SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – At 1:50 a.m. on Thursday, Georgia Southern quarterback Sam Kenerson posted a tweet promoting a video game app called Yoke Gaming, which advertises the ability to play video games with athletes.
A paid agreement between Kenerson and Yoke Gaming would have been strictly against NCAA bylaws just two hours prior to the tweet’s posting, but is completely legal as of July 1.
Georgia House Bill 617, which went into effect Thursday, has given athletes a framework to profit off their names, images and likenesses (NILs) since May 6, when Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the bill into law. An NCAA decision that came on June 30 allowed athletes across the country to do the same.
The state laws and NCAA decision supersede a previously crucial portion of the NCAA rulebook on impermissible benefits, which forbade athletes from taking money in exchange for using their name or image to advertise a commercial product or service.
“You couldn’t accept a free meal at a restaurant that you frequented,” said former Georgia punter Drew Butler. “A business could not give you a free t-shirt even if you shopped there very often. You could not be compensated for signing some sort of memorabilia or a jersey. Those are all about to be lifted and it needs to be done the right way.”
There are still some restrictions on what college athletes are allowed to do when it comes to earning money. They cannot draw a salary or accept any other kind of payment just to play at a particular school. Any deals must be submitted to the schools, which will vet them for compliance with state law and NCAA regulations. Athletes must also obtain permission from their schools to use any team branding or facilities in advertising deals.
Georgia Southern released a list of guidelines for athletes to follow while pursuing NIL opportunities. Those guidelines include examples of things athletes will now be able to do to earn money: monetize their own YouTube or TikTok accounts, post sponsored content on social media, sign autographs, teach camps or clinics in their sport and appear in commercials, to name a few.
Those ideas are already in the minds of prospective college recruits at The Factory, an elite Savannah gym that has trained many DI athletes.
“I want to go out there and ball and play at my highest ability, but yeah, I’m going to look into building some camps and making some deals,” said Langston Lewis, a rising Islands senior that committed to Central Michigan for football.
“I think it’s a great idea, just how do we roll it out?” asked Rob DeLoach, co-owner of The Factory and a father of three Division I athletes. “How do we put guidelines in place so that athletes don’t lose focus on why they are here? I hope they accept it and are responsible for whatever comes their way, but they need to understand that not everybody thinks of their best interests. So if you don’t know, ask questions.”
Businesses have been eager to take advantage of the opportunity; some planned deals with athletes prior to July 1, which were signed the day the rule change took effect. Onward Reserve, a clothing brand headquartered near Atlanta, is one such business. They reached agreements with five UGA athletes, including Bulldog quarterback Brock Vandagriff and kicker Jack Podlesny.
Onward Reserve owner and CEO TJ Callaway, a UGA alum, says he anticipates most of the deals struck to be too small to even require the services of an agent – usually on the order of several hundred dollars in exchange for a sponsored post.
“I think social media is an obvious place to start for a lot of reasons,” Callaway said. “But I think in-store appearances might make sense if it works with their schedule. I think photo shoots might make sense.”
Most Division I schools have hired marketing or consulting agencies to help athletes build their brands and chase deals while staying compliant with the law. Georgia Southern hired a company called INFLCR to provide a platform where athletes can easily share graphics and videos produced by the athletic department to their social channels. The contract, which started in August of 2019, called for the Eagles’ athletic department to pay $15,000 in September of 2019 and $15,638 in September 2020.
“We have closely monitored the national landscape and have been in discussions about the future of NIL to make sure we are fully prepared to support student-athletes,” said Georgia Southern Senior Associate Athletic Director Bryan Johnston in a statement provided to WSAV.
Georgia Tech’s contract with creative agency J1S out of Dallas spanned a broader scope, with J1S agreeing to create a brand campaign for the university’s athletics program as well as specific content for sports and athletes under its umbrella. That contract had a stated value of $150,000, to be paid from March 2020 to February 2021.
University of Georgia has brought on Altius Sports Partners, a firm specializing in NIL consulting, to work with its athletes. A public records request for that contract was not fulfilled as of publication.
Eight states have laws in effect as of July 1, 2021 governing NIL that have been passed by state legislatures and signed into law by governors, including Georgia and Florida. Many other states, including South Carolina, have passed laws that go into effect at a later date.
The NCAA has provided interim rules on NIL that allow athletes in states without their own bill to make money. These rules were made public less than 12 hours before Georgia’s law went into effect and largely put the onus on individual schools to review their own athletes’ NIL deals. Unfulfilled promises by the NCAA to address the issue earlier has left some around the college sports world frustrated.
“Two years ago in 2019, the NCAA said that they were going to change the rules in January of 2021,” Butler said. “Now we’re here, it was June of 2021 and they were still dragging their feet. So you cannot assume anything with the NCAA.”
Athletes have now begun to sign their first deals, and nobody knows for sure how it will impact the future of college sports. It does, however, mark a clear division in its history: between the long amateurism era and the new post-amateurism era.