The one-year anniversary of the NCAA’s relaxed NIL policy is just weeks away and depending on who you ask, it’s either the best thing that’s ever happened to college athletics, or the worst.
NIL fans – such as University of Miami booster and NIL king John Ruiz – say it’s wonderful, American capitalism at its best, a long-awaited opportunity for college athletes to profit from their name , their image and likeness rather than continuing to allow colleges and coaches to make all the money.
Once upon a time, boosters weren’t allowed to buy an athlete a $100 pair of sneakers. Now a guy like Ruiz, a lawyer and entrepreneur, can openly pay college athletes to promote his boat racing companies LifeWallet and Cigarette. He brags about his contracts on Twitter, proudly revealing that he signed a two-year, $800,000 deal with Nijel Pack, a basketball player from Kansas State who traded to Miami.
(Note: still not sure how Pack endorsements for a medical records app and boat races are worth $800,000 because he’s a good player but not a household name, but Ruiz obviously thinks it’s a wise investment.)
Critics argue that without stricter rules, the NIL policy will allow college boosters to abuse the system, bankroll their beloved teams and create an uneven playing field. The vague and loosely regulated NIL policy has resulted in a multimillion-dollar arms race to get athletes to attend and stay at certain schools in violation of the intended NIL rule, which states that athletes cannot be paid to play .
The idea behind NIL was for athletes to use their entrepreneurial spirit to secure sponsorship deals with local brands and businesses that match their personalities. Deep-pocketed boosters at top schools across the country have twisted that concept, pooled their resources, and formed “NIL collectives” — multimillion-dollar pots of money disguised as start-ups that pay athletes for social media appearances and posts.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban spoke out a few weeks ago about NIL’s potential for abuse, saying, “I say the same thing to rookies: our job is not to buy you to come to school here.”
Haley and Hanna Cavinder, the basketball-playing twins and TikTok sensations who recently transferred from Fresno State to the University of Miami, are watching everything unfold with great interest. They arrive in Coral Gables on Thursday with a TikTok following of 4 million, over 800,000 Instagram followers and NIL deals estimated at $1 million.
The Cavinder Twins have been at the forefront of NIL since July 1, 2021, when they became among the first athletes to sign sponsorship deals. They flew to New York for the occasion, signed with Six Star Pro Nutrition and Boost Mobile, and appeared on a Times Square billboard.
The Six Star marketing campaign featured the siblings holding $1 bills, a tribute to tennis legend Billie Jean King and The Original Nine tennis players who formed their own tour and signed $1 contracts. $ to mark the occasion.
“When we got involved with NIL, we saw that it completely changed college marketing,” said Jake Duhaime, communications manager for Iovate, Six Star’s parent company. “Before, it was dominated by Greek life. This is where you wanted to have access to a nice concentration of students in a short time, but you couldn’t reach the athletes. Once it opened, it changed our strategy. The idea of connecting with the Cavinders and their combined 7 million subscribers gives you reach that you couldn’t get with any sorority fraternity marketing plan.
Other companies in the Cavinders’ growing portfolio include Eastbay, PSD Underwear, Celestial Seasonings Teas and WWE.
The sisters are proof that, if done smartly, NIL can not only be lucrative but also educational.
“At first we had no expectations, but we’ve learned so much over the year,” Hanna told the Herald on Tuesday. “We learned how to build business relationships and connect with brands that you align with. Being in rooms with businessmen isn’t something you usually do at 21. We also learned time management and taxes, real life stuff.
Both Hanna and Haley pointed out that NIL is a way for female athletes to make money in an arena usually reserved for men. Duhaime said female athletes have been some of NIL’s biggest winners because “they know how to use the tools of technology to their advantage, create social footprints, and build their own audiences.”
When asked if Ruiz’s NIL offer had been a factor in their transfer to UM, the Cavinders, in unison, replied emphatically, “Absolutely not!”
Haley said the driving force behind their decision was the ability to compete in the NCAA Tournament. They loved the vibe they got from coach Katie Meier and her staff. They also love the beach and have family in Florida.
“We were doing well with NIL in Fresno, so that wasn’t even part of the conversation with Miami,” she said.
Time will tell what impact NIL will have on college sports. Like everything else, there are pros and cons. More rules will likely be needed to prevent boosters from completely taking over.
But allowing college athletes to make money is inherently a good thing. They’ll soon discover that some people are more marketable than others, and that’s a valuable life lesson. NIL isn’t the best thing to happen to college sports. But it’s not the worst either.