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Clemson running back Darien Rencher felt heard.


He stood alongside several fellow Tigers student-athletes on Monday and watched as S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster held a ceremonial signing at Memorial Stadium for a bill that allows an athlete to profit from their name, image or likeness. It’s the state’s latest step in the recognition of one of college sports’ most pressing discussions.

McMaster officially signed the legislation on May 6, though it won’t go into effect until next summer.

“This entire country is built on capitalism,” Rencher said. “So you can have an opportunity to make a wage, to make more than you have.”

Rencher was joined Monday by teammates Matt Brockhorst, K.J. Henry, Will Brown and Zac McIntosh. South Carolina State football coach Buddy Pough was also in attendance to represent the Bulldogs.

The student-athletes were given a few moments to speak with McMaster and ask questions.

“Selfishly, the only question I had was, ‘Hey, why can’t this thing happen like now?’ ” said Rencher, who only has one year of eligibility left. “I think South Carolina’s kind of in the middle. I think one of the things is, like, being the first isn’t always the best. … At the same time, we’re not also on the backburner. We’re not one of the states who haven’t done anything yet, which is cool to see.”

Explaining NIL and what’s coming

The ceremonial signing took place not far from the playing surface where Clemson has established itself as a national football power over the last decade. Monday’s moment marked the latest local development in what amounts to a seismic shift in college athletics.

Under previous NCAA guidelines, student-athletes were unable to profit off of their name, image or likeness in order to maintain “amateur status.” In the newly developing landscape, those student-athletes will be allowed to make money off their own personal branding while in school through such avenues as endorsements. What that looks like as a finished product is still being debated and planned at the local and national levels.

South Carolina’s bill, known as S. 685, will allow a company that’s not affiliated with a college to compensate an athlete for their name, image or likeness (NIL) as it relates to “non-athletic work product, or activities related to a business that the athlete owns,” according to the bill. There are some other ground rules: Those activities can’t take place during academic, athletic and/or team-mandated activities. The schools also cannot help the student-athletes with these activities.

“The bill that we passed here is very pro-student athlete. It gives an educational component to it,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said. “It gives the opportunity to the student-athletes to take their name, image and likeness and monetize it in a really positive way.”

South Carolina’s NIL law, which is set to go into effect on July 1, 2022, makes the state one of 18 nationwide to pass a bill on the matter. Georgia, Florida, Alabama, New Mexico and Mississippi have also passed a form of the bill and are granting student-athletes the rights to receive compensation for their name, likeness and image as soon as next month.

During Monday’s ceremony, S.C. Sen. Ross Turner said the state is waiting a year to allow time to “get the kinks worked out.”

One anticipated issue comes with the possibility of school sponsorships conflicting with a student-athlete’s personal sponsor.

“We spent all last week, actually, with our multimedia partner and our branding and licensing team trying to figure out those policies,” South Carolina deputy athletic director Chance Miller said Monday. “You want to write the greatest policy, but sometimes you can’t expect everything, and we’re going to have to have the ability to really maneuver quickly and to maneuver quickly in a way that it helps our student-athletes. We can’t lose sight of that.”

The buffer of time also allows the state to observe what happens on a national level over the next couple of weeks. NCAA officials and college sports power brokers — including NCAA President Mark Emmert — have been lobbying lawmakers in Washington, D.C. for over a year to create and pass a bill that would override state laws, give the NCAA some antitrust exemption related to NIL and provide guardrails to make sure recruiting remains a relatively even marketplace.

Rencher said he hopes the NCAA will put its own rules in place so things are uniform for all institutions.

“We really needed to make sure that we had our own bill that would help our student-athletes,” Radakovich said. “That’s really what was done here. We’re just excited about being one of the 18, maybe it’s 19, states right now that have enacted one of these bills.”

Clemson, South Carolina prepare for new landscape

With South Carolina’s new NIL bill passed, the state’s collegiate stars stand to be beneficiaries in the coming years.

On April 28, South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston posted a photo on Instagram wearing athletic wear. Under the new law, she would be able to include the brand she’s wearing and receive compensation for it as a paid post — as long as there is no mention of USC or Boston’s athletic career with the Gamecocks.

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei can sometimes be seen wearing a chain that says “Big 5inco.” Once South Carolina’s NIL bill goes into effect, for example, he could model for the jeweler where the chain was purchased and get paid for it.

Both Clemson and South Carolina are adjusting to the new landscape of student-athlete empowerment, profits and the slew of new legislation and guidelines that will spring up with the recent legislation.

On March 3, USC announced a partnership with Altius Sports Partners, a name, image and likeness consulting firm that offers educational programs designed to help student-athletes understand the “risks associated with marketing reps and agents, and NIL-related opportunities,” per the company’s website.

ASP — which counts longtime football mogul Oliver Luck and former NFL Players Association vice president of business and legal affairs Casey Schwab among its leaders — will provide education and advising to the school on the constantly changing NIL landscape. The company has also already partnered with LSU, Tennessee, Texas and Georgia, among others.

Miller said the university was intentional about who it hired and how, noting ASP won’t be the only company USC works with during this process.

Clemson and South Carolina already have programs in place — Passionate about Winning, or P.A.W. at Clemson, and Gamecock CEO at South Carolina — to help student-athletes for life after college. Those programs include help with resumes, interviews, financial literacy courses and essentially work-study opportunities, among others designed to prepare them for the workforce.

“This (law) is just another avenue that we have to educate our student-athletes and really help them enhance their marketability,” Miller said. “You’ll take the Gamecocks CEO program and add name, image, likeness to it and really expand upon it.”

Clemson has been working with a Nebraska-based company called Opendorse since 2015 to assist in educating student-athletes about the endorsement industry. The company on its website says “40,000+ athletes use Opendorse to understand, build, protect, and monetize their brand.”

“This is going to be new revenue, new wages, for lack of a better term, for our student-athletes, so they’re going to have to pay taxes on it,” Radakovich said. “It’s very different than a scholarship, so Opendorse is also a company that helps us provide not only for our own compliance staff, but through their company, educational modules to allow our student-athletes to know and understand every part of what NIL is.”

At the end of the day, Rencher joked he already has a plan in place to take advantage of the new law. While he wouldn’t give specifics, the opportunity to profit from his own likeness will allow him plenty of options from which to choose.

“I got one more year left here and I’ll definitely try to maximize it,” Rencher said, “but at the same time, I think the guys behind me, it’s going to be great for them (and) to see them utilize it.”