Sources: NCAA officials mulling change to allow on-field corporate sponsorships

MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. — Outside of the Hilton Sandestin, a beachside resort where the Southeastern Conference historically holds its annual conference meetings, the league’s logo illuminates the hotel’s exterior in the dark of night.

This week, it is the SEC Hilton Sandestin. Or the Hilton Sandestin presented by the SEC.

It is fitting. Soon, perhaps in this very conference, sponsorships will be expanded to football fields and, even, player jerseys.

Within the NCAA’s government structure, officials are seriously considering legislative changes to permit schools to display corporate logos on their football fields. While more debate is expected next month within the NCAA playing rules oversight committee, administrators expect a resolution that opens the door for on-field sponsorships — and, perhaps eventually, corporate patches on player jerseys.

Two days into the SEC’s three-day administrative meetings here on the Florida panhandle, questions loom about the future college sports model: Will football rosters be reduced to 85 players? How will a school distribute revenue amid Title IX requirements? What entity will be responsible for enforcing the revenue-sharing cap?

Of all the swirling uncertainty, the many doubts and the unanswered questions, one thing is quite clear: College athletic departments, in the age of direct athlete compensation, are exploring ways to find untapped revenue sources.

And it appears that corporate signage is chief among them, as well as renewed interest in playing a ninth conference game.

“I believe the NCAA is going to allow us to put a sponsor logo on the field during the regular season,” said Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin. “That's an obvious revenue stream that has not been there in the past. Pro sports are putting patches on jerseys. That doesn't seem like something that's crazy for us to consider these days.”

Starting in fall of 2025, power conference schools are permitted to share millions with their athletes, potentially as much as $22 million, in a capped revenue-sharing model that is part of the consolidation of three antitrust cases. The concept — paying players directly — has schools more willing to dip into commercialization more than ever as they seek to increase revenues to offset the additional athlete compensation costs.

For years, the NCAA, and its school-led committees, have upheld various restrictions around sponsorships. For instance, a long-standing NCAA rule limits on-field advertisement displays only to companies or corporations that also hold the field or stadium naming rights.

Soon, this is expected to change.

The playing rules oversight committee meets June 6 to examine and potentially change the policy. It’s a welcome switch for many SEC athletic directors who are already working with multi-media rights partners about future on-field displays.

While the exact policy change isn’t clear, the expectation is that schools will be permitted to display corporate names and logos in three ways: at midfield; at one 25-yard line; and at the other 25-yard line. The playing rules oversight group also oversees potential changes to jerseys, such as schools adding patches to a player’s jersey, à la NASCAR uniforms.

While the approval of jersey patches might be a more difficult endeavor, on-field logos could soon become a real possibility.

And the money is serious.

Will we soon see corporate logos on fields instead of school or conference logos? (Kevin Liles/Getty Images)
Will we soon see corporate logos on fields instead of school or conference logos? (Kevin Liles/Getty Images)

According to those with knowledge in the space, field logos on the 25-yard line are expected to fetch at least $1 million annually for an SEC program. Jersey patches could be upward of $5 million per season or more. Prideful of their tradition, it’s unclear if any SEC program would swap their midfield logo for a corporate sponsorship — a risky endeavor but also one with a lucrative end.

Imagine LSU’s “eye of the Tiger” replaced by the Raising Cane’s dog. Or Alabama’s script ‘A’ replaced by a Nike swoosh.

It seems unlikely.

Greg Byrne, the athletic director at Alabama, says the program prides itself in its tradition and is “conservative” when it comes to such moves. The school, for instance, has some of the most iconic uniforms and helmets in college football because they’ve undergone little change over the years.

However, he added, “Like anything, you’ve got to be open-minded.”

Though not an agenda topic this week, the expansion of the league’s football conference schedule, from eight games to nine, has renewed interest from those programs originally opposed to the ninth game, several officials told Yahoo Sports. A ninth game could draw as much as $3 million to $5 million in additional revenue per school.

The league and its TV partner, ESPN, have been engrossed in such discussions for months. The eight-versus-nine game debate has split the conference, with many of its low-resource programs originally not supportive of the move to nine games.

The SEC, with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas this coming season, will be at 16 teams. The conference will play eight league games in 2024 and 2025 before a potential move to nine in 2026.

A ninth game and on-field sponsorships could boost cash at a time when many college administrators are furiously working toward expanding their revenue buckets. That could benefit athletes as well. Each time they expand these buckets, the settlement-related revenue-sharing cap for athletes will rise. That could benefit athletes as well.

The cap is 22% of a formula of average power conference revenue streams, including media rights, tickets sales and, yes, sponsorships. The cap is expected to start at around $20 million to $22 million, though that figure could change.

The cap will escalate based on athletic department revenues within a set structure. There is an automatic increase of 4% after Years 1 and 2 of the deal, according to those who have read the short-term settlement agreement. After Year 3, the cap will be reevaluated based on new revenues flowing into the major conferences. The cap will rise 4% after Years 4 and 5 before another “look-in” to recalibrate based on revenues.

At the end of the 10-year agreement, the cap could well exceed $25 million, many college leaders believe.

There are plenty more options for growing revenue. A half-dozen untapped revenue sources exist through a college athletic department beyond jersey patches and field or court logos, including the naming rights to facilities such as arenas and stadiums.

“I grew up in Syracuse, New York, so I was accustomed to the Carrier Dome, which is now the JMA Wireless Dome,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “So this is not new within the college sports enterprise. We've had clear lines, so it hasn't been appearing on the field. I would anticipate there's going to be a continuing push of those limits.”

In light of the cost of athlete compensation, there’s something else athletic departments can do to balance the budget, said Texas A&M athletic director Trev Alberts: Reduce expenses.

“We've just always had enough increasing revenue to overcome dumb expenses,” he told reporters here Tuesday. “I've said it 100 times, and I'll say it again: We don't have a revenue problem in college athletics, we have an expense problem.”