It has been quite a season for Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. Wednesday night the Pirates star guard will play his final home game at Prudential Center, where a capacity crowd will be looking to help the Pirates make another move up the March Madness pecking order, when they host Villanova.
The Pirates will be honoring all their seniors on Wednesday night, and the first 7,500 in the building will receive a commemorative tee-shirt with the images of the successful class as part of the sendoff. If you go to a Seton Hall game this year you will see replica jerseys with Powell’s name and number on the back as well. It is a tribute that Powell, or for that matter right now Seton Hall, cannot maximize, because the current NCAA rule prohibits any student athlete from taking advantage of his or her “Name Image and Likeness.” Powell and any other NCAA athlete can get their scholarship and the ancillary exposure, but not the dollars. Not yet.
That all is in play as booth the NCAA and state legislators look at the fair and equitable way to reward student athletes for the use of “NIL,” as it’s called. A platform called Studentplayer.com has been charting state by state legislation to reward athletes for their image rights and so far 33 states…including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut…have introduced bills designed to change the process which the NCAA has in place. That legislation; which has only been signed off on in California so far, will come too late for Powell and other athletes in any sport, but will provide a different outcome into the future.
“It makes smart business sense for athletes, with a limited window to be able to capitalize on their success while playing for a school,” said Corey Leff, a diehard Seton Hall supporter who runs the business site JohnWallstreet.com and covers the space for Sports Illustrated. “Myles Powell is the best basketball story in New York this year; how crazy is it that a Modell’s or even a website he builds himself or even a deal he can cut with Seton Hall, can’t take advantage of this time for him to shine. And with the Big East Tournament and then March Madness, the window is even bigger. Maybe the next Myles Powell will have that opportunity.”
Granted, that opportunity and how it would work still has to be determined. Worries of unfair recruiting and nefarious cash changing hands, along with the illusion that big brands will go after one athlete vs. the whole team, are all to be determined. One veteran marketer, Tony Ponturo (who ran Anheuser Busch’s sports marketing program for over 30 years and now helps guide student careers at Columbia University), feels that NIL, at least for large companies will help but not change the landscape that much. “If I’m a big company am I going to make the safe bet and work with a University or take some risk on a starting left tackle with a good story?” Ponturo said. “Now if it’s (Heisman winner) Joe Burrow that’s an exception, but the rule I think will still be to work with a large group of athletes through a school vs doing one off deals. For smaller and local brands there will be opportunities because of that emotional connection and a chance to maximize sales in that market, but for the most part I think this is really unchartered and may not be the great windfall that some are predicting. Opportunity that is fair should things work out? Yes. Big piles of cash, I don’t see it.”
One company taking a unique approach is Studentplayer.com. Started just a few months ago as a platform that can connect brands with successful student athletes and then compensate those athletes outside of the University system, they have taken in over $100,000 already for schools big and small, with the idea being the dollars go to an athlete in the future…say the quarterback at Ohio State or a star women’s soccer player at Rutgers…once that athlete succeeds on the field and there are brands looking to capitalize on that moment. It is the brainchild of Zach Segal, a former Brown University Ultimate Frisbee player and NYU Law School grad who sees a window that no one else does, and wants to find a way to compensate the athlete, connect him or her to appropriate brands, and NOT get caught up in the NCAA system.
“It is obvious from the reaction at the government level that the system around NIL needs to change and that change is coming,” Segal said. “What we are doing is finding a way to reward athletic performance by building a pool of funds that will be there should he or she succeeds athletically. They don’t get paid for their performance, they get paid by executing an endorsement deal that has been put into the system. Once legislation is approved we expect this to grow pretty quickly; it has already exceeded our initial plan without even being able to do the connections yet.”
For someone like Myles Powell, the window to capitalize on his success is in the future in the form of contracts and deals to play professional basketball, be it in the NBA or elsewhere. However somewhere down the road, a successful Seton Hall athlete, or a Rutgers athlete or a St. John’s athlete, who has put in the time, drawn the attention and crafted a brand story for anything from volleyball to football, can have the ability for fair compensation. What that shape is will be determined by marketplace and investment, but it will have a shape. Wednesday at The Pru many will be chanting Powell’s name and wearing his gear; if NIL changes were in place today, he may also have gotten the cash just like anyone else on campus who gets paid for their skills.
The time isn’t there yet but its coming.