College athletes set to execute unique, lucrative NIL endorsement deals as midnight strikes on July 1


As details of name, image and likeness deals for college athletes rolled in Wednesday, the prospect of midnight on July 1 becoming an NIL version of New Year’s Eve became reality. The NCAA Division I Board of Directors made it so by approving an interim policy that removes restrictions from athletes hoping to earn unprecedented riches. 

The NCAA couldn’t afford to go past midnight without some sort of policy addressing the years-long NIL battle it eventually lost. So, it essentially waived Bylaw 12.5.5, a portion of its amateurism rules. Read more here on the NCAA’s waiver, what it accomplishes and why it was necessary given the lack of nationwide guidance on NIL.

Athletes will celebrate the stroke of 12 by being compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses – rights with which the rest of us received upon our birth and never lost by choosing to play NCAA sports.

Advertisers and athletes will crow about their new partnerships. College athletics will be changed forever. This is how the ramp up to midnight looks.

Alabama freshman defensive back Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry will initially become one of the highest-profile athletes to enter into an agreement. In fact, SkyBox Sports was already selling his NFT for $750 by Wednesday afternoon. (SkyBox later claimed that was a test page. Later in the day, the price had been removed.) Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are a form of collective cryptocurrency. Think of them as certificates of authenticity for digital assets or collectible electronic trading cards. 

SkyBox CEO Derrick Thomas, 30, played college basketball at Drexel in Philadelphia. During his senior year in 2013, he created an online platform to help athletes in the agent dealings. Thomas gave those players a “scorecard” on the agents they were meeting.

This is a big deal because McKinstry was 247Sports’ No. 1-ranked cornerback in the Class of 2021. He has yet to play a snap for the Crimson Tide.

For mere mortals, NFTs have been hard to explain. Don’t expect the process to become any easier. “Think of it as a ticket, but it’s not a ticket,” Thomas explained, “a piece that tells his story in art form, takes a snapshot of his life. When NFT holders collect this, they are granted access to his experience.”

Language was removed from the website advertising McKinstry’s NFT, which said buyers receive “admission to an Alabama home game from Kool-Aid’s personal tickets” along with a meet and greet with Kool-Aid (autographs, photos) after the game. Buyers will be able to run drills with McKinstry in the offseason.

No word on what Alabama coach Nick Saban thinks of that.

“Where we see the true value is the players are getting the majority of the revenue,” Thomas said. “The athletes own the value they create.”

Drew Butler had just landed Wednesday in New York for a midnight debut. Not his, the twins from Fresno State who has long been projected to take over the NIL space — at least in the short term.

Haley and Hanna Cavinder are a pair of guards for the Bulldogs who have come along at exactly the right time for NIL. They have cultivated a TikTok following of three million. They are playful, talented, attractive, and oh, and they can play a little basketball. The Cavinders might the hottest NIL property right out of the gate as the clock strikes midnight when NCAA amateurism rules basically go away.

Butler was in New York as partner for Icon Source, a sports marketing firm that figures to be one of the biggest players on the NIL stage. There is going to be a giant rollout at midnight. Even if it is just social media, what better place to do it than New York?

“It’s long overdue,” said Butler, best known as a former All-American punter at Georgia.

The Cavinders could be the first and most lucrative of several national deals to be announced. The twins’ value has already been estimated $1 million by Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence. The frequency of those mega-deals is going to be fluid, but they will happen sometimes in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

“Think about a guy like Joe Burrow,” Butler said. “Relatively unknown going into his senior year. … His NIL value from a national perspective went bonkers from the SEC championship to winning the Heisman, to blowing out Oklahoma to then taking down Clemson. He would have crazy amounts of national deals in a four-week span.”

Icon Source was started by Chase Garrett, a former athlete marketer for Red Bull who signed the likes of Reggie Bush and Kris Bryant. That list is about to grow quickly in the college space. The Denver-based company will have more than 1,000 college athletes ready to execute deals at midnight.

Sources say some of the hottest endorsers in this early NIL era are going to be women, non-revenue sports athletes and those competing at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Deion Sanders going to Jackson State is viewed as cool. Icon Source already has two Jackson State players signed.

One Big Ten player who did not want to be identified has a business plan valued at over $300,000. The far-reaching plan accounts for income through his remaining eligibility. Athletes will be purchasing their domain names and building a variety of businesses from scratch.

Some like Drake basketball guard Joseph Yesufu will look for grassroot deals. Others will sign deals through open source offerings created for athletes. Runza will provide endorsement deals to the first 100 college athletes in the state of Nebraska to opt in. What’s Runza? It’s a chain of fast-food joints that sell a hamburger-like sandwich native to Nebraska that is made with ground-beef, onions, a “secret blend” of spices and cabbage. Bon appetit. 

It’s appropriate the last word comes from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). It was her Senate Committee on Commerce that was unable to come up with a federal bill in time to quell the current chaos. The question is whether a federal bill will ever emerge to bail out the NCAA.

“Today’s decision from the NCAA is a welcome acknowledgment that college athletics must do more for college athletes,” said Cantwell, chair of the committee, in a statement. “However, today’s interim action is no substitute for a national standard that not only gives our student athletes the ability to control their own Name, Image, and Likeness rights, but also includes health care, safety, scholarship, and transfer protections. I look forward to continuing to work towards a bipartisan plan that accomplishes those goals while setting one uniform standard across the country so all of our athletes and schools can safely compete on a level playing field.”

And away we go …



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