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In 2002, freshman cornerback Pat Curran joined the Bowling Green football program in Ohio. By his junior year, the team rose to a top-25 program and became the first Mid-American Conference team to host College Gameday in their matchup against Northern Illinois.
Although Curran didn’t see the field too often, players such as star quarterback Josh Harris garnered a lot of attention. Harris’ name was on billboards and people could buy his number five jersey in the bookstore, all the while the school profited from Harris’ achievements.
“It always kind of annoyed me,” Curran said. “There are lots of guys that could’ve made money off appearances.”
Now, Curran, the co-founder of Curran Sports & Entertainment — a marketing and branding company that works with pro-athletes — will be one of many companies able to officially work with college athletes to help them develop their brand. As of July 1, almost 18 years after Curran joined the Bowling Green football program, the landscape of the NCAA is changing to allow players to profit off of their name, image and likeness.
On June 21, the Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA in favor of antitrust laws. In lieu of that decision, the NCAA proposed an interim policy for NIL. Initially, six states were going to enact their own NIL laws on July 1 with 20 other states in the process of making legislation. However, the interim policy, which was passed by the Division I Board of Directors, grants access for all athletes in all 50 states to make NIL deals.
The interim policy clarifies that NIL deals are not pay-to-play and that the policy wants to prevent pay-to-play as well as schools directly paying athletes.
For New York, the Atlantic Coast Conference and Syracuse University — all of which will abide by the NCAA’s interim NIL policy — issues can potentially arise in specific sponsorship deals, according to John Wolohan, a professor of sports law who specializes in sport, antitrust and labor law at SU’s Falk College.
Syracuse holds deals with certain brands like Pepsi and Nike, and whether the university will prevent deals that challenge their partnerships remains unknown.
“If Joe Girard, Buddy Boeheim, Tommy Devito wanted to do (a Coke sponsorship), we would make sure there was no Syracuse involved,” Wolohan said. “That’s going to diminish our value to Pepsi and it’s going to hurt our future revenue sources.”
Wolohan said some schools are worried about athletes doing deals with the same brand as the school, which would also divert revenue to the university. However, he said, from a business perspective, companies are likely to stick with schools as their main source of business because college athletes have only a four- or five-year profitability margin.
Syracuse has taken some action to help prepare for the shift in policy by partnering with INFLCR, a NIL company founded by Syracuse native Jim Cavale, to help the SU athletes gain access to their photos and media in real time. However, SU has not announced much information about the partnership besides the company’s plans to help athletes develop their brand.
As opposed to professional athletes’ deals, Curran said he expects college athletes to have “hyper-localized” deals. At the University of Iowa, star point guard Jordan Bohannon already made a deal with Boomin Iowa Fireworks, a local firework business. As part of the agreement, Bohannon will be making an appearance at the store and signing autographs.
For athletes at SU and across the country, whether they have a sponsorship deal or not, Curran emphasized the importance of athletes using social media as a platform to market themselves after July 1.
“Really try to build a community on social media,” Curran said. “That’s how you’re going to capitalize from all of this.”
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