsement deals before going pro. But just how many millions do these players stand to make? And how much would the best from the past have been able to make? You’ll have to read on to find out!

Spencer Rattler – QB, Oklahoma – $2.4 Million

spencer rattler
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

As a redshirt freshman quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, Spencer Rattler led the team to a 9-2 record. Entering this upcoming college football season, he isn’t just a star on the rise, he’s one of the faces of college football.

Recently, the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study to see what players like Rattler might be compensated. Most professional leagues split revenue between owners and players 50/50. They also noted that former Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence would have made around $2.4 million, giving us an idea of what Rattler would be in line for. And that’s not including endorsements!

Trevor Lawrence – QB, Clemson – $2.4 Million Plus

t-lawrence-92762
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Trevor Lawrence barely missed his chance to profit off of his image and likeness while he played for Clemson. Playing his final year at Clemson in 2020, Lawrence now gets to profit off of being the first overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Almost as soon as he was drafted by the Jaguars, Lawrence signed a deal with Gatorade. Now imagine if he had been able to sign that deal, or a similar one, while he still played in orange.

Shareef O’Neal – Power Forward, LSU – $1.2 Million

shareef oneal ucla
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The son of Shaquille O’Neal, Shareef O’Neal hasn’t had the easiest time on his journey to the NBA. After committing to ASU out of high school, he changed his mind, joining the program at UCLA instead.

A heart condition and a series of injuries derailed his time in Los Angeles, and in 2020 he transferred to LSU. Despite all the setbacks, O’Neal is still considered one of the brightest stars in the NCAA and could earn up to $1.2 million for his 2021/22 college season.

Bryce Young – QB, Alabama – $2.4 Million

bryce young of alabama
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Considered one of the front runners for the Heisman Trophy for the upcoming college football season, Bryce Young of Alabama could see a similar financial gain as Spencer Rattler. Add in possible endorsement deals, and that number could blow well past $2.4 million.

To fully embrace his position, Young will need to increase his social media following. Higher visibility will lead to bigger deals. He currently has just over 80,000 Instagram followers, which sounds like a high number, but doesn’t come close to Rattler’s nearly 400,000 followers.

Cavinder Sister’s – Basketball, Fresno State – $3 Million

cavinder sisters fresno state
John Lamparski/Getty Images
John Lamparski/Getty Images

The bigger the social media following a college athlete has, the more money they stand to earn from the name, image, and likeness (NIL). That means even less publicized athletes, like the Cavinder sisters, who play basketball at Fresno State, can earn a nice income.

The sisters made headlines when they become some of the first athletes to sign NIL deals. According to one Sports Illustrated article, athletes can make up to 80 cents per follower, giving the sisters a combined potential earnings of $3 million.

Bo Nix – QB, Auburn – $2.4 Million

bo nix auburn qb
Michael Chang/Getty Images
Michael Chang/Getty Images

Another college quarterback hoping to cash in big this year is Bo Nix of Auburn. Not one to wait around to make things happen, he was quick to sign an endorsement deal with Milo’s Tea Company when the NIL bill was officially passed.

Nix has 94,000 Instagram followers, which will keep him under the $2.4 million predicted threshold if he doesn’t sign another deal. Playing QB for one of the biggest college football programs in the country makes us believe Milo’s Tea Company won’t be the only company knocking on Nix’s door.

Reggie Bush – RB, USC – $2 Million

reggie bush smiling at usc
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In the early aughts, few names were as synonymous with football in Los Angeles as Reggie Bush was. Before the Chargers and Rams were calling the City of Angels home, USC was running the game, and Reggie Bush was the school’s lead back.

Bush won the Heisman but later had to return his trophy after it was revealed he and his family accepted gifts against NCAA rules. Now with the NIL bill passed, Bush is pushing the NCAA to reinstate his Heisman. If he had been able to receive gifts when he was at USC, we’re guessing he’d have earned a yearly income of around $2 million.

Paige Bueckers – Basketball, Connecticut – $800,000

paige bueckers of uconn
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

With over 800,000 Instagram followers, Paige Bueckers could earn $800,000 or more with any NIL endorsement deals she signs. As a freshman guard at UConn, she lined her trophy shelf with awards. As a sophomore, she is projected to only get better.

Bueckers comes from an athletic family. Her father was a high school basketball star and her mother participated in cross country and track and field at the University of St. Thomas.

Zion Williamson – PF, Duke – $1.2 Million Plus

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 31 Div I Men's Championship - Elite Eight - Duke v Michigan St.
Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When he played his only season at Duke, there was no college basketball star more popular than Zion Williamson. A one-man wrecking crew on the court, in one match he played so hard his shoe literally blew up.

Being the top star during his time, Williamson would have been able to make a minimum of $1.2 million from the NIL bill, maybe more after blowing up his shoe.

Will Ulmer – Offensive Line, Marshall – Unknown

will ulmer marshall football
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Will Ulmer, an offensive lineman for Marshall’s football program is taking advantage of the new NIL not to get endorsement deals, but to start his music career. Because of that, we can’t predict how much money Ulmer may be in line for as an NCAA athlete.

Ulmer announced the news on July 1st, 2021, posting on on his Twitter, “Now that the NCAA will allow it, I will be playing live shows this year as Will Ulmer!! I am open to all venues and business opportunities!! DM if interested, let’s make some music.”

Johnny Manziel – QB, Texas A&M – $3+ Million

johnny manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Johnny Manziel was a rule-breaker in college who recently admitted to getting paid for his likeness. If Manziel had been able to legally profit off his name he would have been a college millionaire.

Manziel admitted to making $33,000 for signing his signature while he was in college. Now imagine how much more he could have made if he didn’t have to keep that deal “under the table.” We’re guessing Manziel could have earned more than $3 million before going pro.

Sabrina Ionescu – Guard, Oregon – Unknown

Stanford v Oregon
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Women’s college basketball isn’t lacking for star power. One of the sport’s bigger stars in the last several years has been Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. The face of the National Championship winning team, she was also close with Kobe Bryant.

This friendship with the NBA legend would have put Ionescu in a unique position to cash in. And it’s also because of this famous connection that we can’t guess how much money the star player could have made.

Drew Gilbert – CF, University of Tennessee – Unknown

drew gilbert nil shirt breaking t
Breaking T
Breaking T

A two-way baseball star for the University of Tennessee, Drew Gilbert has already signed a NIL deal, but financials have not yet been revealed. After hitting a walk-off grand slam to help lift the school to the College World Series, Breaking T was quick to get in business with him.

Breaking T creates high-quality t-shirts using trending athletes and teams, in this case, they came up with a Gilbert-themed shirt that read “Bat Flip King.”

Evan Neal – OL, Alabama – $1.3 Million Or More

evan neal alabama
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Evan Neal, standout offensive-lineman at the University of Alabama has already signed a deal with Yoke. Neal is considered a first-round draft talent as he enters his final year in college, which means he could earn $1.3 million or more.

Yoke is an app that lets users play with student-athletes. Neal joined several teammates in signing NIL deals with Yoke, although he stands the chance to be the most lucrative of the bunch as he has the most name recognizability.

Bo Jackson – RB, Auburn – Unknown

bo jackson
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

There are several factors complimenting a guess about how much money Bo Jackson could have made in college. Not only was he one of the best college football players in the nation, he was also one of the best college baseball players.

In 1985, he led Auburn with a .401 batting average and knocked 17 balls out of the park. On the football field, he rushed for 1,800 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, winning the Heisman Trophy in the process. His options for sponsorships would have been limitless.

Candace Parker – C/PF, Tennessee – $1.2 Million

Women's Basketball - NCAA - Tennessee vs. UConn
John Dunn /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
John Dunn /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

When she played at Tennessee, Candace Parker made herself known to the world with her ability to slam dunk. By the time she left school, she had won the John R. Wooden Award twice, two National Championships, and a slew of other accolades.

Being such a decorated athlete, Parker easily would have been able to cash in with at least $1.2 million in NIL deals.

Olivia Dunne – Gymnast, LSU – $1 Million

olivia dunner
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Already a social media sensation, Olivia Dunne now finally has the chance to make some real money. Despite competing with the USA national gymnastics team in 2017, her amateur status made it difficult to profit off her name before.

With over one million Instagram followers, Dunne could see her value skyrocket. Some estimates indicate she could earn up to $1 million. Being left off the Olympic roster, however, makes us wonder how high that ceiling really is.

Vince Young – QB, Tennessee – $2.4 Million

NCAA Football 2005
Douglas Jones /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
Douglas Jones /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Vince Young was so explosive during his college career that it’s disappointing he wasn’t a franchise QB once he entered the NFL. At Tennessee, he was named the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year twice and was the runner-up for the Heisman in 2005.

Like other QBs on this list, that means Young would have been in line to earn at least $2.4 million, maybe more. Signing a rookie contract worth $58 million made the lack of college millions painless, though.

Tiger Woods – Golfer, Standford – Unknown

tiger woods at stanford
J.D. Cuban/Allsport/Getty Images
J.D. Cuban/Allsport/Getty Images

College golf is not one of the more popular NCAA sports, so it’s nearly impossible to guess how much one of the most famous golfers of all time would have made thanks to the NIL bill.

Even before enrolling at Stanford, Tiger Woods was famous, so he likely would have had several sponsors chasing after him. We just can’t guess with any kind of certainty, what they would be offering the young star.

Tim Tebow – QB, Florida Gators – $3+ Million

GettyImages-1179500037
David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the most popular college athletes of all time and one of the nicest people you will ever, Tim Tebow would have been a multi-millionaire at Florida State before being drafted by the Denver Broncos.

Tebow, whose NFL career was fairly short, could have created a nest egg of at least $3 million by our estimates. He won multiple National Championships while at Florida and won the Heisman Trophy. There is no doubt in our minds companies would have been lining up to get into business with him.