Claire Forrest and KJ Ruffo sent a message earlier this month to the University of Portland’s athletic department: their days as unpaid workers are over.
Forrest, a senior volleyball player, and Ruffo, the baseball team’s pitcher and receiver, assured school officials they did not expect to be paid by the university. Rather, they intend to go into business for themselves and leverage their positions as college athletes. The two have entered into agreements in principle to approve and promote products for private companies.
Since then, three other athletes from the small Catholic school in North Portland have told administrators they intend to do the same, a move that less than a month ago would have broken NCAA rules and Perhaps they would have earned them an NCAA sanction.
But in a historic change, the organization ruled that varsity athletes could, from July 1, benefit from their own name, image and likeness. Some had worked for months to build relationships with potential business partners in anticipation of the decision.
“We’re all trying to figure out how to monetize this,” Forrest said. “It’s going to be really fun.”
The NCAA rule change could upset the traditional balance of power in college sports. Students claim their share of the billions generated by their competitions. Meanwhile, it creates a new uncertain landscape for the powers that be, like athletic directors, coaches, corporate sponsors and athletic governing bodies.
No one has a clue how this is going to play out. It’s a time of great anxiety for coaches, administrators, and sneaker companies.
And no one has more to gain in this debate than Nike, Adidas and other shoe and clothing companies.
The University of Portland is far from sports powers like Ohio State or Alabama. Pilot athletes have not signed big sponsorship contracts with big players like Nike or Visa or Kellogg’s.
Scott Leykam, vice president of athletics at the University of Portland, said he and his staff were scrambling to find the best way to administer the new rule. He said he was surprised and impressed by the students’ proactive campaigns to find business partners.
“It’s exciting for our children to have this opportunity,” said Leykam. “It was time. They should have the same opportunities as ordinary students to make these kinds of deals.”
Some of the offers are decidedly small. Ruffo will market clothing and other Baseball Lifestyle 101 products. One of Forrest’s sponsors, Slide Jewelry, only supplies it with products that it will promote online.
Nonetheless, some students seek opportunities with entrepreneurial zeal, unwilling to expect more clarity from sports administrators on the intricacies of the new rule. Ruffo said he started growing his social media audience 18 months ago. He noticed that a company called Baseball Lifestyle 101 was resting its equipment.
Ruffo, who grew up in Milwaukie, contacted Farmingdale, New York, to introduce himself.
“They contacted me and asked me to be part of their team,” he said. “I’m pretty happy. “
Forrest, meanwhile, has launched his own local marketing campaign. “I have DMed a lot of different companies,” she says. “I had a lot of no’s.”
Max Siegel, CEO of USA Track & Field, foresees many conflicts as top athletes sign deals with sponsors that may not be to the liking of their university and its corporate sponsors.
The big shoe makers who made costly “for all schools” deals did so on the understanding that it gave them the right to outfit all the college sports teams. What happens when the star quarterback signs a deal with a rival shoe maker and insists on wearing his sponsor’s shoes?
As head of USA Track & Field, Siegel has mediated his share of disputes between corporate sponsors.
“It’s not easy,” Siegel said. “There is a lot at stake.”
Siegel has a personal connection to one of the new offerings. His son is a center of the Notre-Dame football team. Mission BBQ, a chain of regional restaurants, has just made a deal. “They are now the official sponsor of Notre Dame’s offensive line,” said Siegel.
The Mission Agreement did not result in any windfall for Siegel’s son. But he and his fellow lineman ate a lot of barbecue, Siegel said.
The NCAA, the varsity sports watchdog, shocked the world in late June when it finally dropped its emphasis on amateurism, prompted by a Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to future legal challenges. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump-appointed conservative, went even further, saying the standard was patently unfair and possibly illegal.
And the NCAA retirement may not be over. NCAA President Mark Emmert on Thursday suggested a radically new and deregulated future for college sports, in which the NCAA would relinquish much of its authority to schools and athletic conferences.
“The new environment is one that creates some pretty remarkable opportunities for schools and the Association to rethink and reconsider many long-standing elements of what college sport is,” Emmert told reporters.
Even before the NCAA voluntarily gave up its amateurish stance, Oregon and several other states passed their own laws allowing students to enjoy their own image.
Senator James Manning and Senate Speaker Peter Courtney wrote Senate Bill 5, which was approved by 51 to 7 votes and enacted this month.
Manning had a message for sports bureaucrats and college leaders who may want to preserve the status quo: “You wouldn’t work for free,” Democrat Eugene said. “Times have changed. We need to make sure that we do the right thing for these student-athletes who bring such fame and fortune to their universities.
Lawyers, agents, coaches and college administrators interviewed by The Oregonian / OregonLive agree that the landscape has changed.
Nike, Adidas and others have invested millions of dollars in sponsorship deals with athletes, schools and leagues. Notably competitive, these companies are likely to fight against any deal that reduces the impact of their sponsorship.
“The name, image and likeness will be a big deal for the sneaker industry,” said Jonathan Jensen, a professor at the University of North Carolina who tracks the apparel business. “Paying universities doesn’t make a lot of sense if companies can make deals with individual athletes. “
Jesse Williams, former Brooks running shoe marketing manager, predicted some chaos as big brands adjust to the new world.
“This will be the Wild West, honestly, and it will be interesting to see who moves first,” said Williams, who has since founded Sound Running, an organizer of races and running events. “I think the school you attend and the brand that sponsors that school will be very important. I can see companies like Nike signing kids to run ‘X’ Nike school for $ 20,000 a year and about six years to get them through college and keep them afterwards.
The new era could also end corruption complaints within sports marketing. If payments to athletes are now perfectly acceptable to the NCAA, the days of secrecy and potential scandal are over.
“Now everything is exposed to the sun,” said Dionne Kollar, professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law. “Let’s do it on the table. It’s a new day. “
The change came too late for Jim Gatto and Merl Code, former Adidas employee and consultant, respectively, charged with criminal fraud after allegedly funneling money to recruits at universities affiliated with Adidas. Both face nine months in prison after being convicted. The two have appealed and the cases are pending.
The new uncertainty comes just as schools were hoping to start recovering from the devastation of COVID-19. The pandemic has put a dent in sports budgets across the country because games have been called off or played in empty stadiums.
If superstar student-athletes manage to grab a significant chunk of sponsorship money, the windfall could come at the expense of their schools.
“It’s a potential financial black hole at precisely the most difficult time for sports departments,” Jensen said.
Coaches don’t know what the future holds.
Dave Smith, head athletics coach at Oklahoma State University, fears a toxic environment in the locker room as some athletes thrive and others do without. He was among several coaches who expressed concern that the new paradigm would increase the leverage of big boosters, which could channel unlimited funds to preferred schools or sports teams.
“What happens when an entity invests a lot of money in a star player and the coach decides that the star player is no longer the starter? Smith said. “This essentially professionalises university sport. Whenever you involve money in anything, you have the possibility of having problems. And the bigger the money, the more severe the corruption.
Smith and Danny Mackey, coach of the Brooks Beasts professional track team, imagine the day when a booster with deep pockets will decide to take the fate of an entire team into their own hands.
“Let’s say I make it big,” Mackey said. “I’ll go see the coach and tell him I’m going to pay your seven best guys $ 30,000 a year.”
When it comes to deep-pocketed donors and sports enthusiasts, you don’t need to look any further than Phil Knight, founder of Nike and former UO runner, who has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the ‘university.
On July 6, UO football star Kayvon Thibodeaux announced that he had struck a deal with Knight and his longtime Nike colleague Tinker Hatfield to sell a stylized image of Thibodeaux created by Hatfield.
As if drastically breaking the seal of name, image and likeness rights weren’t enough, digital art comes in the form of an NFT – a non-fungible token, meaning every file is one way. one of a kind – and cannot be purchased with Ethereum, a cryptocurrency.
Smith said he already lacks the certainty of the old system. He is not the only one.
But for Forrest and Ruffo, the two University of Portland student-athletes, the new policy rightes a historic injustice. This far exceeds concerns about unintended consequences.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” said Forrest. “It’s great for athletes across the country.
– Jeff Manning