Contrary to the publicity surrounding their Division I counterparts, the motivation and perspective of non-Division I student-athletes uniquely positions them to reap the benefits of NIL.
By Ella Roberts | Sports Editor
Name image and likeness contracts are starting to dominate college athletics. Opportunities like these can be life-changing. On Aug. 31 Bethel University Athletics announced its launch of the online platform Royal Exchange in conjunction with INFLCR, the leading athlete brand-building and NIL business management app for more than 250 elite collegiate and professional sports organizations. The INFLCR athlete app educates student-athletes, coaches and staff for the NIL era in a safe and compliant environment and allows for student-athletes to access and share content to their social media channels. Bethel is the second NCAA Division III school nationwide, after Dubuque University — and the first in Minnesota — to partner with a platform as a way for student-athletes to pursue NIL deals with business and non-profit organizations.
After a new policy was formed in June 2022 that allowed all NCAA DI, DII and DIII student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL, regardless of whether their state has a NIL law in place or not, Bethel jumped on the opportunity.
“We’re trying to be early adopters not because we think kids are going to make a whole bunch of money from it, but that we want them to holistically to be able to pursue all their passions,” Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, Head Volleyball Coach and Senior Woman Administrator Gretchen Hunt said.
Bethel’s Student-Athlete Name, Image and Likeness Policy states “student-athletes are prohibited from receiving an improper recruiting inducement, extra benefit or compensation based on athletics participation or performance, ‘‘pay for play.’A.’ student-athlete is not permitted to earn compensation based on the student-athlete agreement to Bethel University, athletic participation or athletic performance.”
In other words, athletes cannot be paid simply for being athletes or playing, nor can it be used as an incentive for recruitment. An institution is not involved in transactions between players and organizations, but transactions must be recorded on INFLCR. Any transaction that occurs directly through the platform itself will be automatically reported. At the end of the year, athletes will receive a tax form including all NIL deals.
Prior to the new NIL policy, the NCAA received backlash for years, as critics say the NCAA took advantage of student-athletes by using their name, image and likeness for profit, while not allowing the athletes to cash in, as well.
With the NCAA changing NIL rules to allow athletes the right to profit from the use of their NIL, an athlete can now get paid for things such as autographs, developing and modeling clothing apparel, promoting products and services or making personal appearances. Other activities athletes may engage in for compensation include running camps or clinics and providing private sports lessons.
Bethel Athletic Director Greg Peterson says Bethel is intrigued about partnering with INFCLR, because it allows Bethel to comply with the NCAA. Having a third-party vendor takes the responsibility of staying in compliance with the NCAA and removes a weight off Hunt, who oversaw the regulation of everything last year. The other factor, Peterson says, is the connection between Bethel, social media, marketing and the opportunity to expand the reach of Bethel.
“Anytime our student-athletes are building something for themselves individually, as a byproduct, Bethel athletics is benefitting from that,” Hunt said. “We have student-athletes doing something really unique, creative, fun and they’re getting people following them and paying attention to them and they’re connected to athletics. That’s a marketing piece for us and for the institution.”
Before the changes in NIL, athletes at the Division III level could not pursue compensation for other interests or hobbies. Doing so would make them ineligible for athletics.
“It opens up some possibilities for people who have other projects that they’re interested in, whether it’s music or fashion or podcasting or maybe doing some coaching or private lessons,” Hunt said.
While much of the national conversation surrounding student-athlete NIL has centered around big deals at the NCAA DI level — such as University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young who reported earning nearly seven figures in a NIL deal before even playing a game (which is more than some rookies in the NFL will make a year) — everything applies to the Division II and Division III models as well. And not only is it applicable, but it rests on the core principles of the divisions.
As outlined by the NCAA’s description of Division III:
“When high school seniors decide to be Division III student-athletes, their choice illustrates their passion for the sport and pursuit of an education. Division III student-athletes compete not for financial reward, but quite simply, for the love of the game… They strive to do their best on the field and in the classroom because they realize the value in athletics lies beyond a scoreboard.”
Contrary to the publicity surrounding their Division I counterparts, the motivation and perspective of non-Division I student-athletes uniquely positions them to reap the benefits of other types of opportunities. For example, Bethel’s fifth-year quarterback and second-year BUILD internship mentor, Jaran Roste, has worked with Allstate Insurance Co. after being named a member of the Good Works team. The Good Works team honors those who have a lasting impact on their community as well as school. Roste has also partnered with Special Olympics MN as a Student-Athlete Ambassador. He has received compensation from both organizations. Roste says he is still learning how to use the platform and how to take advantage of his NIL.
“While the money or compensation might not be the same at the DIII level, I am thankful that [student athletes] have equal opportunity to benefit from NIL and am looking forward to seeing how the process will grow for all athletes,” Roste said.
“If you’re not making money, you’re making connections with these companies and employers that could maybe help lead to an internship or some sort of job in the future. – Will Karkoc, sophomore golfer
As KARE11 reported in September, Bethel sophomore and golfer Will Karkoc had some interactions with a couple of companies before the start of the school year.
“If you’re not making money, you’re making connections with these companies and employers that could maybe help lead to an internship or some sort of job in the future,” Karkoc said.
According to companies that have helped to broker or administer agreements for tens of thousands of athletes, many participating players are not even making $1,000 each. Athletes are still barred by NCAA rules from receiving direct salaries for playing sports at their schools, but according to reporting by the New York Times in Dec. 2021 Opendorse, which works with Big Ten schools, those with deals that passed through its platform had earned an average of $1,138 since July 2021, and that INFLCR reported its average deal was worth $1,306. Many arrangements involve football or basketball players, and most compensation has gone to male athletes.
Peterson says more student-athletes than he expected do a variety of things on their social media platforms such as providing coupon codes for fitness apparel.
Leading in kills for Bethel’s volleyball team, senior Kristin Cotter started talking to some clothing brands in 2021 about being an ambassador for their brands.
“We may not get all the perks that upper-level schools receive but we are just as deserving to get recognition and brand deals and to put ourselves out there as any other athlete,” Cotter said. “I think smaller businesses like clothing that can be sold anywhere or smaller businesses near the college that the athlete is playing at can greatly be promoted by Division III athletes.”
Several of Bethel’s athletes have also found partnerships with Bubbl’r, a sparkling antioxidant drink that specifically targets athletes. Sophomore volleyball player Brynn Lugar is a Bubb’lr athlete, which means Bubbl’r sponsors her to use her social media.. In this role, Lugar and other athletes post on their Instagram stories four times a month, using hashtags and tagging Bubbl’r. In return, Bubbl’r sends free products every two months.
“I see it helping me connect with other athletes who are sponsored by companies, and it also gives me a way to communicate with a company which is new for me,” Lugar said.
As of Oct. 10, Lugar is no longer sponsored by Bubbl’r.
Fifth-year Bethel offensive Lineman Travis Sinclair and 2023 NFL Draft prospect has been in contact with several companies and says he is nearing contracts with a few. While nothing is solidified, Sinclair is excited by companies who show interest in him.
“At Division III, I think it is a bit different for NIL agreements. I think more local businesses would work better due to Division III teams not having the same large media coverage and reach. Local areas can know local, bigger athletes more than maybe a company like Gatorade or Powerade would,” Sinclair said.
While athletes may use this platform in any way they wish, some may consider it an opportunity to serve another organization, gain experience with non-profits and build the athlete’s personal brand. Any partnerships with nonprofits or charities would not be compensated. Still, Peterson says it’s a chance for student-athletes to nurture relationships that align with Bethel’s values as a Christ-centered university.
“I think some of the values that Bethel and the MACC Fund shares, and the athletic synergy there, would be a good reason [to partner],”– Michael Bielawski, director of development
A non-profit organization such as Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Inc. is a small outlet that raises money for childhood cancer and related blood disorder research. The organization has contributed more than $80 million in research over the last 46 years and has received support from many professional athletes and teams, such as Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rogers. Representative Michael Bielawski says the MACC Fund is looking to partner with athletes who simply want to support what the MACC Fund does by using their social media platforms. Bielawski said Bethel’s athletes will reach someone who will be helpful in some capacity.
“I think some of the values that Bethel and the MACC Fund shares, and the athletic synergy there, would be a good reason [to partner],” Bielawski said.
While the NCAA intends to work with federal congressional legislators to replace the interim policy with a single nationwide policy, there is no timeline for when that might happen. NCSA will continue monitoring changes related to NIL laws and provide updates to the team, when necessary.
“It’s really exciting to now have our second DIII institution utilizing INFLCR’s Local Exchange,” said Jim Cavale, INFLCR founder and president. “Bethel is setting themselves apart at the DIII level by providing their student-athletes with leading technology to maximize their NIL.”