‘It's a tsunami’: Texas coaches, administrators look for NIL clarity amid waves of change
- "Some high-profile kids will make a lot of money, but it requires work," Big 12's Bob Bowlsby says.
- Football and men's basketball players are likely to make the most money.
- The lack of national ads by famous pro athletes signals a less profitable market for collegians.
About this story
This story is the second in a three-part series looking at the new rules on use of name, image and likeness and their ramifications for college athletics.
John Fields totally supports the landmark legislation put into place last month that now allows every college athlete in the state of Texas to profit off his or her own name, image and likeness.
The Texas men’s golf coach is sincerely enthusiastic about the new college athletic model that is taking shape literally before every sunset.
Of course, as even he says, what choice does he have?
“Everyone in college athletics better accept that this is going to happen,” Fields said, “because it’s going to be part of our life.”
It's an integral, around-the-clock, 24/7 culture shock of change for a system of amateurism that has been locked in place for more than a century.
Or maybe not.
“It’s more a molehill than a mountain,” one college administrator said.
But until there’s more clarity — and good luck with that — college coaches and administrators had better brace themselves for a dramatic shift in how they do business. And how athletes do business because that’s exactly what they will be doing for the first time.
"It’s a great opportunity for our players in the short term — the next three to four years of their lives," he continued. "But I really think it’s something that can springboard into something that’ll be beneficial for the next 40 years of their lives if they do it the right way.”
The timeline sped up considerably this spring.
How did we get here?
The NCAA dropped the ball since first getting sued over this issue in 2009. It pitched the ball to Congress, which in turn punted, split over how far to extend these new student liberties. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on an ancillary issue, declaring that the NCAA can’t deny student-athletes basic educational benefits such as computers and internships, providing further momentum.
It’s been downhill ever since. Or rather uphill.
“Everyone wants to talk about building their brand,” Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian said. “It’s not just who you are or what you put on social media. It’s who you are 24/7, not just who you are on one tweet or one Instagram post.”
In the meantime, laws have been passed in a climbing count of 12 states, including Texas, to bestow upon athletes the right to make money off their own brand. But since three times as many states don’t have a law on their books yet, the NCAA Board of Governors ruled that any state without such a new law can pretty much do as it pleases in this new arena. All systems are go.
“There’ll be some deals (for athletes) that are probably already done,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the American-Statesman this week. “I think the expectation is all of a sudden there will be thousands of kids making money off NIL. I’ll be surprised if it works out that way.
“There will be some high-profile kids make a lot of money, but it requires a fair amount of work, running a business on the side aside from being a college athlete.”
So for the foreseeable future, coaches will be pulling out their hair, wondering if their athletes are spending more time marketing their names than preparing for the season or their next game, if dissension will arise in the locker room, if athletes’ grades will suffer, if players might transfer to other schools that are better at maximizing their athletes’ revenue opportunities. Greener pastures, after all, just might mean more greenbacks.
A mountain or a molehill?
Opinions are all over the place as to the consequences.
Football and men’s basketball players are likely to make the most money.
Very few athletes, if any, are likely to make a fortune.
By making some money, some athletes might be less inclined to enter the transfer portal and might even delay turning pro. Athletes build their persona over time. That in turn could help graduation rates.
Those with more outgoing personalities will do much better than reserved athletes.
Collegians in pro markets won’t do as well as those in smaller cities where the local team hogs the attention.
“It’s where we’re at today,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “It’s just an evolution. I get it. I’m all for it.”
Yet he and others think too much is being made of the sweeping change.
“I think it’s only going to affect certain players in football and basketball, and occasionally a baseball player,” said Longhorns baseball coach David Pierce, who thinks stars like pitcher Ty Madden or a slugger like Kody Clemens could have cashed in. “I really don’t think it will affect as many players as they think.”
Fear of the unknown
The argument was once made that the sky was falling when the NCAA approved the cost of attendance subsidies for athletes, but in the Big 12, for instance, the athletes at the top of the league were making only $2,000 more than those at the bottom. “But people thought it’d be the end of the world,” Bowlsby said. “Now it’s never talked about.”
Bowlsby, who headed up a working group alongside Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith to study NIL for two years, agrees that it might not be a sea change. The Division I Council on Monday and then the Board of Governors on Wednesday approved across-the-board NIL rights, making it NCAA law for those states that did not pass such legislation individually.
Some might agree that there won’t be a monumental change, pointing out that professional athletes are not exactly saturating the airwaves with national ads unless their name is LeBron James or they’re one of those marquee NFL quarterbacks or a veteran NBA point guard in those ubiquitous insurance commercials. Because, really, how often do you spot Mike Trout plugging a razor blade or Luka Doncic pushing a luxury car?
Some state laws strictly prohibited boosters from entering into contracts with college athletes, but the Texas law omitted that because legislators thought it was too restrictive, excluding the most likely business owners who are vested in a school’s athletic program.
“If you’re a local car dealer and you really want to have a legitimate relationship with a spokesman who is a student-athlete, you’ll pay something consistent with the market,” Bowlsby said. “For some, it will be really robust. But for the great majority, there won’t be any market for them.”
It’s one thing to have 36,000 followers on Instagram, Bowlsby said, but athletes would have to produce content every day. “And all of a sudden, you’ve got to incorporate yourself and pay taxes. The lives of Division I athletes are already pretty busy. None of this is free money.”
Maybe Trevor Lawrence, with his flowing mane, would have cashed in with ads for shampoo as the national face of college football, but who else? DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy, but how often did you see his face plastered across ESPN?
How many college football or basketball players command enough fame to earn big bucks like Lawrence? Maybe Baker Mayfield or Johnny Manziel would have earned a barrel full of money in his day, but such players are few and far between.
For most, it might be a restaurant spot here, some paid autograph sessions there.
“You may tell customers, ‘Come to Kirk’s Place and drink beer after the game, and the offensive linemen will be there to sign autographs,’” Bowlsby said. “Well, how long is that going to be a big deal? You might pay ’em 500 bucks. Those are not the deals that are going to change anybody’s lifestyle.
“But you think about (Texas’ Cameron) Dicker the Kicker. He could have probably gotten a pretty good T-shirt business going.”
But somebody’s got to come out all the poorer.
Instead of the money going to the schools, some of it will now flow directly to the athletes.
“Who’s the loser?” Bowlsby said. “The ticket office and the foundation.”
The winner is the student-athlete, finally able to capitalize on what is rightfully his or hers.
But how much? Few ventured a guess.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal in reality,” Del Conte said. “But everyone is afraid of the unknown.”
Others think it could be a really big deal.
“It will allow the rich schools to get richer,” UT men's swimming coach Eddie Reese said. “Alums with money will give ’em $100,000 to use their name. For those IT guys out in California, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket.”
Of course, players at schools in pro markets such as Stanford and Cal and UCLA and USC might not command nearly as much dough as those in markets lacking pro sports where the big-name college athletes are the local celebrities. Hello, Austin and Norman and Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and South Bend.
“The reason it’s going to be the wild, wild West for a while is all these things are converging at the same time,” Fields said. “Transfer portal. Immediate eligibility for transfers. Now name, image and likeness. It’s not the perfect storm. It’s a tsunami right now.”
And these seismic changes will cause so much more than a ripple.
The time is here because Texas joined 11 other states that passed NIL laws, establishing Thursday as the launching pad moment that the state's football players, basketball players, volleyball players, soccer players — you name ’em — can cash in on their own personal brands.
When Gov. Greg Abbott last month put his signature on Senate Bill 1385, written by Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Texas joined Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and New Mexico with July 1 starting dates for their laws to take effect. Oregon and Illinois added NIL laws too. Same for Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Some have concerns that a patchwork approach to NIL will create chaos, but Creighton said, “We deal with that as states deal with business every day.”
Creighton, who has an undergraduate degree from UT and a law degree from Oklahoma, first held a meeting in November with more than a dozen athletic directors from Texas schools large and small after notifying more than 30 ADs in the state and was initially told that the NCAA would handle NIL.
“By January, when it got tabled by the NCAA, they’ve never been so eager to get something passed,” Creighton said. “A lot of people got religion very quickly. We found universal support. All seemed to have a level of urgency the second time around in January.”
He later learned that 37 states were moving quickly to adopt legislation, at least in part to protect their high school athletes from being plundered by out-of-state schools with friendlier NIL laws.
“I usually look at Texas legislation as being a catalyst for change around the country or at least leading in things,” Creighton said. “I quickly found we were behind.”
He also discovered that Texas was the only state in Big 12 and SEC territory other than Arkansas that had not taken steps to pass or advance legislation.
Linebacker tackling machine Britt Hager was Creighton's favorite Longhorn during his undergrad years, but he also befriended UT quarterback Shea Morenz, a two-sport star who could have cashed in considerably.
Asked what Hager might have made at Texas off NIL in his prime, Creighton said, “Oh, my goodness. He would have done really well in this framework. And VY, he would have been the marquee guy.
"As we learned across the process, a female swimmer at a major university who has a huge following on social media has a value worth $500 to $1,000 a day,” he said.
The milestone legislation figures to create a rabbit hole of consequences, some of them unforeseen, as the athletes flex their muscles and apply their clout.
Some coaches worry about dissension in the locker room and potential fractures in teams because of an income disparity among the athletes. But most say that such a pecking order has always existed.
“I don’t worry about that because this is the US of A,” Fields said. “The better you do, the better you do. If you want to work hard and you’re blessed with success, you’re going to prosper.”
Fields has already begun to have conversations with and help educate his golfers, partly because he has two megastars on his team who have already competed in major golf tournaments on the PGA Tour and international events such as the Walker Cup.
“We have two of the most recognizable college athletes in America, and that’s Cole Hammer and Pierceson Coody,” Fields said. “Both have their own brand and have been building their brands. Cole played in a U.S. Open when he was 15.”
The Coodys and Hammers will have a leg up on many athletes because they already have name awareness and seem poised to capitalize. They could even land long-term contracts with golf manufacturers such as Titleist and golf apparel companies such as Peter Millar that want to tie them up early before their brands explode when they turn pro.
In addition, their stature as Longhorns will lend itself to recruiting other high-profile golfers who take notice of their profitability.
“I think it’s great for our kids,” Texas women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer said. “And I understand them wanting to take advantage of their individuality. There are so many avenues our kids can take advantage of because of the UT brand, which is coast to coast, north and south. All over the continent and the world. That’s the value that steer head has.”
Restrictions do exist, however, on those ties.
“In NIL, you can’t use Texas, you can’t use burnt orange, you can’t use the logo,” Fields said. “You’re on your own. But because of the brand awareness of UT, the eyes of the world are on you, so you’d have more opportunity than if you are at school X, Y or Z. It’s like if you’re a Dallas Cowboy. It’s a multiple effect of the exposure you’ll get as opposed to a Kansas City Chief, for instance.”
Athletes also must disclose to their schools the contracts they sign. The schools won’t have the authority to deny them, but athletes cannot endorse sponsors that would be in conflict with their schools’ deals.
A potential offshoot benefit of NIL could be that some undergraduates might choose to stay in college longer and not feel forced to turn pro more quickly for financial reasons.
But confusion might reign for quite a while.
“I think we’re getting a lot of questions, one, from our own players and, two, from a lot of recruits,” Sarkisian said. “We know we’re being proactive. We know we’ve got some good things in place to go after it. Again, we’re looking for guidelines, and until we get those guidelines, it’s hard to implement.”
Fields also mentioned the leadership of Del Conte and UT President Jay Hartzell and the direction they will offer.
“Chris Del Conte is on the cutting edge of all this,” Fields said. “I don’t think it scares him. I think he’s willing to find the right place, so our athletic department will be very effective moving forward, because the NCAA is trying to feel its way around and the federal government is kind of dragging its feet in coming up with a one-size-fits-all plan.”
No one expects smooth sailing, especially the first year as colleges and athletes grapple with the byzantine world of NIL.
“I actually have empathy for the college compliance officers because they are in a tough spot,” said former UT swimmer Julie Sommer, a Seattle-based lawyer who is an advocate for the athletes. “This is a true mess for them, and it’s because of the lack of leadership at the central office. It's amazing that these institutions keep renewing Mark Emmert’s contract.”
Bowlsby took notice as well but said the NCAA chose to take a minimalist approach and allowed each state to create its own set of rules. Why? “Concern over litigation won out,” he said, adding that there is no evidence that NIL will lead to pay for play. But ...
“Essentially, you can do whatever you want,” Bowlsby said. “Coaches are always concerned about the unknown. Participants are concerned as well. They need more guidance and aren’t likely to get it. There’s plenty of anxiety to go around.”
Some worry about illegal inducements in recruiting with boosters offering six-figure incentives to sign with a particular school. But others suggest these official contracts that athletes sign with companies representing their interests will offer more transparency and less cheating.
The new era began Thursday.
Where it will lead is anybody’s guess.
“It’s clear,” Creighton said, “that this is going to be a tidal wave.”
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.