04 Mar

March Madness Of A Different Sort: the NIL Debate And What’s Next

By: Tanner Simkins

March will bring countless memorable moments during the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments; those snapshots that can catapult careers to various stages of fame and fortune. The Notre Dame women and Villanova men win titles on last second shots; UMBC with the upset of the century; the runs of Loyola Chicago and VCU and Butler and even George Mason; the indelible success of the UConn women and on and on they go. Some are brilliant one time flashes, others are legacies that live on but have their own spots in the bright lights. Amazing athletes capturing the attention of the nation.

What they have not been able to capitalize on is monetizing that success. Of all the thousands of students in a college campus, the only ones who currently cannot  benefit  commercially form their success are student athletes. If you are a pianist or a dancer, or an actor or even an esports pro representing your school, have at it. Basketball player, softball star, volleyball all league, award winning quarterback. Nope.

The issue of Name Image and Likeness is perhaps the biggest issue on college campuses this side of sports gambling these days. Currently 33 states, representing 74% of the population, have started to introduce some form of NIL legislation while the NCAA continues to figure out how and what can be done on their own level.

Into that mix are also a host of new ideas, including one by a former Brown University Ultimate Frisbee player turned NYU educated lawyer turned entrepreneur by the name of Zach Segal. Segal, based in Denver, has launched a platform called studentplayer.com; an open marketplace where fans and businesses can contribute to a fund that will eventually reward athlete success at the school they pledge to and for a position they think is valuable. The trick is that the athlete has to be compensated not with cash, but through endorsements that are put together; he or she then reaps the benefit if his or her success.

How has it gone? In just a few months Segal gas seen over $100,000 come in from schools big and small for everything from swimmers to quarterbacks. He has become an advocate in state legislatures and on talk shows about the issues and the opportunities that NIL can present.

We caught up with Zach to learn more.

What is the biggest pushback you are getting from brands at this stage?

Brands are interested, but some want to wait until the laws/rules are more settled. Everyone should move at the pace they feel comfortable, but our position is that the change is inevitable. Toco Warranty Corp is a brand that shares our perspective, contributed $100,000, and has benefited from it. We encourage others that believe in compensating student athletes to pledge now via our platform. The public is in favor of allowing college athletes to benefit from their NIL and will think positively of companies that show their support. Furthermore, Student Player can offer the highest level of exposure at the best value to brands that commit early so anyone that is interested should contact us directly.

You gave now gotten dollars from big schools like Ohio State and small schools like Wash U. If you look ahead who do you think benefits more from this program?

Everyone. If fans have their voice heard, and student athletes start getting treated like students then there are no losers. I think the law/rule changes and our platform will yield some surprising outcomes. Today, a few schools seem to finish atop the rankings year after year. That may change quickly. If alumni/fans of a school step up, they can help their team recruit the best players and go from last to first in a year’s time. Who knows, maybe Nebraska will soon be the best Big 10 Men’s Basketball team.

You recently testified in Colorado; what was that like and what surprised you about it?

Being asked by the sponsors of SB 20-123 to testify was an honor. Doing my part made me feel proud. I was surprised when a state representative asked if this bill was “for Colorado” or “to nudge the NCAA”. The answer is both. A national standard would be convenient, but even if the NCAA does not act, it still benefits Colorado to establish an equitable system for allowing its college athletes to benefit from their NIL. Rick George, CU’s athletic director who is part of an NCAA working group that is looking at student athlete compensation, said it best: “we want our student athletes to benefit, just like our regular students are able to benefit from their name, image, and likeness”

It is National Women’s History Month; given the rise in interest in women’s athletics do you see this platform as benefitting female athletes maybe even more than men?

Yes, that is a definite possibility. Our platform democratizes the process so in the end it will be up to the fans. Women’s athletics are increasingly popular, but their professional leagues can be slower to develop. College is often the pinnacle of a female (or male) athlete’s exposure. Being able to benefit from one’s name, image, and likeness during that time is important and potentially more so for women athletes.

One thing that we talk about often is how things make money for the idea maker; how does Studentplayer make money? Will it be a large income or is this a not for profit for you with really bigger goals?

Student Player is a purpose driven company, but a for profit entity. We want fans to know that Student Player does not take a commission on contributions. To generate revenue, we will charge a fee to companies wanting to be endorsed by the athletes and also have advertising on our site and on the downloadable contribution totals. The administrative burden of offering endorsement deals to ~500,000 athletes is immense, but we have the infrastructure and experience to handle it.