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Okay! Speaking of making money, I'd like to turn the time over to Andy Wittry, who had the excellent idea of double-checking to see if team rulebooks were telling athletes not to tweet or post, even though tweeting and posting is how most athletes earn NIL money.
The answer? Well,,,,
Athletes’ NIL earnings are often linked to social media. Yet some programs still say to keep accounts on private
By Andy Wittry
Earlier this month, Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence tweeted, in part, “a student-athlete’s follower count and bank account are linked,” while providing data that showed the average compensation for athletes with more than 50,000 social media followers was nearly 40-fold that of athletes who have fewer than 5,000 followers.
Since July 1, athletes at the NCAA level can directly monetize their social media accounts through sponsored posts, and the size of their social media followings can also serve as a proxy for their potential marketability in offline or more traditional forms of advertising.
Last winter, I wondered if any college programs were getting a head start on preparing their athletes for the world of NIL. Or, were coaches being reactive rather than proactive in adapting to the times?
In advance of NCAA athletes being allowed to monetize their NIL rights, I combed through dozens of team rulebooks for the 2020-21 school year, which were obtained through public records requests, in order to see how individual programs and their coaches tried to police, or promote, their athletes’ social media usage and habits.
I found that last school year, some programs told their athletes to keep their social media accounts private, including high-profile ones such as the Kansas men’s basketball program, as well as UCLA’s athletic department-wide code of conduct. Oregon State football players were told, “no jokes or banter about or with teammates” on social media.
Then there was the Kansas women’s volleyball program, which provided a crash course on the best practices for social media, recommending that players keep their social media posts short, ask questions, include photos or videos in order to maximize their engagement online, and post frequently in order to benefit from social media platforms’ algorithms that reward frequent posters.
Both the NIL era and the 2021-22 school year are underway, so how are individual programs handling their team social media policies and the new potential for the most marketable college athletes to earn the equivalent of an assistant coach’s salary through off-the-field endorsements?
‘Individuals who partake in NIL activities that detract from their commitment ... may be asked to leave the team’
Extra Points obtained and read dozens of team rulebooks for the current school year. From the rulebooks we obtained, relatively few referenced NIL, at least with any more specificity than restating the policy that was set by the athletic department or their state. But a few programs made it very clear that an athlete’s personal brand should come second to the team, including the Minnesota baseball program, whose 2021-22 code of conduct said that players may be asked to leave the team if they engage in NIL activities that affect their commitment to the team.
The program’s code of conduct says, “As a member of this program you are making a commitment to eliminate outside noise and distractions from your life that will take the emphasis away from the team and put the spotlight on yourself. Whether it be through social media, advisors, NIL, or agents your sole focus, as a member of this team, is to be a good teammate and honor the history and tradition of this program.”
Additionally, it states, “Players are encouraged to engage in Name Image and Likeness business opportunities but at NO time should they be distracted from work in the classroom or time and effort related to baseball activity. Individuals who partake in NIL activities that detract from their commitment to Gopher Baseball may be asked to leave the team. At no time will NIL take away from practice, academics or team functions.”
The Central Michigan women’s volleyball program expectations state, “Our expectation is that your personal brand does not interfere with our team brand/chemistry. Meaning that you’re not taking pictures during practice or skipping weights for personal money-making opportunities. Schedule appropriately around team activities and follow all department guidelines.”
The Iowa men’s basketball program reminded its players that it’s not permissible to miss a team function for an NIL appearance.
Every college athlete who engages in an NIL deal is told to report the details of their deals to the school’s compliance office at some point during the process, but one rulebook showed that a team’s coaches asked to be involved in the process, too.
The NIL guidelines set by the Albany’s women’s basketball program told players to “Let us know who is reaching out & who you are trying to work with,” along with instructions for players to email assistant coach Catherine Cassidy and the school’s associate athletic director for compliance at the beginning of the process in order to receive guidance through the necessary steps.
‘With this signed agreement your accounts can be terminated for periods of time’
In the words of Opendorse’s CEO, an athlete’s follower count and bank account are linked, yet there are still Division I programs that tell their athletes to keep their social media accounts private, which inherently limits the reach and potential growth of one’s account.
Texas Tech women’s volleyball players were told their social media profiles should be kept “as private as possible.” Minnesota women’s tennis players were asked to keep their accounts private, while Boise State women’s basketball rulebook said to “avoid issues by making accounts Private.”
Some programs limit when players are allowed to use social media, even beyond standard phones-down periods, such as during practices, games and weightlifting sessions.
Southern Miss volleyball players were told that not only can they not post on social media between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but they can’t like or retweet posts during that time, either. Minnesota women’s hockey players can’t tweet or post pictures after midnight.
In a clause that was unique among the rulebooks examined, Southern Miss’ men’s basketball program told its players in its team policy manual that, “with this signed agreement your accounts can be terminated for periods of time.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Southern Miss’ football program told its players that Twitter and Facebook “should be a running commercial of how awesome your life is!”
The Bowling Green’s women’s golf program strongly encourages its players “to have privacy settings in place” to ensure their safety, and elements of its social media policy stand out as sensible and thoughtful. Unlike the countless college programs that mandate their athletes allow members of the coaching staff to follow them on all of their social media accounts, the Falcons’ golfers are told that they’ll only be forced to allow head coach Stephanie Young to follow them if they have a first offense regarding their social media usage.
Additionally, Young wrote in the team rulebook, “I would ask for you to take some time to reflect as we start the season on your rhythms and usage of social media. Consider how much time it takes of your day, how the content and pictures you put up align with your personal and athletic goals, as well as, how it reflects on our program and its overall reputation and goals.”
College athletes are more than just the sum of "College" and "Athlete." In addition to their own hobbies, and civic, family and religious community obligations, many are now entrepreneurs or business students – whether or not their actual degree will be from the business school.
And that’s why the questions for Bowling Green women’s golfers are sound. What are their goals athletically? What are their goals personally? And how do those goals align, or not align, with those of the team and the time that athletes dedicate to social media?
Those are open-ended questions, with answers that would vary from athlete to athlete, sport to sport and school to school. With the very adult opportunities and responsibilities that NIL provides college athletes, such as establishing an LLC, hiring an agent, filing taxes or investing in their retirement, it’s only fair that their team rules treat them like adults, too.
Shutting down athletes' social media usage in the name of team unity or focus isn’t just a free speech issue. In the era of NIL, there’s a good argument that such policies take money out of athletes' pockets.
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To sponsor a future Extra Points newsletter, please click here. For article ideas, newsletter feedback, FOIA tips, athlete NIL sponsorships and more, I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @MattBrownEP on Twitter. Andy can be reached at @AndyWittry on Twitter or at Andy@ExtraPointsMB.com