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Looking Back on One Year of Name, Image and Likeness at Nebraska

July 01, 2022

July 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the name, image and likeness era in collegiate athletics, and what a year it’s been.

As Jacob Padilla pointed out one year ago, when the NCAA Division I Board of Directors passed the recommendation from the Division I Council that would suspend amateurism rules related to name, image and likeness, it didn’t have much of a choice. A number of states had NIL legislation set to go into effect on July 1, 2021, meaning the NCAA had to do something.

The Division I Council’s recommendation at the time was to put the power in the hands of the schools and conferences. This “temporary action would remain in place until federal legislation or new NCAA rules are adopted.”

About that.

The NCAA hasn’t exactly led on the issue of NIL much in its first year, resulting in confusion and complication for many. The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors did provide updated guidelines in May, clarifying that boosters—and newly formed collectives intended to provide athletes at particular universities with deals—should not have contact with prospective athletes, family members or their representatives. Yet, collectives are still popping up all over the country. Are they abiding by this new guidelines? Time will tell.

While we could spend today discussing all of the questions that remain around NIL and its future, let’s instead take a moment to look back. How did this first year benefit Nebraska athletes?

A lot of focus went toward the top end deals of NIL over the past year. One collective, ABM, announced in April that it had raised $3.5 million and had secured gross payments of more than $850,000 for more than 90 Nebraska student-athletes across five different sports. More specifically, that looked like 450 paid deals secured and more than 25 business partnerships formed.

Former Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez was expected to earn more than $100,000 in the first year of NIL. He quickly signed with Degree Deodorant in July, one of 14 student-athletes nationwide to appear and be endorsed on its #BreakingLimits team.

Former Nebraska volleyball outside hitter Lexi Sun was also expected to be a big player in the NIL space. One of the most followed student-athletes at Nebraska through the 2021-22 school year, Sun put her social power to work quickly. She secured her own LLC, launched a line of sweatshirts with Ren Athletics—which later expanded to other apparel items—and sought out partnerships that fit the brand she was curating. One of those partnerships was with Nebraska-based Borsheims, where she curated multiple “Lexi Edits.” Her most recent was a collection for the holiday season.

It wasn’t all big deals for student-athletes, of course. A lot of what made up Nebraska’s first year of NIL was the opportunity for student-athletes to take their passions and turn them into something that benefitted them and their community. That often meant seeking out their own opportunities or building something that could be sponsored.

Nebraska golfer Megan Whittaker, for example, loves ice cream. That love turned into a partnership with Lincoln-based (402) Creamery. Whittaker didn’t just stop there, of course. She turned her deal into a bigger deal, benefitting other Nebraska teams and athletes and the TeamMates organization. She was featured in the May issue of Hail Varsity—and was the cover subject—for her unique approach to NIL.

Nebraska student-athletes also partnered with local restaurants like Muchachos, creating new menu items and earning a portion of money from the sales. The Pipeline Burrito was one of those items, a partnership with the Nebraska offensive line. Muchachos sold 100 of the Pipeline Burritos within the first week that the speciality item was on its menu.

Beyond that, there were podcasts—Trey and Bryce McGowens hosted 21 episodes of “Off Court”—and deals through Opendorse. One of those deals was with Runza, who offered a deal to the first 100 Nebraska student-athletes to promote the Runza rewards app. Former Nebraska tight end Austin Allen was one of the 100 to participate.

Nebraska has also invested in NIL for its athletes, first launching #NILbraska, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln initiative to educate student-athletes on branding, marketing and financial literacy, among other aspects. The Huskers later launched an official NIL marketplace for its student-athletes in April.

“Our new Nebraska Huskers Marketplace will streamline the NIL process for both our student-athletes and for those who want to connect with them for opportunities,” Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said. “This is another valuable tool to assist our student-athletes in maximizing their NIL opportunities.”

With that said, there is still plenty to be sorted out when it comes to NIL. Ohio State coach Ryan Day, for example, recently said that he believes the Buckeyes need $13 million in NIL money to keep its roster together. The transfer portal adds another layer to the discussion, especially as players look around for better opportunities both on and off the field.

Transfer quarterback Casey Thompson explained a difference he noticed when arriving at Nebraska from Texas. In an interview with the podcast Bussin’ with the Boys, Thompson shared the potential available for Husker athletes.

“First off, when I first got here they told me like 17 or 18 different football players had vehicles. That’s unheard of,” Thompson said. “At Texas it was me, Bijan Robinson and one defensive starter. Like three guys. Nebraska athletics, there’s like 70 or 80 people across all sports that have either an apartment or a car or they’re getting NIL deals.”

It’s been quite the year for name, image and likeness. As we enter its second year, there is no clear idea when federal legislation will be introduced. The NCAA appears hesitant to introduce its own national policy, leaning on the federal government to make the first move, but there has been little movement federally since July 2021, despite a hearing by the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce in September.

Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that we will have any uniformity for NIL any time soon. That means more confusion, complications and even potential lawsuits. But only time will tell on what we’re truly up against in this space.

For now, happy birthday NIL. What a year it’s been. Here’s to whatever is next.

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