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College athletes in state could get endorsement deals under bill banning schools from enforcing association’s compensation rules. Ultimate Resource On NCAA Pay Ban (#GotBitcoin)

California legislators voted to require schools in the state to allow their athletes to earn endorsement money, setting up a collision with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which bans compensation for college athletes beyond a scholarship and modest stipend and is threatening to bar California athletes from its competitions.


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The California state Senate, nearing the end of the legislative session in Sacramento, passed a bill by a vote of 39-0 that allows college athletes to earn money from their name, image or likeness, through sponsorship or endorsement deals, starting in 2023.

The bill also bans schools from preventing athletes from getting compensation or retaining agents. It covers all athletes at public or private colleges and universities in the state, according to its co-author, Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat whose district includes the University of California, Berkeley.

NCAA athletes can forfeit their eligibility if they receive direct payment for participating in sports, in practice restricting their compensation to tuition, room, board and a handful of other expenses. On Wednesday, the NCAA Board of Governors told California Gov. Gavin Newsom it would ban California athletes from competition if he signed the bill.

“If the bill becomes law and California’s 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions,” the letter said. “These outcomes are untenable.”

When the bill was being considered in committee earlier this year, NCAA President Mark Emmert suggested in a letter to state legislators that “it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.”

Lawyers who have represented athletes challenging NCAA rules scoffed at that suggestion, and said it seemed more likely that California would force the NCAA to follow its lead. They said dramatic differences between college athletes already exist. For example, Ivy League athletes don’t get sports scholarships, while military school athletes are salaried.

“One, I think it’s very unlikely that the NCAA would want to exclude some of its most prominent members from competing. Two, if it did, I am sure those conferences and schools would file an antitrust challenge…based on the fact that the NCAA would be organizing a group boycott,” said Jeffrey Kessler, counsel to a class of athletes suing the NCAA over compensation rules.

“If I had to predict the future, I think that the California legislation will become a standard that probably all the Power Five conferences will be allowed to adopt before 2023,” he said.

The NCAA letter pushed back against that suggestion and alleged the bill was unconstitutional, hinting at the prospect of litigation from both sides.

NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said Wednesday that courts had frequently sided with the association in upholding a demarcation between college athletes and paid professionals, and that the U.S. Constitution generally bars states from enacting laws seeking to regulate interstate commerce.

California State University, Stanford University, the University of California and the University of Southern California stated their opposition to the bill while it was being considered in committee, according to the legislature.

Stanford’s statement said that its athletic programs, like others’, had agreed to the NCAA bylaws, with which the bill directly conflicted. USC said the bill would “encourage students to violate the NCAA bylaws, becoming athletically ineligible and putting athletic teams and athletic departments at risk.” The school cited penalties levied against its athletic program in 2010 after an investigation into rules violations in football, men’s basketball and women’s tennis.

California legislators have frequently sought to buck national policies, relying on the state’s size to carve its own path on issues from immigration to tailpipe emissions and influence the rest of the country to follow.

That approach has a high-profile backer. “California can change the game,” tweeted LeBron James, a basketball player for the LA Lakers, in one of several messages backing the bill earlier this week.

The NCAA argues compensation limits are necessary to maintain a distinction between college and professional sports, and that as amateurs, college athletes are adequately compensated through athletic scholarships and the chance to earn a college degree.

Advocates of expanded athlete compensation say competitors are exploited in a multibillion-dollar industry that rests on their labor, which in turn often limits their ability to earn the degrees for which they are enrolled.

But the issue has been fraught, and somewhat fluid. A commission on college basketball chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reported last year that players should effectively be limited to tuition, room and board payments for now, but held back on issues like name, image and likeness benefits because of ongoing lawsuits.

The NCAA’s working group on “name, image and likeness” is due to report its recommendations next month.

In March, a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., ruled in an antitrust case brought by athletes including former UC Berkeley basketball player Justine Hartman that the NCAA could no longer limit compensation or benefits for college athletes to those strictly related to education. That decision is being appealed.

Another prominent lawyer who has sued the NCAA said California was giving athletes the victory they have sought in litigation. “This bill mirrors what we are aiming at in court,” said class-action plaintiffs attorney Steve Berman, of the case involving Ms. Hartman.

The California state Assembly passed the bill Monday by a vote of 73-0.

The legislation now heads to the desk of Mr. Newsom, a Democrat who negotiated changes for University of California athletes while he was lieutenant governor. His office said that he would evaluate the bill, but Mr. Newsom hinted at his stance Tuesday.

“LeBron James supports it for a reason, let’s leave it at that,” he said.

California Will Allow College Athletes To Earn Endorsement Money

Here’s How It Could Change College Sports.

Will other states follow and how will the NCAA respond? The answers will ultimately determine the impact of this new law.

The new California law requiring schools in the state to allow their athletes to earn endorsement money isn’t scheduled to take effect until 2023. But already, it is clear that one state’s decision to give college athletes the ability to profit from their name, image or likeness will have far-reaching effects on the economics of college sports.

The impact will extend from campuses to other U.S. statehouses. And it could alter both the flow of talent into top athletics programs and the stream of marketing revenue into college sports.

Here are some immediate questions that will ultimately determine the impact of the law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

1. Will Other States Follow?

Elected officials in several other states are already trying. A New York state senator has proposed legislation that goes even further, requiring colleges to pay athletes directly. A pair of Colorado state senators are planning to introduce a similar bill there. A proposed South Carolina bill—set to be filed in January—is similar to California’s.

There has been talk of such measures at the state level before, but backers are hoping the California law will help them gain more support. “This will be a building block that we can use in the state of South Carolina to make our case,” said South Carolina state senator Marlon Kimpson.

Kimpson, a Democrat, filed a bill in 2014 requiring Clemson and the University of South Carolina to pay its football and basketball players. The legislation effectively died without getting to a vote. If the California law proves to put South Carolina schools at a competitive disadvantage, Kimpson said he is hopeful that would spur more openness to a similar measure.

2. How Will The NCAA Respond?

The NCAA’s board of governors, in a letter to Newsom before he signed the bill, threatened to ban California athletes from its competitions if the law went into effect. The group cited the “unfair recruiting advantage” it would create.

“I think that would be enough of a disadvantage to wipe out any advantage that we might take,” said Pepperdine athletic director Steve Potts. “I just don’t want to put our student athletes in a position where they’re not allowed to compete at the highest level.”

But doing so would remove some of the most prominent NCAA member institutions from its championships, among them UCLA, USC, Cal and Stanford. And such a stance could prove difficult to uphold if enough other states were to enact similar legislation.

An NCAA ban for California schools could trigger an antitrust lawsuit. Likewise, the NCAA—which called the bill “unconstitutional” in its letter to Newsom—could attempt through legal action to overturn or at least delay the implementation of the law.

3. How Significant Of A Recruiting Advantage Would California Schools Gain?

In the highest-profile sports, at the highest-profile schools, the advantage would be obvious. Take UCLA, which has a storied history and an iconic brand but struggles to attract top-tier football and basketball recruits. How differently would a five-star player view the Bruins knowing his potential endorsement income in Los Angeles?

“Kids are going to go where the money is,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national football recruiting director. “Yes, there are a select group of programs that can recruit solely to the development of an NFL player, but it doesn’t solve any financial problems, at least not during college.”

That is precisely why Luginbill believes that one way or another, schools from the rest of the country will end up being able to offer athletes the same rules for off-the-field earning ability. Competing coaches will demand it.

“No way Nick Saban is going to go out on the recruiting trail and feel like they’re at a disadvantage,” Luginbill said.

4. Which Athletes Would Benefit Most?

Not all college athletes are expected to reap substantial financial benefits from marketing their name, image and likeness. According to Brenton Sullivan, co-founder and CEO of college sports recruiting platform FieldLevel, the law will most benefit athletes in revenue generating sports, such as football and men’s basketball, and high profile athletes with established social media followings coming out of high school.

“[For] top athletes I think that there would be a recruiting advantage,” said Sullivan. “But for everyone else, there’s a lot of unknowns here.”

Sullivan predicted that the law may also give athletes who break out later in their college careers an added incentive to transfer to California universities. Doing so would allow them to capitalize on their newfound starpower before their eligibility runs out.

5. How Will All This Alter The Competitive And Financial Landscape In College Sports?

David Carter, a USC sports business professor, said the ability of student-athletes to monetize their name and image—both in California and across the U.S.—is probably inevitable. When that becomes the norm in college sports, he said it could very well widen the already considerable gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Already, the 65 schools in the Power Five conferences earn dramatically more media and sponsorship revenue than the rest, while competing in facilities that rival those seen in professional sports.

“Now,” Carter said, “you’ll see a further polarization of these athletes being able to migrate to schools in these markets where they can further build their own brands. People are saying it creates a competitive advantage. What it does is it just extends the existing competitive advantage. That’s not inconsequential if you’re a midmarket school.”


Updated: 9-30-2019

California Governor Signs Bill Allowing College Athletes To Earn Endorsement Money

NCAA vows to fight in court, possibly bar state schools from its competitions.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill allowing college athletes in the state to earn endorsement and sponsorship money, ending weeks of suspense over whether he would go head-to-head with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its vow to fight the law in court and possibly bar state schools from its competitions.

“Colleges and universities reap billions from these student athletes’ sacrifices and success but block them from earning a single dollar. That’s a bankrupt model—one that puts institutions ahead of the students they are supposed to serve,” said Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, on Monday soon after he signed the bill.

On Monday, the NCAA issued a statement again criticizing California for acting out of step with the rest of the country, but did not directly repeat its earlier threats. The association had asked California to wait on passing the legislation because, in part, it has its own report on name, image and likeness issues coming out in October.

The governor had indicated early on that he was sympathetic to the bill. But he was slower to carry out the signing ceremony even as he added his support to other controversial bills, including one extending employee benefits to so-called “gig” workers.

Before signing the bill, the governor said he felt strongly about it, but was still giving the law careful consideration.

“With respect, there’s a racialized element to this,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview last week on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. “Close to 90% of these coaches are white and the majority of Division I basketball players are black, the plurality of Division I football players are black, and with all due respect, this notion of student athlete? Give me a break.”

The California legislature passed the bill Sept. 11, by a unanimous vote in the state senate that followed another unanimous vote in the state assembly.

Hours before senators voted, the NCAA board of governors wrote to Mr. Newsom, telling him they would ban athletes in California schools from competition if he signed the bill. They also said they believed the bill was unconstitutional, setting up the prospect of litigation that could come from multiple directions.

Updated: 10-4-2019

Is California’s New Law Doomsday for College Sports? Come On.

Freeing athletes to capitalize on their names doesn’t have to unravel the NCAA.

This week California passed its college sports “Fair Pay to Play Act”— Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law, right there on LeBron James’s barbershop talk show, “The Shop,” and, as far as I can tell, the rivers and seas did not boil, the dead did not rise, and cats and dogs did not start living together.

What’s happening in California has yet to unleash the apocalypse Bill Murray grimly outlined in “Ghostbusters.” It won’t even whirl into action until 2023, three whole years from now—by then, it’s possible we may be all living in yurts on Mars, but I doubt it. Newsom’s signing is not The End of College Sports As We Know Them.

Let’s clarify a few things. The California law isn’t forcing colleges to start lavishing salaries on their college athletes. Your favorite school’s quarterback does not get to wander down to the Chancellor’s office and pick up a paycheck because Gavin Newsom said it’s AOK.

Instead, what this law does is give college athletes—and, it’s important to note, we’re talking about all college athletes, men and women, in big revenue sports, and sports that make no money whatsoever—a right that literally every other student on campus enjoys: the ability to make money off their name, image and likeness.

That means if a videogame wants to start cranking out videogames with a college point guard on the cover, well, the videogame company is going to have to compensate the star point guard. Same goes if a T-shirt designer wants to start selling T-shirts with the point guard’s face on it. Or if a local car dealership—somehow, we have all settled on car dealerships as the hypothetical rainmakers of college sports—wants to pay that point guard to appear in a commercial for its new minivan, the one with the 59 cup holders.

How much are they going to get paid? That will be up for the athlete to settle on with the potential employer. The California law allows for the athlete to employ an agent to help in those negotiations.

This right already exists for college students who aren’t athletes. If you’re in school on a chemistry scholarship, and the local chemical company wants to hire you for a part-time job, you’re not going to lose your chemistry scholarship. Same goes for other non-athletes on campus. Tom Herman, the University of Texas football coach who’s expressed openness to reforming name, image and license rules, put it thusly in a recent comment: “The first-chair trombonist in the jazz band, he can go use his name, image and likeness all he wants and promote ‘Johnny’s Trombones’ if he wants to.”

Exactly. But while Johnny Trombones can cash in on his talent, Johnny Football can’t. What California’s doing is saying the NCAA can’t punish an athlete for doing something everyone else on campus can do.

That’s it. That’s what’s happening. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” the UCLA football coach Chip Kelly said the other day. “It doesn’t cost the universities, it doesn’t cost the NCAA—what it did before is it put restrictions on athletes, and it no longer does, and I think it’s progress.”

The NCAA does not agree. Though the organization has been considering a revise to its name/image/likeness rules, NCAA boss Mark Emmert told the Indianapolis Star that the California move is tantamount to “a new form of professionalism, and a different way of converting students into employees.” While that comment hints at what the NCAA is really anxious about—student athletes organizing as employees—it’s a bit overheated. Is Johnny Trombones no longer viewed as a student because he’s taking gigs as Johnny Trombones?

This is usually the part of a column like this where I launch into some dramatic sentence about the billion-dollar marketplace of college athletics, and how the money has gotten too big to ignore, and all the well-paid adults in the room knew this day was coming. But this bill is not a radical restructuring of the current environment.

Does it mean more enforcement work for schools? Yep. What happens if one player gets endorsements and nobody else does? That’s surely a headache for coaches, though coaches haven’t seemed to mind being able to cash in themselves. California’s law will create market transparency, and even contains a provision to protect existing school deals. All that hell-talk you’ve been hearing about Nike or Adidas swooping in and detonating the market? The California law contains a provision that prevents a player from taking a deal that unsettles a school’s existing sponsorship.

There’s some theater here, on all sides—the unveil on LeBron’s show; Newsom’s Aaron Sorkin-like flourish as he preps to sign. (“I don’t want to say this is checkmate…but this is a major problem for the NCAA.”) Even more theatrical are the Chicken Littles who see this as The End. Over the past few days we’ve been treated to all kinds of doomsdayism—free marketers freaking out about freeing a market, states’ rights proponents railing against states’ rights. There’s an overarching fear of mega-bucks donors with blank checks warping the landscape by funneling money to players—as if that sort of thing wasn’t happening illegitimately for eons. (There’s some irony to the notion of trying to preserve the status quo by saying your membership can’t be trusted to not exploit the rules.)

I get it. Fear sells. I can stand on my soap box and remind everyone that the Olympics went through this whole song and dance over amateurism and endorsements, and the Olympics didn’t fall off the face of the earth after making reforms—they got bigger—but that’s not the kind of rhetoric that registers in 2019. Nobody gets attention these days for saying: I think this is reasonable, and let’s see what happens.

But let’s see what happens. California is pushing college sports to do better, other states are in fast pursuit, and the NCAA still has plenty of time to step in with a reasonable reform of its own. The rivers and seas are not boiling, cats and dogs aren’t living together. Yet. I checked, and I’m pretty sure.

Updated: 10-29-2019

NCAA Clears Way For Athletes To Earn Endorsement Money

The decision comes a month after California passed a law requiring schools in the state to allow college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA cleared the way for college athletes to begin profiting from their name, image and likeness on Tuesday, a landmark decision that could dramatically alter the economics of college sports.

The move came amid growing pressure from legislators, a month after California passed a law requiring schools in the state to allow college athletes to earn endorsement money, and represents a stark shift in policy.

In a concession the NCAA had long resisted, the organization’s governing board directed its three divisions to immediately consider changing the rules governing such benefits for athletes, and to make any such changes no later than January 2021.

“We must embrace change,” said Michael Drake, chair of the board and president of Ohio State University.

The details of the new policy are yet to be determined. The NCAA said it must be “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model,” making clear that compensation for performance or participation is still prohibited, among other conditions. But the directive nonetheless paves the way for a scrambled financial landscape in college sports.

College athletes, who have remained largely cut off from the profits of what has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry, may soon be able to earn related income without jeopardizing their eligibility to compete.

The NCAA’s decision is expected to create opportunities for financial gain large and small for a wide range of athletes. For a tennis star, it could lead to giving paid lessons to recreational players. For a gymnast with a crowd-pleasing floor exercise, it might mean monetizing a YouTube channel. For a football player, it could mean being featured in a video game.

Though endorsement money wouldn’t necessarily stop the best football and basketball players from turning pro before they graduate, it would at least decrease the financial imbalance between them and the institutions that profit from their participation.

Electronic Arts chief executive Andrew Wilson said last week that he would be open to the return of his company’s NCAA Football games, which it discontinued in 2013 amid lawsuits filed by former players seeking compensation from the NCAA.

“If there’s a world where the folks who govern these things are able to solve for how to pay players for the use of their name and likeness and stats and data, we would jump at the opportunity to build a game in a heartbeat,” Wilson said at the WSJ Tech Live conference.

New NCAA regulations could prevent a scenario raised by the California law, set to take effect in 2023, in which the rules governing college sports could vary by state.

The law had sparked a dramatic confrontation between the state and the association. The NCAA had threatened to bar California from its competitions, and said it believed the bill was unconstitutional, setting up the prospect of litigation that could come from multiple directions.

The sponsor of the California bill, Democratic state Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, said Tuesday she saw the NCAA move as “great progress” but had no intention of accepting the matter as settled.

Updated: 4-29-2020

NCAA Wants To Allow Athletes To Cash In…To A Point

A new proposal outlines ‘guardrails’ for allowing college athletes to retain agents and profit from their name, image and likeness.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday rolled out its first concrete proposals on how it plans to allow college athletes to cash in on marketing opportunities generated by their collegiate sports prowess. But the debate will likely focus on how the NCAA also wants to limit the opportunities star athletes can generate.

The NCAA proposal would allow college athletes to retain agents and profit from their name, image and likeness as long as the association agrees that proposed deals represent fair market value. The NCAA says the measure is meant to protect student athletes from exploitative below-market deals, but it could also be used to block lucrative “professional opportunities” that it believes could provide an unfair recruiting advantage for some schools.

The NCAA also said it would seek a “safe harbor” antitrust exemption from Congress. That would allow it to impose some broad uniformity that regulates the terms of name, image and likeness endorsement deals—and limit lawsuits over pay issues.

“Allowing promotions and third-party endorsements is uncharted territory,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors and president of Ohio State, in a statement in which he said the association is trying to “modernize” to “protect college athletics and college athletes on a national scale.”

The NCAA had resisted endorsement rights for athletes for decades, including in lengthy, costly court battles. Then California passed a law effectively nullifying NCAA rules within the state, starting in 2023.

Faced with the prospect of up to three dozen other states following suit—and members of Congress from both parties working on federal legislation to force the NCAA to change—the NCAA suddenly announced it would amend its own rules. It also threw its backing behind Congress passing federal legislation to create a nationwide system, to prevent any one state from acting alone.

The nation’s top antitrust enforcer, Makan Delrahim, has said he has been eyeing the NCAA’s actions to date and that he will continue to do so.

“We welcome the steps it announced today. We will analyze any specific rules that the NCAA’s three divisions propose to adopt relating to NILs, as well as any conduct pursuant to those rules, to ensure the NCAA and its member institutions comply with the antitrust laws,” said Delrahim, head of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, in a statement.

The new proposal will test the appetite of states, players and federal lawmakers to continue a prolonged fight over the future of college sports. Some of those entities are likely to push for athletes to have a less restrictive path to profiting from their success while in college.

“Today is either the day that a wall of injustice around student-athletes started to crumble, or the day the NCAA used more tactics to bait and switch young men and women from some of America’s most vulnerable communities,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican who has pushed for years to undo the NCAA’s amateurism definition. “The working group’s final report has some reason for pause at the implied request for the NCAA to have antitrust exemptions.”

The proposals, presented to the board of governors by a 19-person federal and state legislation working group co-chaired by Big East commissioner Val Ackerman and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, provide the clearest look yet at the NCAA’s vision for athlete compensation. One important tenet: allowing athletes to sign endorsements in no way makes them employees of the university nor professional athletes.

Smith said that “there will be no cap” on athletes’ earning potential. At the same time, the NCAA is looking to create a mechanism to review payments to athletes’ deals as part of an effort to quash deals from boosters that would function as compensation for athletic performance or recruiting inducements.

This potentially is at odds with California’s plan for uncapped compensation, and some federal lawmakers’ hopes to remove restrictions on college athletes. California Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat and co-author of the state’s landmark law, said she was encouraged by the NCAA’s progress but still believed that “the devil will be in the details.”

Florida Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Republican author of a similar bill, said the NCAA “proposals reek with protectionism” and “are about protecting their pockets, not about student athletes.”

But the NCAA approach could also satisfy states and members of Congress who want to settle the issue and move on. The NCAA suspended competition in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, and college sports suddenly faces new financial pressures and has a fleet of federal lobbyists pushing its perspective on Capitol Hill.

The NCAA’s proposals would allow athletes to “identify themselves by sport and school” but prohibit them from using logos or markings from their university of athletic conference when monetizing their name, image and likeness. For example, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence could hawk a sports energy drink, but be barred from wearing his school’s eye-catching orange or showing footage of him quarterbacking the Tigers to a national championship in 2019.

This ostensibly would allow an athlete who competes for a Nike-sponsored school to sign a sneaker deal with a rival brand, such as Adidas. However, it’s unclear whether universities would be able to challenge or limit such arrangements.

The NCAA proposals are the ultimate test of one of the stickiest questions in the compensation debate: Is value generated from the name on the front of the jersey or the name on the back?

“The NCAA has argued in lawsuits and publicly that the players don’t have any value. It’s all what the schools bring,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association. “For an entity that believes that college athletes don’t have market value to determine what market value is, [that] is a losing proposition for college athletes.”

The NCAA has said it’s worried that schools with the most prominent national brands could exploit their marketing value by dangling lucrative endorsement deals to gobble up the most talented recruits. Advocates for players’ compensation say it’s unlikely that the scales of competitive balance could tip further out of whack, and this is another way to penalize athletes.

“Your name, image and likeness value is so inherently tied to your sport ability that…it’s impossible to disentangle,” said Andy Schwarz, an antitrust economist who has consulted in cases challenging NCAA rules.

Updated: 5-19-2020

The NCAA’s Athlete Endorsement Plan Comes With a Long-Shot Demand

The association wants an antitrust exemption from Congress so it can oversee name, image and likeness deals.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s plan for allowing college athletes to commercially exploit their name, image and likeness relies on something that it’s far from certain to obtain: an antitrust exemption from the U.S. Congress.

The NCAA last month moved one step closer to allowing college athletes to accept endorsement money with an approval for the concept from its Board of Governors—as long as it can keep some control over those payments to ensure they aren’t booster payments in disguise.

That’s long been a fixation of the association that has spent much of its 114-year history arguing in lawsuits that college sports cannot survive if athletes are paid for their performance.

But the NCAA has also ended up on the wrong side of the last two high-profile court battles over its remuneration rules, with judges rejecting the NCAA’s antitrust defenses of its ways of doing business. The latest defeat came on Monday, in a case brought by former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston and other Division I athletes.

As the NCAA bends in the face of a groundswell of pressure from states and federal legislators, it’s clear that the association will only be able to write the rules the way it wants if it can get an exemption from antitrust laws. It’s also clear that its antagonists are unwilling to see that happen.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling Monday that the NCAA’s limits on the education-related benefits an athlete could receive under the current rules violated federal antitrust law.

Ramogi Huma, an advocate for athletes’ rights, said the plaintiffs’ victory showed that antitrust laws were a way of holding the NCAA to account. “Each time the NCAA loses an antitrust lawsuit, players gain more equitable treatment,” he said.

Possibly as soon as next summer, college athletes will be allowed to sign deals in which they profit from their name, image and likeness. While many details remain out of focus, the NCAA says it does not intend to cap athletes’ compensation.

The NCAA has also said it would require athletes to disclose the terms of their endorsements deals via a clearinghouse that could be run by the NCAA, university compliance officials or a third party.

Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, co-chair of the NCAA working group charged with creating the new plan, said the group hadn’t decided who might oversee the mechanism and whether it will be able to void a deal deemed excessive or corrupt.

“There was a desire to see what the market was saying so that if you did see something that was really extreme you would at least have a mechanism to take a look at that and pick out the red flags,” said Ackerman.

What recourse the NCAA would have to deal with those “red flags” is unclear. Ackerman suggested that the divisions could institute payment “gradations” that correspond to particular third party income opportunities to make sure that “transactions are legitimate and don’t morph into payment that looks like disguised payment from the school to play college sports.”

For instance, a volleyball player could make $500 for signing autographs at an event put on by a campus pizza shop, but perhaps not $500,000.

Antitrust experts say that introducing a clearinghouse with clearly defined compensation tiers could amount to price fixing, no matter if it is run by an independent entity or the NCAA.

“If you as an organization and a bunch of independent firms are all agreeing to use a body’s pricing mechanism, that’s going to be an antitrust violation,” said Andy Schwarz, an antitrust economist who has consulted on cases challenging NCAA rules, including Alston v. NCAA.

“Fixed [prices] doesn’t mean everyone pays the same thing, but set to an agreed upon level, whether it’s high, low, the same or different for everybody.”

Ackerman’s working group suggested the NCAA Board of Governors solve its problem with a “safe harbor” exemption from antitrust law from Congress. Unfortunately for the NCAA, some of the lawmakers most interested in how it operates think that is a terrible idea.

“There is no way I would consider giving a blanket antitrust exemption in exchange for an incredibly limited compensation right for college athletes around name, image and likeness. It’s a non-starter,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.

Murphy is co-founder of a working group that is willing to create federal legislation that sets a national standard for the NCAA rather than forcing it to grapple with 50 state laws. That’s something the NCAA wants. Murphy’s version of a national standard isn’t.

“It’s just preposterous to think that Congress would give a broad antitrust exemption so that the NCAA can write their own rules on name, image and likeness,” he said, adding that he would expect “broad compensation” for athletes to be on the table before he would even consider it.

Nobody, to date, is rushing to champion the NCAA’s request, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has generally sought protections for colleges in the debate so far, and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, another member of the working group.

Aides to Sen. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican who heads the Commerce Committee, said that he planned to work with the Senate Judiciary Committee “to address the antitrust issue as it relates to NIL” and that he “will consider the merits of all proposals on the table.” Aides to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, declined to comment.

Wicker sent a letter to 50 schools, conferences and associations this month asking 20 questions about their current financial arrangements with college athletes and what they hoped to see happen next. The word “antitrust” did not appear in the letter.

None of that bodes well for senators ready to move quickly on something the NCAA wants resolved by the end of the year — something some of its own members acknowledge.

“Name the environments in which Congress is least likely to act,” said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. “An election year and a pandemic would be one and two on the list.”


Updated: 12-16-2020

Supreme Court To Hear NCAA Antitrust Case On College-Athlete Compensation

Justices agree to take up NCAA appeal of ruling that it unlawfully limited competition for college athletes.

The Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the National Collegiate Athletic Association violated federal antitrust law by maintaining tight limits on compensating college athletes, a case that could determine the future shape of college sports.

The court, in a brief written order Wednesday, said it would hear the NCAA’s appeal of lower court rulings that found the association unlawfully limited competition for college athletes by restricting the kinds of compensation they could receive related to their education.

Those rulings cleared the way for college athletes to receive an expanded range of education-related benefits, such as laptop computers or musical instruments, study-abroad programs, internships and paid-for graduate school. The rulings didn’t lift NCAA limits on athlete compensation unrelated to education.

The Supreme Court is stepping into a legal and political fight that has subsequently expanded dramatically and is now not just about athlete compensation, but also control of the multibillion-dollar college-sports industry.

In the years since former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston and other former Division I athletes filed their suit, states have brought unprecedented pressure on the NCAA to allow direct compensation to athletes for the use of their names, images or likenesses.

In response, the NCAA tore up its decadeslong definition of amateurism and conceded that it will allow some endorsement money to flow to college athletes starting in the 2021-2022 school year.

With both sides ready for a bruising fight over the parameters of the new compensation order, which could involve millions of dollars for some college athletes, Congress is showing an unprecedented level of interest in the association.

Several different groups of lawmakers are readying bills that would establish a new federal set of rules for intercollegiate athletics. The outcome of that tussle could either favor the more restrictive NCAA view or the more expansive view from states such as California, which has led the challenge.

The Justice Department’s top antitrust official, meanwhile, has signaled concerns about the NCAA’s limits on athlete compensation, telling The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that he was monitoring developments.

The Supreme Court is likely to hear arguments in the spring, with a decision expected by the end of June. That opinion could put a heavy thumb on the scale, coming shortly before the new school year, when the first state law requiring endorsement compensation is also set to take effect.

Gabe Feldman, a law professor at Tulane University, said the case could determine the level of control the NCAA can exert over college athletes’ compensation.

“In some ways, the foundational question is who gets to control the governance of college sports,” Mr. Feldman said.

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, Calif., said the NCAA had a legitimate interest in adopting rules that maintain a distinction between student-athletes and professionals who receive unlimited cash payments.

But the NCAA’s restrictions on education-related compensation, she ruled, went too far and weren’t necessary for “preserving consumer demand for Division I basketball and FBS football.”

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling in May.

The NCAA, in its petition to the high court, said those rulings deprived the association of the leeway it needs to administer intercollegiate athletics and would “fundamentally transform the century-old institution of NCAA sports, blurring the traditional line between college and professional athletes.”

Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, in a statement Wednesday said the association was pleased the court had accepted the case and believed the eventual ruling would help in future tussles.

“The NCAA and its members continue to believe that college campuses should be able to improve the student-athlete experience without facing never-ending litigation regarding these changes,” he said.

The NCAA has pledged to unveil its detailed plans in early 2021 that would take effect by the new school year. It also has asked Congress to grant it an antitrust exemption.

Mr. Alston and other former Division I athletes argue that the NCAA’s rules violated U.S. antitrust law by artificially depressing their compensation.

Lawyers for the athletes said in a court brief that college basketball and football are lucrative industries built on “the hard work, sweat, and sometimes broken bodies of student-athletes. Coaches, assistant coaches, and athletic directors take millions in salaries.

Yet the schools have agreed among themselves to limit what student-athletes may receive for their work in generating these extraordinary revenues.”

Advocates for athletes’ rights have criticized the NCAA’s early signals on what will be allowed in 2021-2022 because of potential restrictions such as requiring athletes to disclose the terms of their endorsement deals via a clearinghouse.

They say that allowing athletes to profit from signing memorabilia is a far cry from paying them the same multimillion-dollar salaries their coaches earn.

Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the athlete plaintiffs, also said he welcomed the court’s willingness to weigh in. “It is time for the Supreme Court to reaffirm that the antitrust laws apply fully to the multibillion-dollar businesses of Division I basketball and FBS football and that the era of exploiting the athletes who provide the labor in those businesses is at an end,” he said.

Updated: 6-18-2021

College Athletes Get Ready To Score Some Serious Cash

Six states will allow student players to profit from the use of their likeness starting on July 1—and the NCAA isn’t pleased.

For years, talk of college athletics revolved around high-minded ideals like the love of sport and competition, not money. But that didn’t keep schools or their athletic conferences from making billions from players’ efforts.

Now athletes are finally on the brink of profiting from their success, thanks to a wave of state laws taking effect soon. That’s set the clock ticking for Congress and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to roll out their own changes or risk letting others reshape the world of college sports.

On July 1, student athletes in at least six states—including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Texas—will be able to earn money by doing things such as marketing themselves on social media and selling autographs.

The uneven spread of name, image, and likeness (NIL) legislation has drawn the ire of the NCAA, which argues that a jumble of state rules will sow confusion and create unfair advantages for schools in states where top athletes can be paid.

At the behest of the NCAA, a divided Congress is working to advance a federal law that would immediately establish national standards for all college athletes. However, given several competing congressional bills and disagreement over the scope of the proposals, the state-level rollouts may be the ones that establish the initial rules.

“We could be in a position where it’d be a lot less chaotic, but it’s the selfishness and inability to evolve and relinquish some control from college coaches, athletic directors, and presidents,” says Dave Ridpath, a college sports expert and past president of the Drake Group, an organization that says it aims to protect academic integrity from the corrosive influence of commercialized college sports.

The laws have spooked officials across the collegiate landscape, from coaches to recruiters to administrators. At a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on June 9, Mark Few, the men’s basketball coach at Gonzaga University, argued that a scattering of state-level NIL laws would make it impossible to run “competitive, fair championships.” He added: “Only action here by Congress can maintain some sort of semblance of a level playing field.”

Texas on June 14 became the latest state to pass a bill allowing athletes to be compensated by outside businesses for the use of their name and likeness. Others, including Arizona, California, and Michigan, will have NIL legislation take effect over the next two years.

Still, swift action from the NCAA could result in a deal that leads to a national standard before the state rules kick in. The NCAA Division I Council is expected to vote on NIL legislation at its June 22-23 meeting.

“The NCAA could at that meeting come up with a national standard,” Ridpath says. “I just don’t think the membership is going to be liberal enough to really give the athletes the control over their name, image, and likeness that they deserve.”

Whatever happens on the national level, student athletes in some states will soon be able to make thousands of dollars posting on Twitter and Instagram and signing autographs.

Both University of Miami quarterback D’Eriq King and Florida State University quarterback McKenzie Milton have tweeted that players should have the right to profit from their name and likeness if they wish.

That’s where marketplaces like OpenSponsorship and Playbooked come in. The companies offer platforms that enable athletes to connect with marketing partners and brands. OpenSponsorship’s platform has facilitated more than $2.3 million in deals over the past year for thousands of professional athletes, taking a 20% cut from marketing deals.

Playbooked, focused solely on college athletes, has had success with players in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), a group of small schools that last year agreed to allow its student athletes to be compensated.

The temptation to make big bucks sooner has already shaken up the world of basketball. A number of top high school prospects who want to forgo their college eligibility have chosen to play for the NBA’s G League Ignite, go overseas, or join new programs such as Overtime Elite, a league for young players.

Bypassing college sports can sometimes result in a six- or seven-figure salary and success in the big leagues. Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, left high school early to play in Lithuania and Australia before joining the league. Teenagers Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, who both played for the Ignite, are consensus top 5 picks for next month’s NBA draft.

“Eventually this will all be figured out. But there are going to be bumps, and this will be a dynamic process,” Ridpath says. “College sports are not minor league. They are major league, and it’s time to be less restrictive.”

Updated: 6-21-2021

Supreme Court Rejects NCAA’s Tight Limits On Athlete Benefits, Compensation

The court rules the NCAA violated antitrust law by limiting schools from competing for player talent by offering better benefits.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that strict NCAA limits on compensating college athletes violate U.S. antitrust law, a decision that could have broad ramifications for the future of college sports.

The court decision on Monday, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, upheld lower court rulings that said the National Collegiate Athletic Association unlawfully limited schools from competing for player talent by offering better benefits, to the detriment of college athletes.

The decision doesn’t open up a world of direct, unlimited pay for college athletes, an issue that wasn’t before the court. Instead, the justices said the NCAA must allow colleges to recruit athletes by offering them additional compensation and benefits, as long as they are tied to education.

That means schools could offer compensation beyond the cost of attending college, such as scholarships for graduate or vocational schools, internships, computer equipment and study-abroad programs—and limited cash awards for athletes, potentially nearly $6,000 for now, who do well in the classroom.

While the ruling cleared only limited new avenues of compensation for college athletes, it dealt a considerable legal blow to the NCAA’s ability to use the issue of amateurism as a broad shield against efforts by athletes to share in the successes of a multibillion-dollar industry built on their labor.

Justice Gorsuch said while the NCAA is entitled to some leeway to administer the college-sports landscape, that didn’t mean the association enjoyed de facto immunity from the Sherman Act, the central federal law barring anticompetitive conduct, just because its restrictions “happen to fall at the intersection of higher education, sports, and money.”

“This court has regularly refused materially identical requests from litigants seeking special dispensation from the Sherman Act on the ground that their restraints of trade serve uniquely important social objectives beyond enhancing competition,” he wrote.

The high court said any special treatment for the NCAA, if needed, would have to come from Congress. The court throughout its ruling said the association still had ways to control and protect the product of college sports, but it said restricting athletes’ compensation related to education went too far.

The NCAA could face more legal problems ahead. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one of the court’s biggest sports fans, wrote a separate concurrence warning that the NCAA’s remaining rules limiting compensation “also raise serious questions under the antitrust laws.”

“Traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate.”

The NCAA said Monday’s decision had reaffirmed its authority to adopt reasonable rules, including in the matter of education-related benefits. It noted that the ruling didn’t directly address the issue of athletes’ ability to sign endorsement deals, often referred to as name, image and likeness benefits.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the association “remains committed to supporting NIL benefits for student-athletes. Additionally, we remain committed to working with Congress to chart a path forward, which is a point the Supreme Court expressly stated in its ruling.”

Athletes’-rights activists praised the Supreme Court’s ruling against an organization they have come to see as a foe.

“NCAA rules prohibiting athlete compensation are illegal and robbed college athletes of billions of dollars. This ruling is a major step toward ending NCAA sports’ racially exploitative rules that transfer billions of dollars per year away from predominantly Black athletes to white coaches and administrators,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association.

Mr. Huma said he believed the case could allow his organization to push for compensation to athletes even beyond endorsement rights.

The court’s decision comes at a pivotal moment in the broader fight over athletes’ ability to be paid for their participation in the college-sports juggernaut.

A wave of state laws allowing athletes to earn money from the use of their name, image and likeness are set to come into effect July 1. Their number has been growing every week as state legislatures rush them through in the fear their universities will lose out on prized recruits without such laws in place.

After years of resistance, the NCAA pledged to put in place its own reworked rules in time for the new school year. But the organization has twice delayed setting those new rules and indicated that it would await a decision from the Supreme Court before proceeding. The organization is due to meet this week.

Meanwhile, federal legislation sought by the NCAA to override a patchwork of state laws also hasn’t materialized and isn’t going to come before July 1. The NCAA has indicated that it is unlikely to seek to block those state laws from going into effect.

The result is that for now, athletes in at least some states will be able to sign endorsement deals within days, and athletes in other states may not be restricted from doing so either.

The case was filed by former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston and other former Division I athletes who argued that the NCAA’s rules violated U.S. antitrust law by artificially depressing their compensation. The athletes won a decision from U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in 2019 that the NCAA could no longer limit compensation and benefits as tightly.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Wilken’s decision, allowing college athletes to receive compensation for the cost of educational materials, such as laptop computers or musical instruments, or be guaranteed access to paid-for graduate or vocational school. In a deposition, the NCAA’s Mr. Emmert had likened promising high-school recruits additional scholarships to giving the athletes Ferraris because they “cost the university the same amount” as a medical degree.

Updated: 6-29-2021

NCAA Proposes Interim Policy For Athletes To Profit From Images

The proposal would allow athletes in every state to profit from their name, image and likeness as soon as this week.

Under pressure to overhaul its vision of amateurism in college sports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association on Monday indicated that it would allow athletes in all 50 states to make money from their name, image and likeness as soon as July 1 without forfeiting their eligibility.

In making the move—which is still one step from final approval—the NCAA bowed to the actions of numerous state legislatures around the country, which have already moved to make it legal for college athletes to profit from their images. Some of those laws are set to take effect on Thursday.

The NCAA move continues a period of furious change that intensified last week ago with a landmark Supreme Court decision in which justices unanimously said the NCAA had unlawfully limited schools from competing for player talent by offering better benefits, harming college athletes in the process.

In a meeting Monday to address the rapidly changing environment surrounding college athlete rights, the NCAA Division I Council proposed an “interim policy” for the association that would suspend a bylaw that prohibits athletes from monetizing their name, image and likeness. The proposals must be approved by the NCAA Board of Directors, which meets Wednesday.

“While opening NIL activities to student-athletes, the policy leaves in place the commitment to avoid pay-for-play and improper inducements tied to choosing to attend a particular school,” said the NCAA in a statement.

According to the Division I Council’s proposals, any student athlete in the country will be able to cash in once the policy is approved by the Board of Directors, no matter if their state has a law allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. The Board is scheduled to vote on the interim policy on Wednesday.

At least six states are set to permit undergraduate athletes to sign endorsement deals starting on Thursday. Some 19 states have passed legislation that will allow college athletes to do so within the next two years.

The NCAA had effectively blinked in late 2019 in the face of state threats to create their own set of endorsement rights if the association did not act, when it acknowledged that it would not seek to bar California schools from its championships for following a law passed by that state that was set to take effect in 2023.

The NCAA then pledged to create its own rules. But those were slow to materialize, and other states, including Florida, started considering their own laws addressing the issues that would take effect faster. Lawmakers in other southern states scrambled to follow, seeing NIL as the next frontier in the recruiting arms race for top athletes.

Earlier this month, the NCAA acknowledged that it would not seek to block those state laws from coming into effect; it had also said it would not punish schools for adhering to them. On Monday, it confirmed that athletes may sign deals so long as they are “consistent with the law of the state where the school is located.”

The emerging state laws also raised a new question: how could the NCAA hope to enforce its existing eligibility rules for athletes in other states? On Monday, the NCAA said that athletes in the 31 states either without legislation, or where bills are still up for debate, can also “engage in this type of activity without violating NCAA rules related to name, image and likeness.”

The NCAA stressed on Monday that the policy is a stopgap measure intended to be replaced either by federal legislation or more detailed NCAA rules. But federal legislation could be far off; U.S. lawmakers remain deeply divided over how expansive such a bill should be, or even how urgent it is, at a time when they are embroiled in other complex and more pressing negotiations.

The NCAA has repeatedly said it wants what it calls “guardrails” to prevent NIL activity from turning college sports into a pay-for-play venture. For example, the NCAA will not permit athletes to use the intellectual property of their universities or athletic conferences in NIL deals. The association also wants to limit the extent to which universities can facilitate sponsorships on behalf of their athletes to prevent nefarious recruiting inducements and booster involvement.

The exact language of the guardrails the NCAA will ultimately implement, however, also remains far from settled. Monday’s statement offered few details aside from suggesting that athletes disclose their NIL activity to their universities and athletic conferences and permitting them to use “professional services,” including agents, when negotiating endorsement and sponsorship deals.

The NCAA also said it would allow schools and athletic conferences to adopt their own NIL policies during the interim period before the NCAA adopts more robust rules or federal legislation passes. Many, including those in states with July 1 effective dates for their NIL laws, already have.

“If you’re a school and you haven’t drafted an #NIL policy, then what are you waiting on?” wrote University of Florida sports law professor Darren Heitner on Twitter.

“The time is now.”

McConnell Says Federal Standard May Be Needed To Protect College Sports

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday federal legislation “probably is necessary” to protect college sports after a Supreme Court ruling that loosened the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s control and cleared the way for greater compensation for student-athletes.

McConnell said there now are a variety of state laws regarding how student-athletes can profit on their celebrity that risk creating confusion, and a concern that the existing NCAA model violates antitrust laws.

“They are coming to us for some kind of national standard,” McConnell said in his home state of Kentucky. “What we’re looking for from the NCAA is, give us a plan that we can enact on the federal level.”

An NCAA committee on Monday recommended giving some players rights to make money off of their name, image and likeness, but keeping in place wider bans on paying players beyond stipends and education expenses.

States including Alabama and California have enacted legislation that would permit student-athletes to benefit financially from their name and likeness. Last week, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order permitting such payments.

McConnell said he also didn’t want to see funding endangered for sports that don’t bring in revenue, noting that they are subsidized by the money generated by basketball and football at some large universities. He said he’s already spoken to university presidents and athletic directors about the issue.

“I don’t want to see us at the end of the day with fewer women able to participate in sports because universities have to drop teams, and fewer men who are in non-revenue sporting activities no longer have an opportunity for a scholarship and a chance to participate,” he said.

The Supreme Court in a limited ruling rejected the NCAA’s push for an antitrust exemption, though Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his own opinion indicated a willingness to go much further.

“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Kavanaugh wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different.”

Some senators have already proposed legislation dealing with player compensation. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, last month proposed giving players collective bargaining rights so they could negotiate for pay and other benefits.

Murphy has also proposed another bill that would give players the ability to make money on their names, image and likeness.

“The NCAA collusion machine, designed to keep college athletes impoverished so the billions in profits can be kept for a small cabal of insiders, is finally starting to crumble to pieces,” Murphy tweeted after the court ruling last week.

Senator Tommy Tuberville, a former coach at the top level of college football, said last week in an interview he is fine with allowing players to profit from their own name, image and likeness, but worries about schools bidding for recruits with financial offers and getting lawyers, accountants and agents involved.

The Alabama Republican also warned that looking to Washington for a solution could make the situation worse.

“You get people up here involved, now, you’re going to take away all your rights,” Tuberville said he’s told friends.

Tuberville said he doesn’t want to turn college sports into “minor leagues,” and, like McConnell, said he worries about less money being able to subsidize sports that don’t pay for themselves.

“You don’t want to bankrupt the system,” he said.

Updated: 7-25-2021

‘There Are Inherent Disparities In The System’: Former NBA Players Say New NCAA Rules Will Make College More Equitable For Athletes

College athletes can now profit from their names, images and likenesses — a rule that would have come in handy for former Golden State Warriors Festus Ezeli and Adonal Foyle.

Thanks to various state laws, a recent Supreme Court decision and subsequent rule changes by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, college athletes can now profit from their names, images and likenesses, or NIL.

That rule would have come in handy for former Golden State Warriors Adonal Foyle and Festus Ezeli, who both faced scrutiny while on basketball scholarships in college.

Ezeli was suspended by the NCAA for six games in 2011 for accepting a free meal and hotel room from an alumni of Vanderbilt University, for which he was playing, because of what he calls inconsistently applied NCAA rules. Foyle required a larger bed at Colgate University for his nearly 7-foot frame, and faced questions of whether the bed was an impermissible benefit.

Both former pro athletes — who went to colleges different in size — believe that NCAA athletes will now have more leeway, tools and benefits to succeed during their college years.

“As amazing as my experience was, this would have created more opportunities for me,” Foyle said.

But a reliable system for tracking endorsements and other deals, and helping the so-called student athletes avoid potential pitfalls, is still a big question mark.

While Ezeli acknowledged that there is some concern about “kids under 21 being led astray” now that they can make money from being college athletes, he also called it an “amazing opportunity to get their career started.” And Foyle said, “What better place than college for players to learn how to manage money?”

Ezeli is a native of Nigeria who was sent to the U.S. to live with his uncle at age 14 because his parents wanted him to study to become a doctor. After a four-year career at Vanderbilt, he was a first-round pick of the Golden State Warriors and contributed to the team’s championship in 2015.

Foyle was also a first-round pick of the Warriors, and later played for the Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies before writing a book on athletes and finances.

As college athletes begin to cash in through endorsement deals and more, the two former basketball players spoke in separate interviews with MarketWatch about what the rule changes mean for individual athletes, sports teams, the NCAA system and society in general. They also weighed in on where college sports go from here. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

MarketWatch: How would these rule changes have made a difference during your college days?

Foyle: I came from a country [Saint Vincent, an island country in the Caribbean] where we didn’t have a lot of money and resources. I wouldn’t have gone to college had it not been for athletics.

In college, I got a custom bed because I’m 6’10”. There was some discussion about whether it violated [NCAA] policy because I was getting more bed than other kids. That’s insane! I said if there is somebody at this university who’s 6’10”, they should get it, too.

‘You would hope the school could fulfill your needs. At the same time, I have billboards of myself and my jersey is being sold at my school, and I wasn’t getting paid for it.’
— Festus Ezeli

Ezeli: Being a student athlete is like a job. You’re competing to be the best of the best. You practice for hours.

I would be at the gym early before going to classes, then after classes, then after getting homework done. I also wanted to do well in college. I didn’t have time to get a job.

I was depending on what the school could give me. You would hope the school could fulfill your needs. At the same time, I have billboards of myself and my jersey is being sold at my school, and I wasn’t getting paid for it.

I know kids who come from tough backgrounds. Their parents can’t afford to give them what they need.

MarketWatch: Festus, can you talk more about your suspension in college?

Ezeli: I was in Las Vegas, visiting family. The crazy thing is, I had money to pay for a hotel that my parents gave me. When I got there, a friend told me “your money’s no good here.” We went out to dinner and I had a burger — not a lavish thing. Nobody thought anything about it.

Later in conversation, my friend saw the chancellor of the school, told him about the dinner and that he saw me. My friend got banned from the game. My suspension at the time led to my [knee] injury. I tore my MCL and PCL, which affected my career.

I have a podcast called “Rebuilding the Beast.” I talked to former NFL player Todd Gurley, who had a violation in college and was suspended for four games. [Editor’s note: Gurley, while playing football for the University of Georgia, was found to have autographed memorabilia in exchange for cash.] The same thing happened to him — he got hurt after his suspension. I wonder how many other people have been affected [by those rules] like this.

MarketWatch: Do you see these changes righting wrongs and helping fix inequities in sports?

Foyle: One of the biggest distractions for a disenfranchised player is to ask them to spend money they don’t have access to. They’re asked to wear suits to a game. I’ve known guys who didn’t have suits. They didn’t have money to fly home. They couldn’t take a meal when they were hungry. You can’t bring somebody from a place where they don’t have resources and then embarrass them.

Ezeli: I’ve known of a couple of guys who were big rockstar athletes in college and didn’t end up panning out at the pro level. This is an amazing opportunity to get their career started, especially with no other work experience. As an athlete, it’s not like you leave college ready to dive into the workforce. [Being able to make money now] could be a great starter for them in the real world or help them build up a nest egg.

I’m just a fan of the fact that people who don’t have means have a new avenue to make money and support themselves.

MarketWatch: How might these changes affect team dynamics?

Ezeli: There has always been the beauty of college sports … a purity that came with the game. You always had stars because of the quality of their play. Now you’re going to have stars because of their fame. The ability to make money outside of the sport could be a distraction, but it also could be a motivator for people to play better and become stars on the court.

Foyle: There’s some potential for jealousy. When you start to look at the landscape, not everybody gets a multimillion-dollar contract with Nike.

But players can sign cards and make appearances. There may be small opportunities to go into their local neighborhoods and get access to some chance they never had before. There will be bruised feelings, but ultimately, the players are going to be able to handle these situations.

‘You can’t wait until you get to the NBA and have $1 million in your hands to figure out finance.’
— Adonal Foyle

MarketWatch: What are other possible risks that come along with these rule changes?

Ezeli: [The old rules] tried to level the playing field. Now you’re going to see the schools with the best amenities, the most resources, money and fans, have a greater ability to market their athletes.

The University of Texas at Austin changed their recruiting tools and their slogan to “the best place to go to work on your personal brand.” Now it’s about how schools are going to help athletes get paid. That might be a drawback. Schools might start recruiting differently based on your social media followers as opposed to how good you are at the sport. The athlete could bring more money to school that way.

With everything good comes some bad.

MarketWatch: Adonal, you wrote a book about pro athletes and money management called “Winning the Money Game.” Can you talk about how college athletes gaining the ability to make money could be risky, and how they might want to apply some of the lessons you mentioned in your book?

Foyle: What better place than college for players to learn how to manage money? Where else would you teach it? The college system has a unique opportunity. This is the time to put a financial program in place to look at this issue and discuss it in an academic setting.

You can’t wait until you get to the NBA and have $1 million in your hands to figure out finance.

MarketWatch: What’s next for the NCAA?

Ezeli: I definitely don’t have the answer. Who’s going to control how much money the athletes will make? They’re on all the different social media: YouTube GOOGL, TikTok, Instagram. How do you monitor all of it?

It’s going to take a whole new section of authority, a new branch to monitor who’s getting paid and how. Players will need to be educated on taxes and legalities. The gambling thing comes into play as well. It’s a whole lot more to monitor. I definitely don’t want to be the NCAA now.

Foyle: The NCAA system is broken. We know that the majority of sports in this country don’t make a lot of money. Most of the money comes from football and basketball, which are played by predominantly Black and brown athletes. Fifty-six percent of NCAA athletes are white, but Black and brown athletes bring in a majority of the money in the collegiate ranks. Athletes were not allowed to get any of the $18.9 billion in NCAA revenue in 2019.

There are inherent disparities in the system. That needs to change to make sure we don’t exploit athletes. There’s no other system in the world where the governing body is a 501(c)(3) [nonprofit], coaches make millions of dollars and have contractual agreements with universities, and the players get nothing.

If a kid comes from an inner city, college gives them a chance. Sometimes they get hurt and lose their opportunity and they get cut. How is that a fair system when you can still end up not getting that degree? A life-changing experience can easily be taken away.

We need to continue to make changes. More has to be done. We have to get to the point where athletes can have access to workers’ compensation and collectively bargain.

Ultimately, athletes are being used for their labor. As such, they should be paid for the work they do … especially given the financial return those programs receive as a result of that labor.

Updated: 11-13-2021

How NCAA’s New Rules Are Opening Money Doors For Student Athletes Outside Marquee Sports

Ultimate Resource On NCAA Pay Ban Reversal (#GotBitcoin)

Student athletes who play volleyball, soccer, water polo and other sports can get a piece of the financial action.

Thanks to new rules in college sports, student athletes now can make money from their names, images and likenesses. The change has been heralded as ushering in a new era of lucrative endorsement opportunities for stars of the most popular sports, such as football and men’s basketball.

But student athletes whose exploits traditionally don’t generate as much national interest—those playing soccer, volleyball and water polo, for example—also are finding there’s money to be made in this new world.

The new rules, implemented July 1 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association a nonprofit that regulates college sports, allow athletes to use their status to gain endorsements, sponsorships and appearance fees, which were off limits to them before. In addition, they can now give paid instruction with less restrictions.

Haley Jones, a Stanford University basketball star, is one of the big winners. She has signed with sports agency PRP, which also represents basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal.

Already since July 1, she has scored a deal with videogame publisher 2K Sports to appear in a TV ad for NBA 2K22. And she participated in a roundtable on cryptocurrencies sponsored by Coin Cloud, a provider of cryptocurrency ATMs.

Ms. Jones declines to reveal her compensation for this work. But these kinds of deals typically pay as much as tens of thousands of dollars, industry sources say.

“My family and I see this as starting the process two years earlier than we would have otherwise,” says Ms. Jones, who is a junior and expects to play basketball professionally after she graduates.

Meanwhile, Jaelin Howell, a star women’s soccer player at Florida State University, says she already has received between 20 and 30 endorsement offers. So far, she only has chosen to pursue deals with Oakland, Calif.-based Harmless Harvest’s coconut water and Milner Technologies, a workplace technology company based in Peachtree Corners, Ga.

Ms. Howell declines to disclose her compensation for the two opportunities, but Sports Business Journal has reported that Milner planned to offer her $5,000.

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Under the Milner deal, Ms. Howell will make visits to a local YMCA three times this year for five hours a day to teach kids soccer. Milner is donating Ms. Howell’s services to the Y. “It’s nice to give back to the community, showcase women’s sports and earn the money,” she says.

To help garner her Milner deal, Ms. Howell used a tool a lot of college athletes in low-revenue sports are utilizing, an Internet platform that brokers deals between companies and athletes.

The platform she used is Icon Source, a Denver-based business that matches athletes and companies for endorsements and promotions, many through social media.

Icon says that from July 1 through Nov. 4, more than 10,000 offers were made to college athletes on its site, with the majority going to low-revenue-sport athletes.

The most important asset many of these athletes bring to the table is their social-media following, particularly on Instagram.

Corey Staniscia, external affairs director of Orlando-based Dreamfield Sports, another firm that matches athletes and companies for endorsements, says he has seen industry research showing that about 90% of name, image and likeness deals for athletes involve social media.

At their simplest, such deals call for the athlete to post a picture of herself or himself to Instagram with the product and the company’s name. More advanced deals could involve a print or video ad or a promotional appearance.

“Low-revenue-sport athletes don’t have a huge platform, they aren’t on TV every Saturday,” Mr. Staniscia says. But they can still have devoted social-media followings in the geographical areas of their schools. “They get their exposure through social media: TikTok, Instagram and Twitter,” he says.

Callie Williams, a Baylor University volleyball player who previously played at the University of Tennessee, struck an endorsement deal over the summer with Uptime Energy drinks involving Instagram posts. She says she is in talks about other opportunities.

“Colleges are such a major part of their towns, and athletes by nature have a large reach,” says Ms. Williams, who has 2,924 followers on Instagram. “They’re visible to the public. So it’s a way companies can advertise their products cheaply and reach a big part of the community.”

While the money she is earning won’t have a huge impact on her finances, Ms. Williams says, she sees non-monetary benefits as well—such as the networking and job opportunities that could arise.

Ms. Williams is a client of 98Strong, an online platform that some athletes in low-revenue college sports use to find sponsorships and other types of name, image and likeness deals.

Started by two former college water-polo players, Andrew Mavis, an alum of George Washington University, and Nick Bunn, an alum of Harvard University, the business gets its name from the 98% of college athletes who don’t go pro, the co-founders say. Most of their clients have Instagram followings of 1,000 to 25,000.

Another 98Strong client, Nick Schroeder, a water-polo player at George Washington, obtained the most basic form of payment for an endorsement deal: barter. Zanerobe, an Australian apparel company, gave him some of its shirts, pants, shorts and a sweater in return for wearing the clothes—with a friend—in a picture that Mr. Schroeder posted to Instagram.

No cash was included in the deal. The picture, which included Zanerobe’s name and a thank-you, appeared in the Instagram Stories format, which means it disappeared after 24 hours.

“I’m definitely happy to get free clothes for just putting up a picture,” says Mr. Schroeder, who has about 1,300 Instagram followers.

More than 50 businesses have contacted University of Florida star gymnast Trinity Thomas with potential deals since July 1, Ms. Thomas says. She has done a few small barter arrangements and a $50 Instagram deal with Novashine, a Columbia, Mo.-based teeth-whitening products company.

Realizing she could use management help, she says, Ms. Thomas has signed on with the Miami-based Raymond Representation agency. “I was overwhelmed with the email I was getting, not knowing the companies,” she says.

Ms. Thomas hopes to get involved with health and wellness companies and ultimately have her own athletic-wear line.

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Another way college athletes profit from their skills is by giving lessons. They weren’t barred from doing this before, but not until the July 1 rule change could they mention their school’s name in promoting their services.

Noah Gans, a soccer player at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., says he earned $900 in July giving soccer lessons to youngsters. When he gave lessons in July 2020, he says, he made only $400.

“I couldn’t market myself as a college athlete. I couldn’t say that I played on a team which made the 2017 final four for Division 3,” he says. “Now I have more credibility.” Mr. Gans says he charged clients $50 an hour for one-on-one lessons this July, up from $35 a year earlier.

While the senior will be too busy for coaching during the school year, he says, “it’s a nice supplement while I’m home.”


Updated: 11-15-2021

In A New Constitution, The NCAA Reduces The Power Of A Key Player: Itself

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The association is expected to take the first steps toward adopting a new constitution that hands more power to its three divisions.

The National College Athletics Association had a brutal summer. It lost a landmark case in the Supreme Court that loosened its tight grip over college sports.

It endured scrutiny from federal lawmakers amid a flurry of state laws that did away with the association’s longtime ban on college athletes making money on their likeness.

Facing these gale-force headwinds, the NCAA committed to self reflection. Now it will take the first formal steps toward something that was once hard to imagine: surrendering its control of governance in large swaths of college sports.

The NCAA convened a special “virtual” convention of its member institutions on Monday to discuss the draft of a new constitution for the association. A 22-member constitutional committee will now parse feedback from this session and present a final version for approval to the NCAA Board of Governors in January.

The proposed new constitution reduces the role of the NCAA in many areas of policy and enforcement, handing those powers to the boards that govern Divisions I, II and III of college sports. The NCAA is left mostly to operate championships and maintain rules of play for each sport.

While the document embraces the newfound ability of college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, it explicitly prohibits schools from paying athletes to play.

“The big takeaway of the constitution is that the NCAA loses a lot of authority over Division I,” said Amy Perko, chief executive officer of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an advocacy group that aims to reform inequities in college sports. “It puts the future of Division I, everything from revenue distribution to enforcement, in the hands of Division I leaders to define for the future.”

This shift is a direct result of the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in NCAA v. Alston in June that the association violated antitrust laws by capping education-related benefits available to athletes.

The ruling, coupled with a harsh concurring opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, raised questions about the NCAA’s authority to set national standards without running afoul of antitrust statutes.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said in July that the association sought “wholesale transformation” in rewriting its constitution to “set a sustainable course for college sports for decades to come.”

Yet even some of the people involved in drafting the new constitution aren’t sure that its effects will be sweeping. Kendall Spencer, a former track athlete at New Mexico who serves on the NCAA’s constitutional committee, said that many athletics administrators told him they had never read the old constitution and, after finally doing so, did not take issue with its language.

“That tells you, is this really something where the problem is with the constitution? Or is the issue with enforcement?” Spencer asked. “Are people not aware of what’s in there and they’re not enforcing it?”

The new constitution—less than half as long as the existing document—narrows the NCAA’s role within college athletics to one of a near-figurehead and cedes enforcement and rule-making power to Division I, II and III.

It leaves the association to conduct most national championships, establishing rules for fair competition, developing health and safety protocols and liaising with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

It is up to each division to organize and govern itself, determine academic eligibility standards and regulate what financial benefits athletes can receive either tied to their education or the commercialization of their name, image and likeness.

This means that the Boards of Directors for each division, which previously deferred to the NCAA’s president and Board of Governors, have a greater say in how the revenue is distributed between member schools and how rules are enforced.

No direction was given, however, on how the divisions would go about making sure members follow the rules. “It’s a huge question mark in terms of how enforcement will be handled,” Perko said.

Notably, the new constitution does not use the word “amateur” in reference to the operation of college sports. It’s a substantial concession by the NCAA, which was steadfast in most of its 115-year existence in defining college athletes as unpaid students enrolled at universities as much for their education as for their sport.

College athletes may not be amateurs, but the draft constitution makes clear that they “may not be compensated by a member institution for participating in a sport.”

Financial avenues for athletes are limited to education-related benefits, in accordance with the Alston ruling, and “commercialization through use of their name, image and likeness.” It’s up to the divisions to set the rules for these awards, according to the draft constitution.

The constitution also opens the door for members to split into further subclassifications beyond Divisions I, II and III, something that has increasingly been discussed in recent years as the five conferences in the top tier of Division I football grow increasingly wealthy.

The new constitution will include athletes’ perspectives at the highest level of NCAA governance by adding one former athlete representative to the Board of Governors for the first time. Previously, the NCAA gave one athlete per division a nonvoting role on the divisional Boards of Directors.

When asked in a straw poll on Monday whether they felt the new constitution adequately included the voices of college athletes in the decision-making process, 96% of NCAA members responded affirmatively.

At the same time, however, the new constitution guts the power of the Board of Governors, making it unclear how much louder athletes’ voices will ultimately be. The body’s size will decrease to nine from 21, featuring four representatives from Division I, one each from Division II and III, two independent members and one athlete.

Its purview will be narrowly limited to setting the NCAA’s budget, overseeing its president, handling the association’s legal affairs and coordinating meetings between various NCAA committees.

This is window dressing,” said Ramogi Huma, an advocate for college athletes as executive director of the National College Players’ Association, of adding an athlete to the Board of Governors. “They stripped the power of that board.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey expressed concern on Monday that a board with fewer members would be less equipped to “sufficiently meet the dynamic legal needs of our current environment.”

The constitutional committee sought to further support college athletes by expressly stating, in its principles, the NCAA’s commitment to protecting and enhancing the “physical and mental health” of athletes, long a rallying point for college athlete advocates.

The NCAA does not have a great track record for putting its principles into action, however.

“Currently the NCAA constitution has a principle of gender equity. But we know that there were problems,” said Perko, alluding to the criticism the NCAA weathered last March during the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

Social media posts by players revealed vast differences in meals, weight rooms and practice facilities made available to men and women at their basketball tournaments in Indianapolis and San Antonio, respectively.

In response, the NCAA commissioned an independent review of its practices by law firm Kaplan Heckler & Fink, which revealed substantial disparities in how the NCAA promotes men’s and women’s sports.

For instance, when distributing more than $600 million in revenue to members annually, the NCAA allocates 28% of the money based on performance of the men’s basketball team in March Madness without considering how the women’s team fares.

As a result of the findings, the NCAA has committed to some small changes, such as extending the “March Madness” branding to the women’s basketball tournament. An explicit commitment to promoting gender equity remains in the new draft constitution.

“There’s a huge difference in promoting and enforcing,” Huma said.


Updated: 12-14-2021

Nike Signs UCLA’s Reilyn Turner As Its First-Ever College Athlete

Nike Inc. has signed its first-ever endorsement deal with a college player after a recent NCAA rule change allowed brands to work with student-athletes.

Reilyn Turner, a sophomore on the women’s soccer team at the University of California at Los Angeles, joins Nike’s wide roster of sponsored athletes. She was the Pac-12 conference’s top freshman last season.

Terms of the arrangement weren’t disclosed.

“I hope to be a role model for those around me and those after me, and I’m so excited to be a part of what Nike is bringing to the future of women’s sport,” Turner said in a statement Tuesday.

The college deals are accumulating as brands rush to court younger stars than ever after the NCAA this summer permitted players to profit from their names, images and likenesses.

Gatorade, the sports drink owned by PepsiCo Inc., made the biggest splash so far when it signed University of Connecticut women’s basketball phenom Paige Bueckers to a multiyear deal in November.

Updated: 3-18-2022

Now Playing In The NCAA Tournament: A 61-Point Scorer

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Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee makes her March Madness debut, weeks after setting the women’s single-game record.

This week, the NBA was buzzing about two rare scoring bursts. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns dropped 60 points against San Antonio on Monday. The next night, Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving dropped 60 on the Orlando Magic.

Weeks before Towns and Irving set the tongues of NBA Twitter wagging, a college player had also joined the exclusive 60-point club.

Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee scored 61 points in a Jan. 23 win over Oklahoma. Her outburst, which came during regulation against a ranked team, set an NCAA Division-I women’s record. On Saturday, the 6-foot-6 junior center will make her NCAA tournament debut as No. 9-seeded Kansas State faces No. 8 seed Washington State.

Lee’s record itself was jaw-dropping—many teams don’t score 61 points in some games—but the way she did it was even more intriguing. Her skill set, working to perfection in that game, shows why she’ll be one of the toughest-to-guard players in the tournament.

“It takes an efficiency level to do that,” Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said. “It takes an unbelievably efficient game.”

Lee didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer on that January day. She went 23 of 30 from the field, shooting 76.7%. She made 15 of 17 free throws.

Lee crammed her scoring into 35 minutes of the game’s 40-minute regulation time. (NBA games are 48 minutes.) Long Beach State’s Cindy Brown set the previous NCAA record of 60 points in 1987. In 2016, Minnesota’s Rachel Banham needed 18 points in two overtimes to tie that record.

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Lee’s height is an obvious advantage, but her versatility takes it a notch higher. She can score from her right or left, using turnaround jump shots or jump-hooks, muscle in or use a light touch. She holds the ball high and releases quickly, confounding defenses.

“She’s really hard to double because she rarely dribbles the basketball,” Mittie said. “She doesn’t waste any dribbles, and she’s got great hands.”

College basketball has a 30-second shot clock, longer than the NBA’s 24-second one. So the fast pace preferred by the Sooners, ranked No. 14 at the time and No. 22 now, worked in Lee’s favor: It gave the Wildcats more possessions and Lee more chances to score.

Oklahoma kept changing its defense to try to stop her, but nothing worked.

“They continued to send help throughout the game, and I just made the right reads,” Lee recalled. “And our team just did so well knowing when to get it inside. So it was definitely a team effort.”

Mittie wasn’t calling plays for Lee to chase the NCAA record, and for good reason. He didn’t know she was close to it.

“I did know the record for the Big 12 was 50, because I had seen (Baylor’s Brittney) Griner do that before,” he said. “So I made the comment at halftime that, ‘We’ll see if she can break that.’ But I didn’t even know what the NCAA number was.” When Mittie finally looked at the scoreboard and saw the number ‘58′ next to a single player’s name, “It just looked odd to me.”

By then, Kansas State’s crowd was in a frenzy. When Mittie took Lee out with a couple of minutes left, fans gave her an ovation. Her cellphone blew up with well wishes, and she even got some actual letters from fans.

“I was like, ‘This is so cool that people still send snail mail,’” she said.

Lee typically spends part of her pregame routine dozing in one of the recliners in Kansas State’s practice facility. Things were pretty normal ahead of her big game, with one exception.

“I remember my nap being really good that day,” she said.

Lee grew up in Byron, Minn., a 6,300-person bedroom community of Rochester, and didn’t play organized basketball until seventh grade. Her coordination took time to catch up with her fast-growing body, recalled her coach at Byron High, Darren Nelson. But when it did, Lee was unstoppable, averaging about 25 points and 15 rebounds a game, he said.

Lee said she loved growing up in a small town—she was voted Byron’s homecoming queen and student council president—and chose to play in Manhattan, Kan., population 55,000, in part because it was “big enough for me.”

Mittie calls her a social unifier. “She’s always saying, ‘Coach, can we go out to the movies as a team? Can we go out to dinner?’” he said.

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Although fierce and quick on the court, Lee speaks with a casual laugh and comes across as laid back. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and is pursuing a master’s in couple and family therapy.

She hopes to finish it next year, which would be her fifth at Kansas State after she sat out her freshman season with a knee injury.

Lee was born in the United Kingdom, where her family was living because her father was working in the U.S. Air Force. The family—Lee has two brothers, one older, one younger—moved to Minnesota when she was three years old. Lee has dual U.S.-British citizenship.

Lee’s mother, Kolloh Nimley, was in the stands the day of the 61-point game and greeted her daughter with tears. Nimley is originally from Liberia, but said “Ayoka” isn’t a family name. She got the idea online.

It means, “One who causes joy.”


Updated: 3-31-2022

Which Final Four Basketball Players Have Greatest Earnings Potential? It’s The Women

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College players are cashing in for the first time on endorsement deals.

This year’s collegiate basketball tournament has a new twist: Amateur players can now make money from endorsements, and some female athletes stand to make more than the men.

Thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, college players can now benefit from sponsorship deals, and that’s meant big bucks for some of the stars. The biggest ballers have clinched deals with a range of brands — from the sporty, like Gatorade and IcyHot, to broader consumer names, such as H&R Block Inc. and DirecTV.

Women’s college basketball ranks second to football in player compensation for endorsements, with men’s basketball a close third, according to data from Opendorse, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based company that tracks what sports agents call name, image and likeness, or NIL, deals.

The company shared figures with Bloomberg News that ranked the marketability of women’s and men’s college basketball players set to play in the Final Four matchups on Friday and Saturday.

Opendorse calculates a value per social media post for players based on factors such as their Twitter and Instagram followers, what school they play for, and awards or recognitions they’ve received.

The most marketable women’s players had higher earnings potential than the men, in part due to their higher social media followings. For example, Paige Bueckers, the point guard for the University of Connecticut Huskies, boasts close to 1 million Instagram followers.

Meanwhile, Duke University star Paolo Banchero leads the men for earnings potential with just over 250,000 Instagram followers.

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Below is a roundup of the players with the highest social media post earnings potential from each Final Four team.

Women’s Players

Paige Bueckers, University of Connecticut: $62,964

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Bueckers secures the top spot for marketable basketball players in the Final Four, and the point guard has certainly cashed in. She clinched big deals with Gatorade and StockX, the online streetwear marketplace.

She’s also partnered with CashApp, the mobile payment platform. She announced the deal in a February TikTok post shared with her more than 350,000 followers. She wrote on Instagram that for every assist she gets in the NCAA tournament, the company will donate $1,000 to Youthprise, a nonprofit based in Bueckers’ home state of Minnesota. So far, she’s had 11 assists.

Hailey Van Lith, University of Louisville: $37,692

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Van Lith started negotiating early. In August, she signed an exclusive deal with Octagon to represent her in NIL negotiations and since then, has partnered with a range of companies. She’s touted gear from Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. on Instagram and shouted out the pain reducer IcyHot on TikTok.

Cameron Brink, Stanford University: $8,846

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Brink reps her home city in a partnership with apparel company Portland Gear. The Stanford forward also signed with hair salon chain Great Clips. In a March Instagram post, Brink sported choppy, layered locks with a caption declaring she was “ready for #GameDayGREATness.”

Brink also reps DirecTV on TiKTok, where she posted a video of her pre-game routine — complete with footage of her carbo-loaded meal and a hairbraiding session with her teammate.

Zia Cooke, University of South Carolina: $7,923

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Cooke signed a sponsorship deal with H&R Block as part of the financial services company’s “A Fair Shot” campaign, which invests in female college athletes. The South Carolina point guard signed the deal alongside University of Iowa’s star Caitlin Clark.

Cooke also promotes Bojangles, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based fried chicken chain. Seated outside with a box of fries and chicken tenders, Cooke declares in a Twitter video: “I don’t like making a comeback because I like being in the lead, but for the Bojangles Supreme, I make an exception.”

Men’s Players

Paolo Banchero, Duke University: $9,952

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Banchero partnered with Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.’s NBA 2K last year, making him the first active college basketball player to be featured in the video game series. College athletes’ appearances in video games helped spark early debates over NIL rules.

Banchero has raked in other deals as well. He announced his partnership with men’s sports retailer JD Sports Fashion Plc, via a February Instagram post.

He’s also signed a multiyear deal with trading card company Panini, which offered its first Banchero card on March 18 to coincide with Duke’s first game of the tournament.

Caleb Love, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: $4,951

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Love announced a deal with Outback Steakhouse in February. The Tar Heels point guard is one of a dozen NCAA college basketball stars to become TeamMATES for the Aussie-themed restaurant.

Diners with a Division I appetite can order Love’s favorite meal — Kookaburra Wings and a New York Strip with sides. “Who’s hungry?” Love asked on an Instagram photo last month — fork and knife in hand.

Ochai Agbaji, University of Kansas: $3,076

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Wichita, Kansas-based 6th Man Strategies represents Agbaji and his teammates as they navigate NIL deals. So far, neither his Instagram nor his Twitter accounts feature any obvious brand partnerships. Kansas Athletics has partnered with Mercury, an NFT platform that allows fans to buy team collectibles.

His teammate, Jalen Wilson, appears to be very active. Wilson’s Instagram includes posts promoting messaging service Discord and his apparel brand, JW10.

Collin Gillespie, Villanova University: $1,798

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Gillespie may have fewer followers than some rivals, but he’s still got plenty of deals. The point guard signed with Barstool Athletes in July 2021, less than two weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Like Love, Gillespie also promotes Outback, offering his go-to meal: Aussie Cheese Fries and a New York Strip with sides.


Updated: 4-13-2022

It’s A Golden Hour For College Gymnastics. The NCAA May Still Miss Out On The Money

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The Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee is now a star athlete for Auburn. Long-term deals struck by the NCAA stand in its way for capitalizing on the moment.

AUBURN, Ala.—Hours before the biggest college-basketball game of the year, Auburn’s basketball arena felt like the loudest place on earth. The roaring wasn’t for basketball.

Women decked out in orange, families with young children, couples, older men and students were all screaming for the Tigers at a college gymnastics meet.

“This is our first time,” said Lori Wilson, who flew in from Lakewood, Fla., and said she was loving it. “Our boys’ fraternity is having a moms’ weekend and we were looking for something to do,” she said. Her son and his fraternity brothers were watching in another part of the arena.

It’s been dubbed The Suni Effect: a megawatt moment for women’s college gymnastics brought about by the change in NCAA endorsement rules.

For the first time, Olympic gold medalists can compete for a college team without forfeiting lucrative professional opportunities—including the reigning all-around champion Sunisa Lee, who has spent much of her busy freshman year marketing herself and her sport.

This golden hour is emerging around the country, but probably nowhere as intensely as at Auburn, as Lee and her college team advanced from the NCAA regional round their school was hosting.

The Tigers’ performance propelled the team to the national championships in Fort Worth, Texas, where they will compete in a semifinal Thursday. The title will be awarded Saturday.

The reaction to Lee getting a “perfect 10” on the balance beam was enough to endanger tender eardrums. But so was the shouting when her teammates, Derrian Gobourne and Drew Watson, performed on floor and vault, respectively. The crowd of 6,166 bellowed: “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.”

By most metrics, it is. The school says it sold out every regular meet this season. The average price of an Auburn women’s gymnastics ticket sold through online ticket marketplace Vivid Seats from January to March 2022 was $53, up from $29 in 2020, the company said.

Around 26% of the Auburn athletics tickets sold on the secondary market during that time were for women’s gymnastics. Just over 16% of tickets were for men’s basketball, in which Auburn rose to the No. 1 AP ranking for the first time in program history this season.

Gymnastics draws a diverse, majority-female audience desirable to many marketers for their household spending power. And Auburn has lines of small children waiting by the Charles Barkley statue outside the arena—not to pose by the legendary basketball alumnus, but for Auburn gymnasts to sign their posters and take pictures with them.

But it’s equally capable of drawing the football team. Tight end Micah Riley-Ducker said he goes whenever the team is competing at home, and at the regional event, was paying close attention. Had he ever seen gymnastics before? “Not until I got here and met them.”

There’s also enough interest for a restaurant here to put a different regional gymnastics round on one television screen, and Duke-UNC’s national semifinal in the basketball championship on the other.

None of this should be surprising. Women’s gymnastics is the marquee event of the Summer Olympics, even after revelations of the physical dangers and abuse for many of the athletes. NBC says that as many as 18.9 million saw Lee take the all-around title in Tokyo on television alone.

The college version of the sport is, in many ways, more comfortable viewing. Its gymnasts have leotards that are often more fun, with more exciting hair and an attitude that is almost breezy when contrasted with elite gymnasts.

College floor routines have better music and more personality, many of them built to go viral. The skills are slightly reduced, but performances typically look more secure. And there’s the prospect of rooting for a school.

“I just like the whole collegiate thing,” said Roger Riley, an electrician attending the regional meet with his wife Shannon, a preschool teacher and longtime Auburn fan. “And I like the floor routines. They can be themselves.”

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It wasn’t always this way. Auburn and other gymnastics powerhouses like Utah, LSU, Alabama and Florida can pack their arenas now, but it took years. Many of those coaches credit the SEC Network for televising meets since 2014, with the “Friday Night Heights” franchise. The SEC, for its part, credits the coaches with a P.T. Barnum-like approach to staging a meet.

SEC associate commissioner Tiffany Daniels said that the popularity “has also made ESPN more bullish about wanting to show more gymnastics.”

ESPN, meanwhile, has worked with coaches to create a more viewer-friendly “final four” format in recent years than past championships, which involved six teams in a hard-to-follow rotation.

“It streamlined our championship and made it extremely fan- and TV-friendly,” said D-D Breaux, the LSU head coach for 43 years who retired in 2020. It made scoring easier to understand, she said. It also made it possible to create a bracket.

The women’s 2021 national championship, when aired for the first time on ABC, drew 808,000 viewers for an unprecedented Michigan victory that gave gymnastics its own claim to spring upsets. The 2022 final will be on ABC again.

Capitalizing on this success will be difficult for the NCAA, however, for the same reasons that are pinching the increasingly popular NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Media rights and corporate sponsorship deals for the events are captive to long-term deals that undervalue them.

The NCAA’s TV deal for the gymnastics championship has long been part of a package—for rights to 29 championships that aren’t men’s basketball—that ESPN currently pays about $34 million a year for.

At the same time, potential sponsors of the women’s gymnastics championship have to go through CBS and Turner, the broadcaster of the men’s basketball tournament, in a separate deal that runs through 2032.

The arrangement erects a barrier to companies that might not be interested in sponsoring men’s basketball but see a different, valuable proposition in women’s gymnastics.

The lack of revenue dedicated specifically to sports like women’s gymnastics allows the NCAA to say, for example, that they lose money on the championships.

This includes the pandemic-staged version in 2021, for which the organization declined to quantify the loss, and 2019, the first with the “final four” format, which the NCAA said was around $400,000 short of breaking even.

An analysis commissioned by the NCAA to examine gender inequities in its championships found that the arrangement significantly undervalued events like the women’s basketball tournament.

Consultants Ed Desser and John Kosner, who worked on the report, said the tournament could be worth $100 million a year in media-rights fees alone starting in 2025 after the current deal ends.

It isn’t clear what the potential value for the gymnastics championship would be, but it’s clearly more than it is now. ABC also aired the first-ever regular season meet on broadcast TV this year, Alabama-Florida, drawing 624,000 viewers. ESPN and ABC are both owned by Walt Disney Co.

“ESPN is upgrading gymnastics to windows on ABC not because it’s benevolent,” said Kosner, who was previously ESPN’s head of digital media. “They can see and hear the interest.”

If the package were broken up, Kosner said, it could also create more competition for the rights. “The original package was designed in a way that ESPN was practically the only entity that could broadcast all these championships,” he said. “If you don’t create a package that only one bidder could handle, you’re going to get more bidders.”

The sponsorship arrangement could also be revised, said Desser, a former NBA executive. “If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, it’s all doable.”

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The NCAA said it would explore options to grow all championships at an unspecified later date. It confirmed that businesses currently have to go through the NCAA Corporate Champion and Partner Program, and that plans to change are among the long-term recommendations from the gender equity review that the association is still considering.

For schools and coaches, however, the moment is here already.

Marcy Girton, the chief operating officer for the Auburn athletic department, says the school has drawn interest from fashion, apparel, cosmetics and beauty product brands about becoming a sponsor or advertising at meets next season.

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“If you look at our attendance rates across the country, they’re going up. Viewing rates have been going up. And then the Olympians coming in,” said Jeff Graba, Auburn’s head coach. “It’s a great time. It just shows what’s possible in this sport.”

Updated: 5-13-2022

How Are The New NCAA Rules On Paying College Athletes Working Out?

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Three experts discuss who is benefiting the most, and whether the new rules are increasing the inequities in college sports.

It is known as NIL, and it is reshaping the NCAA.

As of last July, college athletes can profit from their name, image or likeness (hence: NIL) under National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. It’s a new era for the sprawling, multibillion-dollar college sports industry, and in these early days it’s a messy one.

But these first 10 months have shown at least two things: Any university athletic department that ignores NIL will be left at a significant disadvantage in recruiting, and entrepreneurial athletes of all kinds, not just those who play a big-time sport, can cash in—some more than others, of course.

The NCAA was hardly an eager participant in the NIL revolution. It changed its policy only after a number of states had passed laws allowing NIL payments to college athletes.

Compelled to act, the NCAA granted permission for such payments but didn’t enact a detailed set of rules to govern them under what it describes as an interim policy.

The result? Chaos and confusion. Twenty-eight states have adopted their own NIL laws; in the rest, schools are deciding for themselves exactly how NIL works, based on NCAA guidelines that leave plenty of room for interpretation.

Congress could create uniform federal rules but so far has shown no interest in doing so.

It will take years to sort out, but the sponsorship genie is not going back into the bottle. According to Opendorse, an NIL marketing platform that connects athletes to companies, several players already have received million-dollar endorsement deals; the average completed deal is for about $600.

Time will also tell what effect, if any, the unleashing of NIL payments has on the prospect of college athletes being paid to play.

On that score, the NCAA finds itself in a position similar to the one that pushed it into approving NIL payments—it has suffered losses in court that have lifted restrictions on pay for performance, but it hasn’t dropped its ban on such payments.

We invited three experts to discuss how NIL has played out so far, who’s benefiting and where it’s heading. Jon Israel, a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, serves as co-chair of the firm’s sports and entertainment group.

Darren Heitner is the founder of the law firm Heitner Legal. Blake Lawrence is a co-founder of Opendorse. Here are edited excerpts of that discussion.

Biggest Surprises

WSJ: What has surprised you the most since the advent of NIL last July?

MR. ISRAEL: What has surprised me is the complete regulatory void in which the NIL landscape is taking shape. So far, there don’t appear to be any meaningful guardrails regulating activity. Before NIL, a booster might secretly deliver cash or a car to a recruit in violation of pay-for-play rules. Today, boosters are publicly pooling dollars to pay athletes in ways that sometimes seem only loosely tied to NIL. Is there a pay-for-play line that cannot be crossed in the name of NIL, and if so, who is minding that line? On the latter question, the answer appears to be no one, at least for now.

MR. HEITNER: The biggest surprise has been that many states are now considering rolling back their NIL laws because they tend to be more restrictive than the basic prohibitions established by the NCAA on June 30, 2021. The states that led the charge in passing such legislation, which ultimately pushed the NCAA to adopt its interim NIL policy, are now concerned that their laws put schools within their borders at a competitive disadvantage. In fact, we have already seen one state, Alabama, fully repeal its NIL law for this very reason.

MR. LAWRENCE: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the entrepreneurship of student-athletes at every level of college sports. We knew that Heisman contenders and All-Americans would have the opportunity to earn significant compensation through NIL activities, but it has been reassuring to see athletes that aren’t in the media spotlight make the most of their opportunity. As it relates to state legislation—from the beginning, there were questions about who would enforce the new NIL regulations in each state or the unique policies created by athletic departments in states without formal legislation. Less than a year into the NIL era, there have been zero reported suspensions related to state legislation or school policies. Either student-athletes and schools have been following guidelines perfectly, or there isn’t a clear enforcement mechanism in place from the states, schools or NCAA.

WSJ: Which schools are benefiting the most from NIL, and why?

MR. ISRAEL: The schools that are benefiting are those that are actively helping athletes navigate the NIL space, including, for example, providing business- and law-school mentors or securing apps and tech platforms that serve as learning centers, networking sites and NIL marketplaces to connect athletes and prospective sponsors. Some schools are even becoming economic partners with athletes by sharing revenues under group licensing arrangements for player jerseys and memorabilia.

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Getting Paid

How college athletes’ endorsement deals have shaken out since the NCAA began allowing them last July, based on data from one marketplace.

MR. HEITNER: Those schools also have alumni who are very interested in appropriating money to assist the athletes. Some schools are building robust staffs to strategize best practices and to approach NIL with skill. Others are trying to prevent athletes from engaging with brands competitive to school partners. Guess which schools are succeeding, and which ones are jeopardizing their standing?

MR. LAWRENCE: Nothing in the NCAA’s interim policy restricts schools from assisting student-athletes in developing and securing NIL opportunities. Thus, in states without restrictions, some schools are playing an active role in connecting local businesses with their athletes or helping student-athletes review and negotiate partnerships with national brands. In most states with NIL laws, their cut-and-paste legislation restricts schools in their state from getting involved in student-athlete deals. This is the biggest inequity in the market currently.

WSJ: Are you concerned that NIL intensifies the inequities in college sports—the big-name quarterback will cash in for millions of dollars, but the backup shortstop on the women’s softball team will get nothing?

MR. HEITNER: I am not. This is true at the professional level as well, and I am happy with letting the market decide the marketability of individuals. Furthermore, the intention was never equality in earnings, but instead equality in opportunity and earnings capacity. Additionally, I am quite pleased by the number of deals where an athlete will share his or her wealth with teammates, as well as the overall lack of controversy within the locker rooms.

MR. LAWRENCE: I agree. There are four main sources of NIL compensation for student-athletes: sports fans, national brands, local sponsors and school donors. The fans, brands and sponsors are spending their money on the most marketable or most entrepreneurial student-athletes, while the donors are spending big on the most valuable players at their school. The aggressive, and compliant, donor activity leads to football and men’s basketball collectively owning the majority of NIL revenue—much like these sports generate the majority of school revenue. Removing donor activity, however, reveals a much more balanced NIL marketplace, where local heroes and athletes with prominent online followings are commanding their fair share of the student-athlete endorsement world.

MR. ISRAEL: As you note, inequities already exist in college sports, and I don’t believe that the commercialization of college-athlete NIL rights unmasks or unduly exacerbates them per se. Focusing purely on economics, I try to see the glass as half full for athletes outside of men’s football and basketball, whatever their sport or gender. These athletes also have opportunities to make NIL money that previously wasn’t allowed, and the value of any athlete’s NIL rights is not necessarily measured by the sport they play. NIL opportunities will be driven and secured by other factors, including personality, drive, business acumen and social-media savvy. It may take a bit of work, but the opportunity is there.

Competitive Balance

WSJ: Will NIL change the competitive landscape of college sports, as the athletes choose schools that have the most corporate support for these endorsements?

MR. LAWRENCE: In revenue sports, absolutely. Teams with student-athletes earning big from NIL will win over prospects and transfers—creating a new competitive landscape for recruiting. As fan bases compete to attract the best athletes, NIL spending will grow year over year with, seemingly, no end in sight.

MR. ISRAEL: It feels that way at the moment, mostly because in this early phase, NIL activity around some schools has launched more quickly than at other schools. With time, all schools will have their NIL programs up and running, and the regulatory environment will hopefully become more settled. At that point, NIL opportunity will be just another of the already existing factors, including coaches, facilities, location, etc., that athletes consider in choosing a school. If pro sports are instructive here, big NIL money won’t necessarily translate into wins, and we already have seen examples where NIL opportunities and activity may detract from focus and performance.

MR. HEITNER: I think we may see a shifting in the balance of power over time. Arguably, a change in the competitive landscape of college sports would be a good thing since the situation before NIL was one in which the same teams continuously found themselves sitting at the top at the end of the year.

​WSJ: We are now seeing the emergence of “collectives,” in which companies or individuals pool their resources and direct that money to college players for their endorsements. Are collectives inevitable—one of many structures that will be built in the NIL era? Is there anything about collectives that worries you?

MR. HEITNER: Collectives were being established as early as July 1, 2021. It was a no-brainer that boosters would create corporate vehicles with the intent of pooling resources to carry more influence in this space. They make perfect sense given that there is inherent and perceived power when individuals with similar interests and purposes join together in a common mission.

MR. LAWRENCE: Compensation from collectives has already begun to establish a sort of “base salary” for student-athletes, allowing more athletes to benefit than only the biggest stars. As an advocate for athletes, I find that exciting. But challenges exist. Some boosters have leveraged collectives to contact recruits and student-athletes in the transfer portal. Contacting prospective student-athletes is still not allowed, even with the new NIL regulations—it is a violation of the NCAA’s recruiting policy.

MR. ISRAEL: Collectives are not inherently worrying—they have a place in this new system and, like other participants, should be no problem provided they play by the rules. Unfortunately, as we have discussed, there seems little risk in pushing the envelope or perhaps even playing outside NIL rules given the enforcement void created by a neutered and paralyzed NCAA. It’s the system, not the collectives, that is the cause for worry.

A Step Toward Direct Pay?

WSJ: Is NIL the equivalent of the camel’s nose in the tent? College athletes can now profit off being an athlete, so it’s just a matter of time before the athletes are compensated directly for playing?

MR. HEITNER: Not necessarily. Schools or conferences directly compensating athletes for their performances is a completely separate subject and brings into question whether these athletes should be reclassified as employees. It is certainly possible that this type of compensation is coming in the future, but the two areas—NIL and wages—can and should be bifurcated.

MR. LAWRENCE: The question isn’t, “Should student-athletes be paid?” It is, “Who should pay student-athletes?” In the first 10 months of the NIL era, we’re seeing student-athletes reap the rewards of the free market. I believe this third-party compensation model is the best thing to happen to the NCAA, its member schools and, most important, student-athletes. The most valuable student-athletes are making the most money, the most supportive fan bases are competing to maximize NIL earnings in their market, and the NCAA is seeing student-athletes finally earn their fair share—without needing to split their profits.

MR. ISRAEL: I think the advent of NIL may take some steam out of the movement to establish student-athletes as employees who must be paid for their services—a legal construct that would create a plethora of complications for schools, student-athletes and college sports in general. With NIL alone, we are hearing about college recruits signing $8 million NIL deals or refusing to sign with schools without a lucrative NIL deal in place. NIL money may ultimately be viewed as more than enough to meet the needs and rights of college athletes.

Updated: 5-15-2022

Meet The Only College Athletes Who Can’t Do Endorsement Deals

International students’ visas preclude almost all kinds of work, and they face big problems if they’re considered to have broken the rules.

Gatorade wanted to shoot an inspirational ad with a one-armed high school basketball phenom, a viral sensation newly freed of National Collegiate Athletic Association restrictions on earning from the use of his name, image and likeness.

There was just one problem: Hansel Enmanuel is Dominican, in the U.S. on a student visa that explicitly bars him from working while he’s here.

So he flew to Mexico and filmed for Gatorade there.

There are around 20,000 international athletes at American high schools and colleges who are in the same bind. Some are offered lucrative deals that could change their lives.

Most have the potential to secure some sort of payment: a handbag, a four-figure contract for some Instagram posts, a string of small payments for recording Cameo messages. All could jeopardize their visas if they don’t correctly navigate a foggy terrain.

Camryn Rogers, a Canadian hammer thrower who finished fifth at the Tokyo Olympic Games, cheered alongside other athletes in the fall of 2019 when California moved ahead with a plan to loosen endorsement rules for college athletes.

As it kicked in nationwide last summer, though, a University of California, Berkeley compliance officer had a warning for international students about doing deals: “From our understanding, you could be deported.”

“That word hit me very, very hard,” said Rogers, who opted not to contemplate any endorsement opportunities as a result. “To see it come to fruition is so exciting, but at the end of the day for international student-athletes, it’s like it never happened.”

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College students’ visas allow only limited on-campus employment, or off-campus work that’s related to what they’re studying—not what they’re playing. High-school students on visas can’t work at all.

Breaking those terms could mean being kicked out of the country; more likely, it could mean being unable to renew a student visa, or being locked out later when seeking a new status.

“A student-athlete who’s not immigration-compliant cannot return for their pro career,” said Ksenia Maiorova, a sports immigration lawyer in Florida.

Some agents insist they can duck the restrictions by arguing that a social media post made from a dorm room in the U.S. doesn’t count as work. Others have no interest in taking that chance.

They are the ones thinking about flying athletes out of the country for promotional shoots, and quickly trying to get them different visas for people of extraordinary ability, something that has become increasingly difficult in recent years.

They’re also focusing on the kind of licensing arrangements that could be considered “passive income,” akin to having stock or a rental property, and turning down deals where there’s no way to make it work.

“Let’s just say we’ve had to be very strategic,” said Nate Conley, agent to Kentucky basketball star Oscar Tshiebwe, who is Congolese. “We’re walking a fine line at all times.”

A group of agents and sports immigration lawyers are pushing for a federal fix—something that has long eluded the NCAA on the issue of name, image and likeness. But they’re realistic about being low priorities for Congress in an election year.

“We can’t vote as immigrants. I fully get it that we are not their constituents,” said Tay Hawker, a New Zealand-born sports agent who signed the Canadian gymnast Sydney Soloski for her final year at Utah and then had to turn down everything she was offered.

Instead, they say the Department of Homeland Security could easily expand the definition of permitted work by student visa holders to include name, image and likeness deals, through as little as a policy memorandum cemented later by a regulatory change.

The reason there’s all this confusion is because our visa regulations have not been updated since 1986, a few of them since 1996,” said Casey Floyd, founder of the agency NOCAP Sports that is leading the campaign, and who is a former compliance director for the University of Michigan. “It was written before the Internet, before social media, before remote work.”

So far, the Department of Homeland Security has been noncommittal, saying only that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program—administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement—is still studying the issue.

“The program continues to actively coordinate with our government partners including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to assess the number of impacted students and whether regulatory guidance is required to address both this and any related issues,” said Sarah Loicano, a spokeswoman for ICE.

Some agents insist that the vagueness means they’re on safe ground by simply paying athletes out of the country—and that what they’re doing in the U.S. surely does not count as work.

Ryan Cook, founder of the U.K.-based NextUp Recruitment agency, has boasted of a four-figure deal he cut with Sam Alajiki, a University of California, Berkeley basketball forward, in which his company has paid the Irish Alajiki into a U.K. bank account.

“Sam is not performing any physical work on the ground in the U.S. and thus wouldn’t affect his immigration status. Everything required from Sam is social media-based surrounding his following,” Cook said. “We are providing Sam with the content to post onto his socials.”

“If Sam decides that he’d like to start producing his own content and building out an audience on YouTube whilst he’s at Cal and thus receives a check from YouTube based on this ‘work’ in the U.S., would this break the terms of his visa? Absolutely not.”

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But U.S. immigration specialists aren’t convinced. They say that athletes could face problems when they meet with consular officers with the power to approve or deny their visas.

“There are a lot of consular officers I know who are adamantly of the belief that you cannot do NIL deals on a student visa,” warned Chris Richardson, who worked for eight years in four countries approving visas, and has co-founded a company in South Carolina of former visa officers who prepare applicants for their interviews.

Enmanuel’s team fully believes that skepticism.

“Unlike some people, I don’t believe that just hanging out and having your photo taken is not work,” said Amy Maldonado, an immigration lawyer who is representing Enmanuel in his bid for an extraordinary ability visa. “The government is not conservative in finding unauthorized employment.”

Enmanuel’s agent Alexander Zapata said he has said no to six-figure deals from an apparel company and a sneaker brand where they couldn’t find a workaround, though he knew how much that money would mean to Enmanuel’s family.

“The last thing I want is to ever hurt any chances of him continuing doing the amazing things he’s doing,” said Zapata. “Not being able to make that certainly is upsetting. The way I advise them is, we’re going to be able to recoup that and then some.”


Updated: 9-13-2022

‘President Chase’ Is The Undisputed King of College Endorsement Deals

Backup UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin is building an empire off the field as the world of college athletes cashing in on NIL quickly expands.

His nickname is “President Chase.”

Quarterback Chase Griffin doesn’t have the starting job for the UCLA Bruins on the football field, and yet he’s arguably made a bigger and certainly more profitable impression on the broader world than any of his peers.

He’s tirelessly cut deals—about 20 so far—with the likes of Degree, LinkedIn and Boost Mobile, leveraging new rules that allow college athletes to get paid for use of their name, image and likeness, or NIL. That’s made him well-known on campus and on social media.

In the latest installment of “Athlete|Empire,” Bloomberg presents part two of our look at NIL through the eyes of one its most successful practitioners.

Griffin, a former Texas high school standout, sees himself upholding the legacy of UCLA legends—think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Arthur Ashe—who have pushed boundaries and set examples for those who follow them.

UCLA Head Coach Chip Kelly has mused that the thoughtful and ambitious Griffin might one day even sit in the Oval Office.


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