Helping student-athletes navigate new branding opportunities

As of July 1, a change in NCAA regulations allows student-athletes to financially benefit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). The new opportunities offer the potential for both compensation and education, faculty athletics representative Tim Day told the state Board of Regents at its July 28 meeting.

As Iowa State student-athletes take advantage of their personal brand, they also will gain valuable business lessons, with guidance and support from the university. For instance, Day said, the prospect of capitalizing on NIL can dovetail with the robust campus programming to encourage student entrepreneurship.

"Previously, student-athletes had some limitations on their ability to participate in entrepreneurial activities. Now their appetite is whet by the new opportunities they have, and we need to marry them with existing resources we have on campus. That's win-win," he said.  

Making deals that depend on their image also requires student-athletes to consider their public persona, which in large part depends on social media presence.  

"There's no bad side to our student-athletes or any student starting to think today about how they present themselves on social media affects their lives and the way people perceive them -- maybe their employment opportunities in the future," he said.

Support areas

An ISU working group including coaches, administrators, compliance staff, university counsel, students and faculty began studying NIL long ago, knowing the rules eventually would change to allow student-athletes to benefit from their personal brands. The working group identified four areas for additional support: entrepreneurial education, brand management, reviewing and understanding contracts, and reporting requirements for NCAA compliance and tax purposes.

Athletics staff will present an overview of issues surrounding NIL to all 450 student-athletes at the start of the year as part of the department's annual orientation programming, and entrepreneurship programs already in place can help provide student-athletes with additional guidance in that area, Day said.

The athletics department issued a request for proposals for a third-party vendor that can offer student-athletes guidance on personal brand management, social media influencing and understanding contracts. The proposals are under review, Day said.

While the RFP also included a function to serve reporting and compliance needs, the athletics department built its own system for students to report NIL activity, as required by the NCAA. Day said it's going well and may continue to be used instead of an external provider.

Compliance questions

Along with representatives from the athletics departments at the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa, Day outlined Iowa State NIL support plans for the regents and took questions on the topic. Some board members asked about potential compliance problems.  

Student-athletes are allowed to hire professional service providers such as agents and attorneys to represent their NIL interests, and NIL payments can't be recruitment inducements or be based on performance.

Day said in his conversations with student-athletes, he's been impressed with how they've thought through NIL issues.

"I think our student-athletes are savvier than most of us might think," he said. "They were pretty aware of what the landscape looks like out there."