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It’s Already Clear Nebraska is Ahead on Name, Image and Likeness

March 22, 2020

Inside linebacker Christopher Paul Jr.committed to Nebraska’s 2021 recruiting class on Friday. He made the announcement via Twitter, where he did what just about every recruit does and shared his thoughts via a Notes app screenshot.

https://twitter.com/PoohPaul4/status/1241043541570322432

By Saturday, Paul was already out peer recruiting.

https://twitter.com/PoohPaul4/status/1241443962012999687

It all seemed pretty by the book. There was one part that was anything but.

#NameAndLikeness

Paul included three hashtags in his Saturday tweet. That was one of them. It struck me and I wasn’t the only one.

https://twitter.com/NebraskaMegan/status/1241451919027077121

Megan Hunt is an important person to note here. The Nebraska state senator—my state senator, if I may say so—introduced a bill that would allow student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. As it stands now, non-athletes at colleges can freely utilize their NIL rights but student-athletes would lose their eligibility if they tried to do the same. Hunt just wants to level the playing field and her fellow state senators are supporting it. The bill made it through an initial round of voting with near-unanimous support.

Nearly 30 states—Nebraska included—have drafted legislation around NIL following California’s Senate Bill 206. California’s bill—the first of its kind in allowing student-athletes the same rights as non-athlete students to profit off their name, image and likeness—was signed into law Sept. 30, 2019.

As for Nebraska’s bill, it’s currently at a standstill while the unicameral is on recess amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s on final reading which is the last round of debate,” Hunt tweeted on Saturday. “I expected it to come up this week, but of course we’ve been recessed. I believe we will reconvene to pass remaining legislation when it is safe to do so—we just don’t yet know when that is.”

Should Nebraska’s bill become law—and it seems headed that direction once the unicameral is back in session—Husker student-athletes will have the ability to monetize their public reach and their brand. Nebraska—alongside Opendorse—want to take that a step further by offering a brand-building program called the Ready Now Program.

“We believe social media is at the core of this next frontier for player development,”  Coach Scott Frost said in the Ready Now Program release. “There’s an opportunity for our players that transcends compensation today – we as coaches and leaders can provide our student-athletes the tools to maximize their future value while they’re competing for the University of Nebraska. 

“Regardless of what change comes in NIL legislation, we want every Nebraska athlete to be prepared with the blueprint for success beyond the field. With Ready Now and the unrivaled passion of the Husker fanbase, I believe a current student-athlete’s brand can be considerably more valuable at Nebraska.”

The Ready Now Program is a great idea that should benefit all student-athletes at Nebraska. I’d expect to see similar programs pop up at other universities soon and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see some major players getting involved in the discussion. What’s stopping someone like Adidas or Nike from creating these brand-building programs across the country? I’m excited about what Opendorse is spearheading. I’m even more eager to see who follows.

Obviously the NCAA isn’t super keen on all of this, at least not without their input. They said in spring 2019 that they were willing to at least talk about NIL in regards to student-athletes, and they had those talks. Now they’re looking to Congress for help finding a federal solution. The NCAA wants to find a way to allow student-athletes to profit off their NIL, while doing so "in a manner consistent with the collegiate model." Times are changing though. That model may just have to look a little different in their book.

But back to my original point in all of this: that tweet from Paul. When I saw it, the #NameAndLikeness hashtag was all I could focus on. I opened the replies figuring I’d see something—anything!—mentioning it in a negative light. Instead, I found nothing about it. There were replies about the sellout streak, the Blackshirts, you name it. It’s like no one even saw the hashtag that was blinding me.

Maybe that’s a good thing though. Nebraska is a conservative state, which means I’ve read plenty of comments from Husker fans online—ahem, mostly on Facebook—about how student-athletes should just be grateful for their scholarships and stop asking for more. Twitter is a different space to some degree, but a lot of people who feel that way are on Twitter too. To not see a single negative reaction to Paul floored me. 

I’m sure those reactions are out there. I’m sure someone quote-tweeted him, or took a screenshot of his tweet and shared it. It’s probably living on someone’s Facebook page under some kind of commentary about how ungrateful Paul’s generation is.

It doesn’t matter though. What does matter is that Nebraska saw an opportunity with Opendorse to create something that would put the Huskers at the front of this discussion. When recruits start considering programs, Nebraska will already have some answers for them on how to build a brand. And believe me, brand building is important. Just ask someone like former Nebraska volleyball player Kenzie Maloney. She’s had a number of paid promotions through her Instagram since her graduation.

“I applaud our athletic administration for implementing this program for all student-athletes, not just those in football or men’s basketball,” Coach John Cook said in the release on the Ready Now Program. “Nebraska is one of only a few schools where a young woman has a great opportunity to build her brand locally, regionally and nationally while competing in college athletics.”

He’s right and I’ll continue linking this article until the end of time. I need to update the numbers at some point though because Nebraska volleyball’s social following continues to grow at an incredible rate.

I care a lot about this discussion. I have a lot of thoughts on how athletic departments will manage this new world when these bills all pass. And I’m saying “when” because it feels a lot more plausible than “if” at this point. I also know the questions will be endless because we’ve already heard many of them.

I plan to dive into a lot of those questions—I’ll spare you the list right now—in the coming months. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this moment since college when I tried to tell people that businesses were “for sure going to get in on this Facebook thing.” Social media is my thing. I love it. I also hate it. It’s a double-edged sword.

In the meantime, keep an eye on recruit tweets. Do more recruits start calling out the #NameAndLikeness hashtag? I scrolled through and it’s only been used three times since October, and one was unrelated to recruiting specifically.

Maybe Paul is leading the way here too. After all, he also said #ItsANewDay.

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