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Utah Business

After a recent ruling, college athletes in Utah are finally able to make money on their name and likeness. Here's what that means for student athletes.

College athletes in Utah can now make money off their name and likeness

Earlier this year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) put out an interim policy that allowed college athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). In response to this, the faculty and staff at the University of Utah created Elevate U. 

In partnership with the David Eccles School of Business and the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, Elevate U empowers the university’s 500+ student-athletes to understand how to best approach NIL opportunities and protect their brand and business interests long-term. 

“What was critically important for us was to make sure that they were well educated and had a least a baseline understanding of what all of this means when you start to capitalize and make money off your name, image and likeness,” says Charmelle Green, deputy athletics director and COO at University of Utah Athletics. “It was also important for us to make sure that we put in established guardrails and expectations for them so that we could help make sure that they were not getting themselves out of compliance with NCAA rules and regulations.” 

Kate Charipar, senior associate athletics director at the University of Utah, says students cannot engage in NIL activities until they complete a NIL education session first. However, the program is much more than just a mandatory compliance webinar. 

“One of the things that we knew, being a business program, is that we have resources for all students that could be particularly advantageous for the athletes,” says Andrea Thomas, a professor of marketing at the David Eccles School of Business who helped craft Elevate U. “The first thing we did is we tried to pull together all of the information that students would need to think about all in one place, and then we divided the program into three pieces: empower, connect and protect.”

To empower, Elevate U leverages the learning at Eccles and Lassonde to teach student-athletes how to cultivate their brand and handle business administration tasks like incorporating and paying taxes. To connect, the program includes Q&A webinar sessions with athletes who have successfully leveraged their name image and likeness in different ways. And to protect, the program teaches athletes the rules around NIL and how best to take advantage of any potential deals. 

“Financial literacy is a big part of it—trying to figure out how to make sure you’re setting up your business model in a way that makes sense for you,” Thomas says.

All past webinars and information sessions are housed centrally online, so student-athletes can refer to them if and when they need to. Elevate U is created in a way that allows adjustment to potential new rules or regulations, either from the NCAA or from potential federal legislation. 

“We knew right off the bat when we created our policy that it was going to be a living document,” Charipar says. “We knew we were going to have to be fluid and flexible, but there were going to just be some things that we were going to have to draw a hard line on.”

Those hard lines revolved around restricting specific industries, as well as two contractual obligations the University of Utah has in place with Pepsi and Under Armour that expressly prohibit athletes from engaging in the endorsement of competitors. 

“If a federal bill moves forward in some way and restricts those contracts so that portion becomes null and void, then that would open things up for student-athletes,” Charipar says. “But for right now, we have no choice but to honor the agreement we entered into. So far, this has not been problematic for our student-athletes or for our staff.”

Overall, the program appears to support the University of Utah’s student-athletes whenever they need it. “My interpretation of NIL is that it isn’t something that athletes should feel like they have to jump into if they don’t have time or if they’re concerned about it,” Thomas says. “But it’s absolutely a great opportunity for them, and so they need to have the support if that’s something that they want to do—they need to have ownership over how it works for them.”

Charipar says she thinks the program’s popularity will ebb and flow as different sports seasons start. “It did not surprise me that many of the deals that were happening in August were with our football student-athletes,” she says.

The benefit of Elevate U, however, goes beyond signing big contracts. “A lot of our student-athletes are focused more on brand-building right now rather than entering into these NIL deals,” Charipar says. “They recognize that the NIL deals they could get later will be more significant and maybe wouldn’t require as much work to obtain them or time to dedicate to them if they build their brand now.”