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Welcome to the wild new world of college NIL rights

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Texas athletes can now profit from the platform provided by the school and their own social media brands, but patchwork regulations and questions about oversight will create a chaotic beginning.

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Track & Field: USA Olympic Team Trials Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When the calendar flipped from June 30 to June 1, college athletes received their first opportunities to profit for their name, image, and likeness, including Texas Longhorns athletes under the framework provided by the bill governor Greg Abbott signed several weeks ago as Texas became the 19th state to pass such legislation.

With patchwork regulations across the country and little guidance provided by the NCAA, which clung to its outdated notions of amateurism to deny athletes compensation for their personal brands or from their athletic endeavors, the next several years will mark a chaotic Wild West period.

“The impact is going to be weird, bad and ugly, because it’s dirty,” Dan Gale, president of the college athletics consulting firm Leona Marketing Group, told Sports Illustrated.

Money from boosters that had to make its way to players in sports like football through illicit means or dirty sneaker money in basketball can now reach athletes through more legal means.

Schools may have policies that differ slightly from state policies, which are not uniform, either. It’s unclear how compliance will work or how the NCAA will ensure compliance.

Will Congress eventually pass a federal bill to ensure some consistency?

Question still remain and it’s clear there will be a certain level of chaos.

But the bottom line is this — the NCAA’s bogus ideas on amateurism needed to change and this new world marks an ending, at least in some hugely important ways, of the neo-plantation mentality alleged by Walter Byers, the NCAA’s first executive director who regretted aspects of his own creation in his later years.

“Each generation of young persons come along and all they ask is, ‘Coach, give me a chance, I can do it.’ And it’s a disservice to these young people that the management of intercollegiate athletics stays in place committed to an outmoded code of amateurism.

“And I attribute that to, quite frankly, to the neo-plantation mentality that exists on the campuses of our country and in the conference offices and in the NCAA. The coach owns the athlete’s feet, the college owns the athlete’s body and the athlete’s mind is supposed to comprehend a rulebook that I challenge Dave Berst, who’s sitting down in this audience, to explain in rational terms to you inside of eight hours.”

The chaos are the first several years should settle down, according to Gale, and then the benefits for the athletes will be on full display.

The opportunities are myriad. Public appearances. Merchandise. Posts on social media. Appearances in advertising.

Digital marketplaces are already connecting athletes with brands.

In the state of Texas, there are limits, however:

The law states that student‑athletes may not endorse alcohol, tobacco products, e-cigarettes or any other type of nicotine delivery device, anabolic steroids, sports betting, casino gambling, a firearm the student‑athlete cannot legally purchase, or a sexually oriented business. Moreover, a student athlete’s NIL contract must be in line with their institution’s honor code and the student-athlete must attend a financial literacy workshop. Perhaps most notably, the carve-out for sports betting and casino gambling is significant, as twenty-two states have already legalized sports gambling with legislation being passed in nine others.

The university may also set its own limits, like on the use of logos or ask that athletes clear deals with the compliance department before accepting them. Under state law, the athletes do at least have to disclose all their NIL agreements to the school.

Some loopholes allowed by the current uneven state of regulations may need to be closed in the coming years. But some restrictions should also be lifted.

Texas punter Isaac Pearson, a freshman from Australia, revealed earlier this week that he won’t be able to benefit from his name, image, and likeness as an international student.

While that may not mean much for Pearson, set to serve as the team’s third punter this season, it does matter to more marketable international athletes with bigger brands.

Take Julia Grosso for instance. The Canadian junior midfielder scored eight goals with eight assists in 2019 and is set to play for her country’s national team in the Olympics this summer, providing her an opportunity to build a personal brand that currently includes 31k followers on Instagram.

At a rate of .80 cents per year per follower that rates as an advertising standard, that could be worth nearly $25k for Grosso over her junior season, though the market is impossible to determine at the moment since it’s so new.

Five of her teammates are international athletes and around 40 total Texas scholarship athletes are from outside the United States, totaling a significant number who are currently unable to profit from their name, image, and likeness.

Like Grosso, freshman outside hitter Melannie Parra, who hasn’t even benefited from the exposure generated by playing for one of the nation’s top volleyball programs, already has 55.6 followers on Instagram. Call that about $45k per year.

Texas started to prepare for the new legislation by establishing the LEVERAGE program before the start of the last school year to help athletes “with the knowledge and tools necessary to maximize their brand and platform.”

“Texas is a land of opportunity, Austin is a thriving, dynamic and energetic city right in the middle of it, and The University of Texas is like none other,” said athletics director Chris Del Conte. “All of those factors, along with the national and worldwide power of the Longhorn brand are among the many things that will be key elements in our exciting new LEVERAGE program. The program is designed to prepare, enhance and play a critical role in our student-athletes developing and growing their personal brands.”

“From the Longhorns’ daily local, regional and national media coverage in five of the nation’s largest cities (Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio), to the expansive reach of our social media platforms and our very own one-of-a-kind Longhorn Network partnership with ESPN, there’s just no better place to be. Whether it’s national award recognition, sharing your personal and team success stories, or establishing a tremendous network of mentors in the community and beyond, the LEVERAGE program will position student-athletes to be presented in the best light by a premier group of folks in the world of creativity, communications and student-athlete development.”

The program has four areas of focus include — Personal Branding & Brand Management, Business Formation & Entrepreneurship, Opportunity Management and Financial Literacy.

In programs like football, it’s almost all about opportunity right now — Texas has already touted its connections to Austin, one of the fastest-growing and most vibrant cities in the country, as a recruiting tool in football.

Super senior offensive lineman Tope Imade joined in.

The value of an athlete’s brand may also depend on the reach of a school’s social media team and the creativity of those departments to continue increasing reach and engagement.

When the school announced the LEVERAGE program last year, it touted the strength and growth on social media.

With a strong emphasis on social media, Texas Athletics has cultivated one of the most powerful presences in college athletics. The Longhorns lead all of collegiate athletics in Twitter interactions and have one of the top Facebook followings with an audience of over 1.5 million. Texas has experienced extreme growth on Instagram since 2018, with more than 160,000 new followers for a 167% increase. The Texas Football Instagram has grown by nearly 200,000 followers during that same span, a 155% increase.

Personality matters, too.

Senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown has been building his persona on Twitter as Agent 0 over the past several months, gaining nearly 7k followers on the platform — along with 13.4k Instagram followers — and launching his own T-shirt from Last Stand hats on Wednesday, along with senior cornerback Josh Thompson.

The most marketable player in the football program might be Bijan Robinson, the rising sophomore running back considered a potential Heisman contender by some, who has posted 10 times on Instagram, but has 83k followers. So even a burgeoning college star with a minimal social media presence can attract a large, now monetizable following.

He’s now on Cameo.

As the examples of the international players in soccer and volleyball indicate, female athletes in certain sports have large followings, too.

Long jumper Tara Davis already has a developed brand with more than 200k Instagram followers, a signature look with boots and a cowboy hat after competing, and a chance to increase her reach tremendously when she competes at the Olympics.

Just as importantly, some athletes will have the opportunity pursue other passions that old regulations didn’t allow, like performing at music venues.

And Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, who debuted a slick new logo in a Twitter post, indicated his desire to use some of his NIL income to make donations to underserved communities.

So even in the wild early days of NIL rights taking effect in some states, at least one high-profile athlete plans to give back.

For all the rest, stack that money, y’all. It’s about time.