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VCU, UR enter 'evolving area' of name, image, likeness benefits for athletes
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VCU, UR enter 'evolving area' of name, image, likeness benefits for athletes

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VCU men’s basketball coach Mike Rhoades (center) and athletics director Ed McLaughlin (right) have had to navigate through the details and magnitude of the new name, image and likeness rules, but both view the changes as positive for student-athletes.

The NCAA permitted student-athletes to financially benefit from name, image and likeness starting Thursday.

University of Richmond basketball standout Jacob Gilyard wasted no time offering his services, with a Wednesday tweet.

“Any local or any companies at all that want to use my social media as a platform to promote, do commercials, etc to brand themselves, my DMs are open for business. Message me if interested.”

It’s a bit early to determine what will come of Gilyard’s invitation — he’s not required to disclose the amount of money made to UR — and that reflects the start of the NIL era. This unprecedented development in college sports is commonly viewed as confusing and unpredictable.

Fuzzy areas abound in terms of what is, and is not, permissible under freshly loosened NCAA regulations. Also, standards may vary from school to school.

Remaining to be seen is the market for opportunities available to athletes such as Gilyard at Richmond and his peers across town at VCU.

“I don’t know, but I think there certainly will be some degree of local interest,” said Ed McLaughlin, VCU vice president and director of athletics. “Whether that be a local sponsor or an autograph session or a meet and greet at an establishment. Or even jersey sales. But I think what you’ll see more is how that interplays with their social media accounts.”

In February, VCU announced a partnership with a new group called SAIL — which stands for Student Athlete Image & Likeness — to help it navigate NIL policies. An NCAA vote on NIL legislation was scheduled for January but was ultimately tabled.

However, with several states set to enact their own NIL laws on Thursday, the NCAA was pushed to act and on Wednesday adopted an interim NIL policy to allow athletes across the country to begin benefiting.

McLaughlin said VCU had done some initial education pieces with its athletes before NIL went into effect. That included a visit from SAIL representatives in April.

The education will continue to roll out now that the policy is active. But he said Thursday that VCU hadn’t had any inquiries to the school itself about potential deals for its athletes, though he wasn’t sure if some athletes had been contacted directly.

“I anticipate it’s going to take a little bit of time,” McLaughlin said. “I know we’ve seen, sort of, across the country some deals have come up Day 1. And that was bound to happen.

“But it was time, that needed to happen.”

Ryan Colton is Richmond’s senior associate director of athletics for compliance and governance/chief of staff. He said Wednesday the main questions he hears from the “handful” of UR student-athletes who had contacted his office are, “What are we permitted to do? How do we go about doing so?”

Colton praised the school’s student-athletes for trying to make sure they comply with NCAA rules and university policy, and said he tells those student-athletes that “this is an evolving area, and we’re going to have more clarity in the weeks, months ahead. We need you to be responsible and communicate, and use us in the athletics department as a resource to help you navigate this.”

At this stage, the UR athletics logo and other institutional marks are not allowed to be used by Richmond student-athletes for NIL endorsements, according to Colton.

McLaughlin said VCU has a school-specific NIL policy draft that could be finalized next week, and it’s undetermined if athletes would be able to wear VCU logos in NIL endorsements. He also remains hopeful that Virginia could have its own statewide code on NIL, and said he’s most looking forward to federal legislation that would put in place uniform standards for the entire country.

James Madison, shortly after the NCAA announced its temporary policy Wednesday, announced its own university NIL policy that “governs all student-athlete NIL pursuits until any future conference, state, federal or NCAA guidance further impacts campus policy.”

The school will allow athletes to wear JMU apparel while taking part in NIL activities and to sell merchandise with official JMU marks.

Colton believes Spiders athletes will in fact have opportunities to make money by using names, images and likenesses. They could endorse a business, for instance, or benefit by using social media platforms to pitch a product or service.

Already, Gilyard and two UR basketball teammates, walk-ons Jordan Gaitley and Sullivan Kulju, on their Twitter pages posted endorsements for delivery service Gopuff. That deal was available to any NCAA athlete.

Opportunities through social media are where McLaughlin believes athletes “will have a huge opportunity to maximize some profitability on their name, image and likeness.”

“I think across intercollegiate athletics, there will be a lot of student-athletes who are able to be active in the influencer economy,” said UR’s Colton, who earned a law degree after playing football at Bucknell (Class of 2004). “That’s our assessment, but we realize it’s evolving and shifting as we speak. I think it’s really important to be nimble and just make sure we’re in constant communication with our student-athletes, which will be a lot easier once they’re all back in the fall.”

He added that he wants Spiders to “keep their coaches in the loop, and if you have questions, ask questions. This isn’t a time to be shy in terms of asking questions. We’re here to help.”

Schools have known for a couple of years that this change was coming, whether through NCAA rules modifications, state laws or federal laws. Richmond, according to Colton, examined the situation through three lenses.

“What’s the regulatory framework and how do we manage risk? Number two, what are the opportunities here for our student-athletes and how do we identify those and make sure our student-athletes are prepared for those?” he said. “And then finally, what can we do long-term, and we’re still assessing this, to make sure that what we’re doing in this area aligns with the educational mission of Richmond?

“I think we’ve got a really collaborative university and campus community, and great student-athletes, so we feel really confident that we’ll navigate this. In a few years, I think this is just going to be part of what we do in intercollegiate athletics.”

Chris Hudgins, vice president and general manager of sports marketing company Team Services, LLC. — which joined with another sports marketing company named Maroon PR to form SAIL, the group VCU brought onboard — said there’s still much in NIL that will continue to evolve.

There are aspects that haven’t been fully addressed, he said.

“Which are the impact, and what an international student could do in terms of their NIL rights [with visas that restrict types of employment], or how this will trickle down to the high schools and high school athletes,” Hudgins said.

And as far as what opportunities will most benefit athletes, Maroon PR president John Maroon expects that people will continue to get more creative.

“Right now I think there’s a lot of like, ‘What can we do? What’s permissible? What makes sense? What are the price points?’” Maroon said. “All this stuff, and kind of figuring that out.”

At VCU, men’s basketball coach Mike Rhoades said Thursday that none of his players had accepted deals yet. But he said he hopes there are a lot of opportunities available to them.

He acknowledged that, 20 years ago, he would’ve thought the unfolding NIL landscape was crazy. But through the experience he’s had since, he now views NIL as a great opportunity for members of his team.

It’s a new frontier, and college athletes across the country are just scratching the surface.

“We’re going to give them great guidance with all that stuff,” Rhoades said. “But I really hope that some people take advantage of this NIL now. And use some of our players in some ways that they can.”

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