At risk of overloading the reader with more news of the business of sports, you gotta see this stuff.
In preparation for the 21st-century version of the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, the University of Washington, Washington State University and most big-time sports college unleashed sophisticated online programs designed to appeal to athletes who are about to get, after more than a century of willful negligence by the sports overlords, what they and their predecessors long deserved.
Money for their names, images and likenesses.
After the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted Wednesday to allow, starting Thursday, a temporary suspension of amateurism, many schools pulled back the curtain on plans months and years in the making. They are designed to help athletes manage money-making opportunities for which there has been no precedent in college sports. UW athletics budgeted $1.75 million in FY 2022 to cover the expense of the start-up.
Since the NCAA has neither the rulebook nor the gumption to govern this new frontier, and the federales won’t be arriving for some time with a new set of laws, we have reached the sports equivalent of the Ocean’s Eleven narrative when the crew knows it can crack the casino.
Calling its program Boundless Futures, UW athletics director Jen Cohen said it will help “Husky student-athletes to hit the ground running when it comes to NIL. Our department’s core purpose of providing holistic development opportunities for our students has always been why we exist, and this commitment is why the UW is a perfect environment for students to thrive in the NIL era.”
Translation: The purple slot machines pay better.
At WSU, the plan is called The Cougar Pursuit, which athletics director Pat Chun called, “One of the most important resources we can offer our student-athletes during their WSU experience, that will ultimately impact them for years to come. The Cougar Pursuit includes campus partnerships, technology and education to allow our student-athletes to maximize their name, image and likeness. We . . . remain steadfast in our commitment to offer the most unique and impactful student-athlete experience in the nation.”
Translation: Free kegs for life.
A part of the WSU pitch included the statement that its athletics department is “the most recognizable and influential collegiate athletic brand in the Evergreen State.”
Certainly, that will be news to anyone whose fashion tastes include an unseemly amount of purple. Then again, this isn’t news. It’s hype. And there’s no one to tell the Cougars, or any school, to turn it down.
Because COVID-19 shut down campus recruiting visits for 15 months that ended June 1, impacts on football are expected to be close to immediate. UW last weekend hosted a passel of coveted recruits, although coaches weren’t allowed to reveal the NIL proposals. Then again, who was going to stop them from an early display of recruiting porn that would be permissible in a week?
As to who might benefit a lot, and soon (NIL’s open season began at 12:01 a.m. Thursday), Action Sports Network’s Darren Rovell took a stab at a national top-20 list of college athletes who might be done with Top Ramen dinners for awhile.
Intriguingly, the list has seven women nationally and three men from state schools, two of whom have yet to play here. Rovell’s explainers for the local guys:
15. Drew Timme, Gonzaga basketball
Gonzaga’s run to the championship game helped bring out the best in Timme, including his personality and mustache. He’s back for another year and is now a household name.
Instagram: 72K followers
Twitter: 7,214 followers.
11. Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga basketball
The 7-footer was the No. 1 college basketball recruit in the country. Being at small Gonzaga doesn’t matter. As we saw last year, size of school and location has nothing to do with getting air time. We love his TikTok name: @ThatTallMFChet.
Instagram: 278K followers
TikTok: 37.2K followers
Twitter: 24K followers
9. Brendan Radley-Hiles, Washington football
A defensive back with a huge Instagram following after transferring from Oklahoma, a team that will likely be in contention for No. 1 in the country. He was a five-star recruit out of IMG Academy.
Instagram: 172K followers
Twitter: 65.7K followers
In case any of these premier athletes are looking beyond life after sports, which obviously can be just one ACL surgery away, the UW pitch goes heavy on Seattle business opportunities:
Located in the No. 11 economic market (by gross metropolitan product) in the U.S. – one that boasts headquarters for many of the best-known tech companies in the world – the UW is uniquely positioned to help athletes seize once-in-a-lifetime NIL opportunities, from sponsorships to entrepreneurship. Seattle is the second-largest tech hub and the 15th largest metropolitan area in the United States. It’s also home to a robust and impressive alumni network; because a large majority of UW graduates stay in Washington, connections that students make while at UW remain relevant long after graduation.
While the pitch has been a staple at UW for a couple of decades, for the first time there’s a tangible ability for athletes and companies in Seattle and nationally to create relationships that are lucrative and sustainable with no middle entity (NCAA) denying compensation for their labors.
The consequences to competitive balance, athletics department budgets and the stability of conferences are all secondary issues now. The barona of college ball had the industry their way for more than a hundred years. Time to pay up and play it another way.