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Padding the Stats: The NIL Era is Here

June 30, 2021

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors is expected to pass the recommendation from the Division I Council on Wednesday that would suspend amateurism rules related to name, image and likeness just in time for July 1.

That is the date when NIL legislation goes into effect in multiple state, so the NCAA didn’t really have any choice. They’ve had a long time to sort through this, and their solution was basically to tell schools and conferences to do whatever they want (short of paying for play and improper benefits in recruiting).

Also, according to the Division I Council’s recommendation, this “temporary action would remain in place until federal legislation or new NCAA rules are adopted.”

I’m still struggling to understand why those in charge of the NCAA continue to expect the the legislative branch to clean up this issue. The last time I checked, college students profiting off their own brand (which is essentially what NIL is) isn’t illegal. The only reason student-athletes aren’t able to make a profit like other college students is NCAA rules prohibit it, and the purpose of these new NIL bills is to supersede those rules and prevent the NCAA from punishing student-athletes that get paid.

The NCAA had plenty of time to come up with universal rules and guidelines once the first of these NIL bills went into law and forced the NCAA’s hand, but they wanted someone else to take that burden off their hands. Now they’re passing the buck to the schools and conferences to determine how they want to approach this new NIL world.

I’m fascinated to see how this all plays out. I really hope the lack of guidance doesn’t lead to student-athletes jeopardizing their eligibility by mistake. Some schools (Nebraska included) seem to be as prepared as possible for July 1, but ultimately it’s going to fall to the individual student-athletes to go out and make their own money.

Lexi Sun certainly seems to be ready. The dynamic outside hitter for the volleyball team, who decided to take advantage of the extra season of eligibility the NCAA awarded in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, applied for an LLC — Lexi Sun LLC — in California last week and she added a contact email address “for business inquiries” to her bio on Instagram.

Erin Sorensen wrote back in 2019 about the massive social media following for Nebraska volleyball players, and that following for players like Sun has only continued to grow since then. As a charismatic, talented volleyball player at a powerhouse program in a volleyball-crazy state with a massive social media following, Sun is likely to make a killing during the 2021 season and beyond.

I interviewed incoming freshman and Omaha Skutt graduate Lindsay Krause back in May, and I was surprised to learn nobody from Nebraska had really talked to her about the NIL possibilities just yet. Of course, Krause committed long before the NIL term even existed, but she already has a strong brand locally as one of the very best high school volleyball players in the country who dominated for four years in high school and is part of arguably the best recruiting class in Nebraska athletics history. She isn’t nearly as active on social media as Sun, but there are other ways to capitalize on NIL rights beside social media advertising.

“Especially in a state like Nebraska with the volleyball program and how heavily volleyball is emphasized and how much we love the sport, I think it’s something that’s going to be a great opportunity for me and all girls that play for the school,” Krause said. “Volleyball is obviously not a sport that gets publicized as much as I think it should, so living in a state that loves the sport so much it can be an advantage for people on this team.”

As the first 5-star recruit in program history, I’m sure Bryce McGowens will have plenty of opportunities come his way as well, especially if Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers are able to take a big step forward and make some noise on the court this season. And we all know how crazy this state is about football.

The NIL era is officially here, even though the NCAA was dragged kicking and screaming into it. Everybody has an idea of how this will work, but until the contracts start getting signed and the checks start getting cashed, I don’t think any of us truly understand what it’s going to look like. However, I’m definitely excited to see just how creative student-athletes and local businesses can get. The crazier, the better in my opinion.

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