Former St. John’s quarterback Jackson Erdmann finished his college career last December without getting the chance to profit off his name, image or likeness.
But he is among those who worked to ensure future generations of college athletes can benefit after Wednesday’s landmark ruling by the NCAA.
The NCAA’s 24-member board of directors officially approved clearance for athletes to make money off things such as social media posts, endorsement deals, autograph sales, appearances and sponsorships.
Those opportunities were banned under the NCAA’s strict amateurism rules, but with at least seven states passing NIL (name, image and likeness) laws ready to take effect today, the NCAA agreed to stand down so there could be national uniformity.
“It’s crazy,” said Erdmann, who was one of three athletes – one from each division – who was on the NCAA’s working group studying NIL rights. “When we first started working on it, it was like we had plenty of time. Now it’s here.”
St. Thomas athletic department officials declined comment Wednesday as they worked to gain additional information and strategize internally on how to navigate the changed landscape. In a statement from the University of Minnesota, associate athletic director for communications Paul Rovnak said this: “We have developed a comprehensive and educational NIL policy. We will share this information with our coaches and student-athletes soon and will share with the general public when appropriate.”
But local athletes weren’t shy about inviting new business opportunities.
Several members of the Gophers men’s basketball team, including Isaiah Ihnen, incoming transfer Parker Fox and incoming freshman Treyton Thompson, have sent social media posts that say: “According to NCAA, we will be granted the opportunity to capitalize on our likeness on the college stage. … Any local companies that want to use my social media or want me to do commercials to brand themselves, my [direct messages are] open!!”
In Nebraska, a regional restaurant chain named Runza jumped into what figures to be fairly choppy water when it announced it would offer a flat-rate endorsement deal to the first 100 Nebraska-based college athletes who come forward, no matter the sport they play.
Last month, Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon announced that his own line of “J30” clothing would be available starting Thursday. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz announced the release of his own trademarked logo.
To Erdmann, still hoping to catch on with a CFL or NFL team this fall, the idea of athletes having the right to profit from NIL rights was always a no-brainer.
“Regular students can do this, why not student-athletes?” he said.
Forcing the NCAA’s hand
Ultimately, the NCAA didn’t act until it had to. By Wednesday, 12 states had either passed legislation or had governors sign executive orders, poised to take effect Thursday, allowing college athletes to profit from their NIL rights.
Minnesota is not one of those states with its own NIL law, but those that have passed those laws include Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska and Maryland. A total of 24 states have passed such legislation, with some set to take effect at a later date, including Michigan.
“With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “The current environment — both legal and legislative — prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the level of detail student-athletes deserve.”
Clearly, schools have been preparing for this for a while. In the Big Ten, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan State have been proactive, announcing institutional plans to help athletes with NIL.
The NCAA’s ruling states that “student-athletes who attend a school in a state without a NIL law can engage in this type of activity without violating NCAA rules.”
An entire industry appears to be forming around this. Content platforms such as INFLCR are working with both schools and athletes to develop plans. Under its new rule, the NCAA is permitting athletes to “use a professional services provider for NIL activities.”
Still, this July 1 diving-off point could be chaotic. The NCAA was careful to stress that the new policy “preserves the commitment to avoid pay-for-play.” So a company cannot start offering sponsorship money contingent on an athlete playing for a certain school.
“What’s going to happen is there will be tons of litigation,” said Aron Solomon, who has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the head of strategy for Esquire Digital.
For example, at Louisiana State, officials came up with a policy that prohibited student-athletes from endorsing alcohol. But, Solomon said, does that include restaurants that sell alcohol? Grocery stores that sell wine?
“I think in some ways the people will be making the money will be lawyers,” Solomon said. “It’s just a mess. This is brand new territory for the NCAA, for the schools, for the athletes. All these schools have had NIL consultants for months. They knew it was coming. The people hiring consultants this week are players.”
Now, the tricky part
As schools scramble to cope with this new reality, how will it play out? Will the ability to profit from NIL rights widen the competitive gap?
That remains to be seen. Certainly the highest-profile athletes could be drawn to the highest-profile schools. Solomon talked about how certain athletes will be able to market themselves nationwide.
But other high-profile athletes, he agreed, might want to play in their home state, where name recognition is already established, which could result in deals with local businesses. The alternative would be to go to a higher-profile program somewhere else where they might compete with several teammates for deals.
What’s clear is that everyone is jumping in.
Gophers basketball forward Jamison Battle said the subject of NIL came up in his sports management class in his final semester at George Washington before he transferred back to his home state.
“That was our final class project talking about name, image and likeness,” said Battle, a former DeLaSalle standout. “What a lot of people don’t know about [NIL] is it’s not like the schools are actually paying you. You can actually go and talk with businesses, talk with shoe companies and talk with people who are outside [the program] and sign endorsements.
“I think that’s something I would like to see. As a college athlete there’s not much time to make money outside of sports. If you can promote your name, image and likeness, it’s something that will transform college athletics.”
Just how dramatically remains to be seen.
“I love watching football games, the tournaments, all of it,” Erdmann said. “I want that to stay. I just want student-athletes to get what they deserve.”
* Staff writer Marcus Fuller contributed to this report.