September 02, 2021
New rules means college athletes can now make money from their name and likeness. But it is not the Football and basketball stars’ lives who will change the most
Why women and social media stars are becoming college sports’ big winners
In the early hours of 1 July, an Uber crossed into Manhattan, carrying a pair of 20-year-old twins who’d never before seen the bright lights of New York City. After an excruciating day of travel, they were set to arrive at their hotel around 3am Somehow, though, the twins were giddy. They laughed and chatted as they rode, talking about Times Square and a deal they had just signed.The twins figured their driver was eavesdropping, and they didn’t care. They figured he found the conversation strange, confusing. And really, they did too – so Haley and Hanna Cavinder can forgive the driver if he wondered: Who on earth are these women?
They are identical twins, rising college juniors, guards on Fresno State’s basketball team, TikTok stars. And on 1 July, they became the first college athletes to legally sign a major endorsement deal under the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness (NIL) regulations. The rules mean that college athletes can now earn money from sponsorship or public appearance, something that was previously forbidden (universities are still prohibited from paying them salaries).And in New York, after only a few winks of sleep, the twins would arrive in Times Square to see their deal with Boost Mobile (one of three they inked in the first hours of college sports’ NIL free-for-all) flashed on a massive billboard. They’d bounce from interview to interview. And, of course, they would post photos and videos from the scene.Less than two years after they filmed their first TikTok video, the Cavinders have become the faces of the NIL movement, which is redefining what it means to be a college athlete. In 2019, the year the twins enrolled at Fresno State, California passed a law that prohibited schools and governing bodies from punishing athletes for profiting off their name, image and likeness. Soon, 20 more states followed suit, and in April 2020 the NCAA, the main governing body of US college sports, under intense pressure set in motion the process of changing NIL rules. It was the first concrete step toward economic freedom in college sports – but it was impossible to predict how the new normal would take shape. Would dollars fall easily to football and men’s basketball stars and leave Women and athletes in smaller sports scrambling for loose change? Would jersey sales drive profits? What brands would bite?One fact, though, seemed certain: Social Media would play a huge role in this new economy. In fact, it had already helped force the NCAA’s hand. “The rise of social media … has dramatically increased the opportunities for college students to make commercial use of their NIL,” the NCAA board of governors wrote in a report in April 2020. “Current divisional rules on this subject… can prevent student-athletes from engaging in NIL-related activities that their nonathlete peers on campus frequently pursue.”
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