College athletes from foreign countries represent a small but noteworthy piece of Division I sports.
According to the NCAA’s most recent data, there were 113,666 athletes across Division I sports for the 2019-20 season. International students accounted for 12.6% of that total (14,291).
They represented a bigger piece of men's and women's basketball, two of the higher-profile sports. International athletes accounted for 14.7% of Division I men's basketball players (684 of 4,666) and 13.1% of women's basketball players (645 of 4,943), according to NCAA data for 2019-20.
Student-visa rules generally prohibit off-campus work except in rare exceptions such as internships or work-study programs. That represents a significant obstacle for international athletes to pursue name, image and likeness (NIL) endorsement opportunities readily available to American teammates.
“Athletic directors are cognizant of this,” said Blake Lawrence, co-founder/chief executive officer of athlete marketing platform Opendorse. “I literally just got a text message from a Power Five administrator that they have seven of their basketball players who are international. So there are challenges around helping those seven student-athletes stay on par with the others on their team.”