In the very near future, any UNC fan could be playing as North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell on a new edition of an EA Sports NCAA Football Game.
This is just an example of what could come out of the NCAA’s new interim name, image and likeness (NIL) policy, which gives athletes the opportunity to benefit from their personal brand while playing at the collegiate level.
Under the policy, which was announced on June 30, athletes are now allowed to follow the NIL rules of their respective states. North Carolina has already joined 26 other U.S. states in implementing NIL legislation, giving UNC’s athletes the green light to start making some cash.
But how? UNC football was asking the same question.
In his first press conference on the subject, UNC football head coach Mack Brown explained his focus on the broad opportunity: educating himself and his players on what it means to be a marketable brand.
“This was all kind of thrown on all of us,” Brown said. “So it's a process; it's not something that we all have all the answers to. It's my job to educate myself and our staff at a very high level of energy so we can make sure that our guys have the best opportunity of anybody in the country to take advantage of these rules.”
In preparation for the new law, Carolina Athletics had established LaUNCh, an NIL educational program, in mid-June. Through collaboration with Altius Sports Partners, COMPASS and INFLCR, UNC plans to use LaUNCh to provide its athletes with the resources they need to succeed in this new era of college sports.
Altius Sports Partners, which also works with other Division I powerhouses like LSU, Georgia and Tennessee, will bring experts to Chapel Hill in areas such as sports business, sports law, marketing, branding, NCAA compliance and NIL to Chapel Hill to educate UNC’s athletes. These experts will help guide the athletes in connecting with North Carolina-certified agents and recruiting after college.
COMPASS is an integrated compliance app that the players will use to learn information on compliance, legal obligations and best-practice topics involving NIL. It will track the athletes' activity to ensure the athletes, and UNC itself, don’t make any mistakes in monetizing these new brands. In the words of Jeremy Sharpe, UNC’s director of football communications and branding, it’s a “review process.”
Lastly, INFLCR is a brand-building platform that assists athletes in the monetization of their social media.
These new partnerships are all meant to give UNC athletes the tools required to make money from sponsorships under the new rules of NIL compliance.
“We want to make sure (the athletes) know ‘Hey, if you've got a question, you've got multiple people that you can ask,’” Sharpe said. “And we're going to get it into the hands of the right person who's the expert in that area.”
Brown said he has already reached out to the over 17,000 Rams Club members for support as well as the Chamber of Commerce for the inclusion of local businesses in Chapel Hill, Durham and Carrboro; he wants the athletic department to find opportunities for his entire roster to expand their brands.
“We've been looking really, really hard as a group to try to find things that can benefit our entire team,” Brown said. “Because the Sam Howells of the world are gonna make their deals and they're gonna make their money. But the backup right guard; what can we do to help him?”
Brown raised other questions that have come with the NIL policy. As players will now be earning money from brand deals, they will have to worry about their eligibility for scholarships within the school, those on Pell Grants in particular.
"When you go over that $10,000 mark, it starts to affect your Pell Grant, and decrease it," Brown said.
He also noted that as his players start to bring in money, many will be tasked with calculating federal and state income taxes for the first time in their lives, adding another piece to the fiscal puzzle.
But for many college sports fans, perhaps the most widespread concern about NIL is that athletes may prioritize the money over the wellbeing of the team.
With UNC football’s most anticipated season in decades right around the corner, Brown assured the media that nothing, not even NIL, will get in the way of football.
“We've told them that to make any money with your brand, you’ve got to be a good player,” Brown said. “So don't let your brand get ahead of your ball, because your ball is what's going to lead to your brand.”