College athletes are suddenly benefiting from a windfall of endorsement deals that once were reserved exclusively for nonstudent professionals. Each of these “name, image and likeness” (NIL) endorsement agreements creates a paper trail of documentation. Under state law, those documents typically must be shared with the athletes’ colleges. Records held by state colleges are presumed to be accessible to public inspection. But colleges have balked at releasing NIL records, making it likely that freedom-of-information disputes will end up in court.
This Article explores whether the public and press can gain access to the records memorializing NIL agreements from state colleges, why access has public importance, and what arguments for and against access are likely as freedom-of-information cases are litigated. The Article examines the first wave of disputes over public access to college athlete endorsement deals and how some state legislatures are preemptively walling off these agreements from public inspection. It concludes that concealing NIL records from the public disserves the interests of every stakeholder—the public, the athletes, and college sports itself—in making sure that competition is fair, honest, and passes the test of legitimacy, and that athletes have equitable earning opportunities befitting their level of accomplishment.