New era begins for college athletes on Thursday

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Dayton's Neil Sullivan talks about name, image, likeness issue on June 29, 2021

Dayton, Wright State ADs see name, image, likeness rights for athletes as a good thing

College athletes across Ohio and around the country will wake up in a new world Thursday — one in which they can profit off the use of their names, images and likenesses.

Long limited by NCAA rules regarding amateurism, the likes of Dayton forward Obi Toppin, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller or, decades ago, Miami standout Wally Szczerbiak, have had to wait until joining the professional ranks to take full advantage of the personal brands they built while in college.

Thanks to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signing an executive order Monday at the Ohio Statehouse, Ohio college athletes can now sign autographs for money, or appear on billboards for local car dealerships or send personal greetings to fans through JenLoop.com, a website former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones promoted with a T-shirt he wore at DeWine’s press conference Monday.

Although the NLI issue has been debated for years and it was in November of 2019 when the NCAA first said it would allow athletes to profit off their names, images and likenesses, things moved quickly in recent weeks to speed up the timeline. At the University of Dayton, Athletic Director Neil Sullivan prepared UD’s programs and athletes as best he could.

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“We’re clearly in a period of change in college sports and probably a once-in-a-generation change to the intercollegiate model,” Sullivan said Tuesday in an interview at UD Arena. “Name, image, likeness, the Supreme Court, kind of everything’s hitting us all at one time. I had a chance to digest the order yesterday, and we think the university is well positioned to adapt to it.

“There’s not a long runway. July 1 is here on Thursday. But I think our position, our market size, the relationship that we have with our fan base in the business community, we’re going to look at it as an opportunity. We’re not going to look backwards. We’re going to look at it as a chance to move forward. Our players feel the support from the community here. We’re looking forward to what opportunities may exist. Certainly, we’re entering an unknown period. There’s no doubt about that. But we think that we’re well positioned for players to provide value and have a chance to own their name, their image, their likeness and so we’re excited about the opportunities.”

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Wright State University Athletics Director Bob Grant (left) introduces Scott Nagy, the new WSU head men's basketball coach during a press conference Tuesday. Nagy, formerly of South Dakota State, is the ninth head coach in the history of the Raiders men's basketball program. LISA POWELL/STAFF

Credit: Lisa Powell

Wright State University Athletics Director Bob Grant (left) introduces Scott Nagy, the new WSU head men's basketball coach during a press conference Tuesday. Nagy, formerly of South Dakota State, is the ninth head coach in the history of the Raiders men's basketball program. LISA POWELL/STAFF

Credit: Lisa Powell

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Wright State University Athletics Director Bob Grant (left) introduces Scott Nagy, the new WSU head men's basketball coach during a press conference Tuesday. Nagy, formerly of South Dakota State, is the ninth head coach in the history of the Raiders men's basketball program. LISA POWELL/STAFF

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

At Wright State, Athletic Director Bob Grant has a similar attitude.

“I like this,” Grant said Wednesday. “I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s long overdue. In some ways, it fits into our mission of treating our kids as people first and students second and athletes third. More times than I can count, we’ve had student-athletes who want to do the right thing and want to play within the rules, whether it’s in their sport or academically or in life, which is awesome, but they’ll come to us and say, ‘Hey, can I run a basketball camp back in my hometown and use basically my name, image and likeness?’ And the answer forever has been, ‘No.’ Which is silly, right? Other students can do that.”

Grant also used the example of a soccer player who has the ability to be an influencer on social media and represent products.

“The answer always was, “No,” Grant said, “and it should be, ‘Yes.’ And I’m glad it’s, ‘Yes,’ now.”

A series of events led to athletes gaining their new rights starting Thursday. On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the NCAA couldn’t stop athletes from making money off their fame.

“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The N.C.A.A. is not above the law.”

Then on Monday, DeWine signed his executive order to make sure Ohio stayed in line with other states pushing through new laws for July 1. On the same day, the NCAA Division I Council recommend the Division I Board of Directors “adopt an interim policy that would suspend amateurism rules related to name, image and likeness.” The Board of Directors was expected to approve the recommendation Wednesday.

Even with the new rights, there will be limits for athletes, who won’t be allowed to endorse businesses related to alcohol or gambling, for example, or use the logos of their schools in advertisements. They will also have to inform their schools anytime they plan to profit off their names, images and likenesses. They will, however, be able to hire agents or firms to help them, and that’s already happening with Dayton Flyers athletes.

Sullivan held meetings at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m with student-athletes on Monday and Tuesday and has met several times with members of the men’s basketball team in preparation for the coming changes on Thursday.

“We’ve partnered with some firms that specialize in this to help educate them,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of things that they’ve got to tackle. Some of it sounds easy, but you hear things about about taxes and liability insurance and things that. It’s going to be an education for them. They’re going to grow up quick in terms of if they want to play in this space. We’ve had a couple of requests come in already for July 1. There are people ready to move.”

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As much as UD plans to help its athletes, as it does in all areas of life, Sullivan said, he said any contracts they enter into will be their endeavors. The university will not broker deals on their behalf or seek opportunities for them. What UD and Wright State and other schools can do is help the athletes build their personal brands, something that has been going on for years on social media.

“These young men and women, they want to use the University of Dayton as fuel for their success academically, socially, athletically,” Sullivan said, “and now you’re going to add a reputation to that. I think that’s a natural progression, so we’re going to invest in their development, and what they do with it is up to them. We’re certainly not going to force anyone to participate in NLI activities.”

One of the common storylines talked about in recent years regarding the NLI issue is what unintended consequences might arise with athletes gaining these new rights. Grant, for one, doesn’t fear those consequences.

“I feel like in our culture at Wright State, this will be very manageable,” he said, “and will end up being a positive. My hope is six months from now, we’ll have wonderful examples of student-athletes who have chosen to be entrepreneurial, who want to be in business, who have those kind of aspirations and they’re able to do that while they’re student-athletes here in ways that fall within certain guidelines, for sure. My pulse was not raised but for the fact that I am excited for some of our student athletes.”

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