What's in a name: Thanks to NCAA changes, Texas athletes are about to find out
- New law will allow college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.
- The new law will open up possible revenue streams for athletes
Colt McCoy left the University of Texas as the winningest quarterback in college football history.
The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist led the Longhorns to the 2009 national championship game before being sidelined by an injury on the first offensive series, and he's one of only six players to have his jersey retired by the school. He engineered 45 wins, including a Big 12 title and a national runner-up finish that will always be remembered around here as the one that got away.
But long before he pocketed more than $20 million in NFL paychecks, McCoy, just like many other college students his age, had his share of cash flow issues.
To make sure he had money for necessities such as gas, clothing and the occasional night out, the most recognizable athlete on campus took out $500 personal loans each semester throughout college.
Name, image, likeness:NCAA adopts temporary policy in seismic shift for college sports
"I had to pay it back once I graduated, and I’m thankful for that," McCoy told the American-Statesman last month. "We’re not complaining about what we had to do. It was part of learning time management, how to manage your bank account. I was going to Wells Fargo going, ‘Please don’t charge me 33 bucks. I know I’m out (of money), but it’s going to be here in three days.’”
Stories like McCoy’s might one day be the exception instead of the norm. Twelve states, including Texas, have passed laws or their governor has issued executive orders that will allow college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.
On Wednesday, the NCAA Board of Governors approved a recommendation for college athletes nationwide. The states that have passed laws related to NIL will be responsible for determining whether their athletes are operating within the rules.
Jackson State defensive end Antwan Owens made history as the first athlete to sign a deal. At midnight Thursday, he signed an agreement with 3 Kings Grooming, a black-owned hair product shop.
Later Thursday, more players quickly brokered deals. At 11 a.m., according to a story on Sportico, ”less than 12 hours into the new NIL era, dozens of college athletes have begun making money.”
Texas athletes already profiting from NCAA policy change
Texas sophomore running back Bijan Robinson, who is getting preseason Heisman Trophy consideration, signed up with Cameo, an online marketing company that matches celebrities and the public with personalized online videos.
Robinson, who has more than 83,000 Instagram followers, is charging $100 per video. Jared Butler, who led Baylor to a national basketball title, is charging $45. Texas linebacker Ben Davis, who just transferred from Alabama, is charging $30.
Two other Longhorns, linebacker DeMarvion Overshown and cornerback Josh Thompson, signed contracts with Last Stand Hats, an apparel company.
Among the other deals being reported:
• Miami quarterback D’Eriq King is partnering with College Hunks Hauling Junk, a national moving company — for a reported $20,000.
• Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon is selling T-shirts at $33.33 a pop under his J30 brand and was scheduled to appear for an autograph sessions at an area fireworks store.
• Fresno State basketball twin Haley and Hanna Cavinder, who have more than 500,000 Instagram followers, announced deals with Boost Mobile and Six Star Pro Nutrition.
• Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, a Heisman candidate, unveiled a new personal logo with a pledge to donate part of the proceeds to people in need.
• Former Texas volleyball player Lexi Sun, now at Nebraska, struck an apparel deal with REN Athletics.
And there are surely more to come.
NIL policy change is decades in the making for NCAA
For years, college athletes and their families have wondered why the rules were set up to benefit the schools and their corporate partners while the talent was given a scholarship and little else. The new law has been decades in the making, and its passing has resulted in some recognizable people throwing their names into the NIL hat.
Overshown was raised in humble circumstances in the rural East Texas town of Arp. His mother, Felicia Williams, a single parent of three, worked several jobs over the years to provide for the family, from doing home health care to playing the piano for their church to being as a custodian at Arp High School for the past 10 years.
Her oldest son earning a full scholarship to play football at Texas was a wonderful financial reward after the sacrifices she'd made, Overshown said, from signing him up in expensive Pop Warner leagues to making sure he kept his grades up, making him a more attractive recruiting option for Division I programs.
With the new law in place, Overshown is relishing the opportunity to help the woman who has supported his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
“My No. 1 goal coming to college was making it to the next level,” Overshown told the Statesman. “This is a chance to send something back home after everything she has done for me. I watched my mom work until her fingers would cramp up and she could barely move. Helping her out would be a blessing.”
Retired NFL linebacker Derrick Johnson arrived at Texas in 2002 as one of the most coveted recruits in the country. He enjoyed the perks that came with a full scholarship, but unlike today’s college athletes, he no monthly stipend under NCAA rules at the time.
“I was this underprivileged kid from Waco, and those were some tough times,” Johnson told the Statesman in June. “You had to make $20 stretch as far as you could just because it was what you had to do. This thing makes for less stress added on to the student-athlete. I think it’s great for them as long as no one tries to beat the system and take advantage. It’s great.”
McCoy, Johnson and other former Longhorns athletes agreed on one thing: They would have loved this opportunity back when they were playing at UT.
Imagine what Vince Young, Earl Campbell, T.J. Ford, Sanya Richards and Cat Osterman would have commanded had they been allowed to conduct paid autograph sessions, appear at alumni events and business openings, or speak to local businesses and schools.
The Statesman Interview: Cat Osterman on the Olympics, her future and Texas softball
“The city of Austin and Longhorn faithful are truly fans, so I firmly believe there would have been options for me,” Osterman said. “It would have been nice to have that option, especially as a female athlete. We don’t have millions waiting once we graduate.”
Seattle Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs played for some below-average football teams at Texas but was one of the most engaging interview subjects on campus. Diggs believes he would have profited well off NIL, despite the team’s struggles.
“I was really the face of the defense for three years dang near, no bragging, just the truth,” Diggs told the Statesman. “Plus I was more outgoing and always kept Twitter a fun space. Texas could benefit huge off this if they do it right. Every program can’t say the same.”
NCAA leaves NIL enforcement to states
The law is in place, but with so many states and so little organization and information — the NCAA, in typical fashion, has passed the buck of accountability to the states — where does that leave the athletes who are still bound by rules that prevent them from hiring agents to represent their interests?
Athletic departments are already creating staff positions to handle NIL while local and national companies are strategizing how to best take advantage of what will eventually become a huge revenue stream.
Julie Sommer, a Seattle-based attorney who was a three-time All-American swimmer at Texas and an advocate for athletes’ rights, is passionate about making sure their first steps into the business sector are taken with as much information as possible.
“The state laws will trump the NCAA if they conflict,” Sommer said. “The schools will be admonishing the students in what they can and can’t do. Listen to what your department says and make your own decision. In the meantime, cultivate your social media accordingly. Hopefully, we won’t be in this chaotic period for long. Who knows how long this Wild West of NIL will go on?”
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte and others on campus have been instrumental in pushing programs designed to help athletes navigate NIL to maximize their earning potential. Texas’ Leverage program, an arm of the 4ever Texas campus initiative, was prescient in its formation back in August.
Athletes can now apply those mock interviews, financial seminars and workshops to real-life situations while in college.
“At the end of the day, our job is to provide our student-athletes what they need to be successful in a changing environment,” Del Conte said. “Our people saw this coming, and I’m just proud of the staff for saying, ‘Here’s what NIL looks like’ while providing the safeguards they need to be successful.”
Texas athletics:What happens when Longhorns don't make the pros
Drew Martin, who oversees external affairs for the UT athletic department, said internal discussions have focused on teaching athletes how to value their social media brands. To that end, the athletic department purposely limits how much it uses UT’s social channels for advertisers, for example.
“If you turn into anybody with $100 and you tweet out their product, service or whatever, your followership is going to drop off,” Martin said. “Even though it’s low hanging fruit, you’ve got to be smart about it.”
Football player Keondre Coburn attended a campus NIL presentation this week and was intrigued by the long-term possibilities. While some athletes are talking about how they can make some fast bread on a commercial, Coburn, a 350-pound defensive tackle affectionally called “Snacks” by teammates, is thinking more big picture.
“If you’re dealing with a little company that’s a startup, why shouldn’t we help one another out?” he asked. “They could offer me 5% of the company. I’m not talking about right-now money, but a relationship that we could build over some years.”
All-American volleyball player Logan Eggleston, who serves as the president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, has met over the past several months with fellow students and campus leaders to discuss how the law will benefit the athletes and how these business dealings will affect their academic and athletic schedules.
“It’s not just about getting money, but about learning how to conduct business at an early age,” she said.
'I'm already focused on next year':After a long season, Logan Eggleston flips the page
Eggleston, who will be a senior next season and Thursday was named the Big 12 volleyball scholar-athlete of the year, also understands that the university provides a stage that could be much bigger than any professional volleyball team or league she joins once her college days are over. The median salary for a professional volleyball player in the United States is $44,000. By comparison, WNBA players make a minimum of $58,000. The money is much better overseas in both sports.
College represents a small window to take advantage of of money that can be earned, especially for the 97% of athletes who won’t make it to the pros or even for those in the lower-profile sports who won’t have the chance to make the millions available in the NFL, MLB and the NBA.
“Once I turn professional, there’s not the same amount of money for women in sports as there is for all my male counterparts,” Eggleston said. “So it’s really important for me right now to use my platform that I’ve gotten being an athlete at Texas to continue to build my brand and make those connections with companies that I can potentially continue to work with throughout my entire career.”
Social media helps NCAA athletes build path to endorsements
Branding is crucial, and social media are driving the bus for college athletes. With NIL part of the landscape, those followers have become a portal to possible endorsement opportunities.
A 2020 story by Axios projected that former Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram, could have used his popularity as the face of Longhorns football to earn close to $1 million through social media — far and away the most for any college athlete on the news website's list.
The story added that Ehlinger had a value of $3,296 per post, "based on actual data from the last decade of providing the technology behind millions of dollars of transactions between brands and professional athletes,” said Blake Lawrence, the CEO of Opendorse, a company that helps athletes build their brands through social media.
Athletes have become adept at using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and, of late, TikTok for self-promotion and increased exposure, the idea being that their following will increase demand for their business once they enter the marketplace.
Tara Davis, a national long jump champion who just qualified for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, was the queen of social media among UT athletes. She and boyfriend Hunter Woodhall, a former University of Arkansas athlete who will compete in the Paralympics for the second time, have become a real power couple, both on the track and in the growing social media universe.
Woodhall’s self-produced videos on their Tara and Hunter YouTube channel have 245,000 subscribers. One 2019 piece chronicling Davis’ trip to Arkansas to surprise him clocked in at nearly 2 million views.
A New York Times profile this year counted Woodhall’s social media presence at 3.1 million and rising. A TikTok video of him reflecting on a double amputation he underwent as a child due to congenital bone disease was viewed 6 million times and led to an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Ellen surprised him with $20,000 to help fund his Paralympic trip.
Woodhall left college in January 2020 with one year of eligibility remaining, mostly because of NCAAs rules restricting him from profiting off his celebrity.
“I got so tired of waiting, tired of their hypocrisy,” he told the Times.
In the article, Opendorse estimated that Woodhall, 22, earns upwards of $800,000 annually from sponsored posts on the different social media outlets. Woodhall told the Times that he makes roughly $7,500 per post and that in most months he produces 10 of them.
These days he tools around Fayetteville, Ark., in a Tesla. Two weeks ago, he chartered a private jet in Minneapolis with a fellow Paralympian to meet Davis in Los Angeles. And it’s all there for their audience to see on YouTube.
Davis, 22, has also turned pro with one year of eligibility remaining. A marketing professional’s dream, Davis has an infectious personality and a huge social media following that could lead to major endorsement opportunities, especially if she can land a gold medal in Tokyo.
After she qualified with a second-place finish at the Olympic Trials, Davis donned a cowboy hat and boots with the cameras clicking away before running to the stands to jump into Woodhall’s waiting arms. Woodhall posted a 20-minute video Tuesday that is already approaching 200,000 views.
Davis shook her head in wonderment when asked about the revenue she could have earned during a dream junior season that saw her win Big 12 indoor and outdoor titles and an NCAA championship before punching a ticket to compete in the Olympics.
“I just wish they did it when I was in college a couple months back,” she said. “I’m not sure how much I could have made, but going back through some old emails, I bet I could have made at least 50 grand right off the bat.”
The history of NCAA name, image, likeness policy
While players in the major sports operated under the traditional scholarship model, the rise in power of industry giants such as Nike, ESPN and Fox transformed the NCAA from the little brother of the pro leagues 50 years ago to a multibillion-dollar corporation that deftly operated within the bounds of amateurism — that is, until the merchandising, television and ticket dollars starting to pile up.
It is no longer a cottage industry. Fans spend big bucks on season tickets, make staggering donations to athletic departments, wear expensive team merchandise and subscribe to cable networks that give an endless cycle of games and highlight shows.
As coaches, TV networks, athletic directors and the NCAA conferences shared billions, the athletes began to question why their piece of the pie remained the same.
After Texas beat USC for the national football title in that epic Rose Bowl in 2006, donations and season ticket sales went through the roof. The campus co-op and other sporting goods stores faced a terrific challenge in keeping their shelves stocked with No. 10 Vince Young jerseys.
Longhorns coach Mack Brown received a raise and, later, a contract extension. Athletic directors DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky also got pay increases. EA Sports’ NCAA Football 06 video game was a huge seller, and kids in Texas and other states couldn’t wait to try their hand at being the Longhorns with a game controller.
Eighteen months after McCoy led the Horns to the 2009 title game, the Longhorn Network was launched from a $300 million, 20-year agreement with ESPN. Texas receives $15 million annually from the broadcast giant.
When he departed the program after the 2013 season, Brown had earned more than $40 million in salary in his 16 seasons and Dodds had become one of the country's most respected and highest-paid athletic directors. He retired in August 2014 and received a $1 million annuity.
So money was falling from the sky, but Young, McCoy and their teammates never shared financially in the riches from their magical seasons.
Three years after Texas’ football title, one huge domino fell when Ed O’Bannon, a star on UCLA’s 1995 national championship basketball team, sued the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Co., claiming they had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. O’Bannon and other former Division I football and basketball players sought compensation upon graduation for names, images and likenesses that were being displayed on video games, TV broadcasts and archival footage.
The most damning allegation was the plaintiffs deeming it unfair that their likenesses were being copied to a T in the games. In the football and basketball games. EA Sports really made no secret of the practice. Until O’Bannon’s suit and others like it, their voices weren’t represented in the boardrooms and courtrooms of America.
In 2014, EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing departed from the case as co-defendants with the NCAA and finalized a $40 million settlement to an estimated 200,000 athletes whose images appeared in NCAA basketball and football video games dating back to 2003.
Hours before the settlement was announced, EA Sports released a statement saying it would not publish its football game for the next season. That came amid reports of the company pocketing $3.8 billion in revenue — $1.3 billion coming from domestic sales of the football game — dating back to 1998.
The decision to shelve the game was not because of a lack of popularity — the sales were through the roof — but simply because the NCAA wasn’t on board with its players earning money while still in school on scholarship.
Looking ahead for NCAA athletes
While athletes, schools and states will suffer some growing pains as they figure out an organized plan of action in this new age, the athletes are excited because their voices are being heard and their work on the courts and fields and in the pools can lead to beneficial opportunities while they're in school and in some cases well past their playing days.
“Everyone doesn’t make it to the pros,” Texas football great Brian Orakpo said. “At least these kids can go out with a bang, start their careers off in the second chapter of their lives.”
Schools will have to serve as the protectors of their own interests as well as those of their athletes. Demanding coaches might have to loosen the reins a bit in the offseason when a star player has a financial opportunity he or she can’t pass up. Compliance staffs will have to work overtime to make sure athletes stay between the lines.
High-dollar boosters will have to be reined in, though their presence behind the scenes and influence in recruiting have always been college sports’ dirtiest secret.
In the end, the people who will benefit the most are the ones fans pay to see.
“I’m an advocate for the student-athletes,” McCoy said. “We live in a free market, and that’s the best thing about living in America. I think it’s awesome. I wish we could have figured this out a long time ago.”
This is the first of a three-part series looking at the introduction of name, image and likeness laws in Texas and other states and the ramifications for athletes, coaches, schools and college athletics.
What is NIL?
College athletes now will be permitted to profit off their celebrity as name, image and likeness reform reshapes the college amateurism model that has been in place for more than a century. Texas is one of several states to implement NIL laws, and the NCAA has approved a measure that will allow athletes nationwide to begin receiving such compensation.
NIL and Texas: 10 to watch
Who are the top potential earners currently on the UT campus?
1. Bijan Robinson, football: The star running back is an electric runner with a personality to match and is already garnering Heisman interest as a sophomore.
2. Logan Eggleston, volleyball: The All-American outside hitter is the Longhorns' emotional leader, a team captain and the campus president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
3. Pierceson Coody and Cole Hammer, golf: The pair have huge name identification and have already played in PGA Tour events. Both were part of the U.S. Open field this summer.
4. Andrew Jones, basketball: The high-scoring guard, who will be a featured scorer next season, earned the adulation of Longhorn Nation when he returned to the court after beating cancer.
5. Trey Faltine, baseball: The shortstop is one of the best defensive players in the country and could be the school's all-time best at the position. He has an infectious personality to boot.
6. Janae Jefferson, softball: The All-American second baseman is a career .400 hitter who already owns the school's career record for hits — hence her nickname: "The Hit Queen."
7. Julia Grosso, soccer: The All-American senior midfielder led the team in scoring last season and will represent Canada in the upcoming Olympics.
8. Audrey Warren, basketball: The hard-nosed forward emerged as a key contributor in the team’s run to the Elite Eight in coach Vic Schaefer’s first season.
9. Peyton Stearns and Lulu Sun, tennis: The freshman stars played key roles in Texas’ run to a national team title. Stearns was named most outstanding player, and Sun’s three-set win helped clinch the title.
10. DeMarvion Overshown, football: The best player on Texas’ defense, Overshown is a big personality who hasn’t been afraid to speak his mind on hot-button topics.