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New moneymaking rules for student-athletes already taking hold at Dartmouth

  • Dartmouth College guard Zach Sammartino whoops with delight during the late going of Saturday's 42-10 defeat of Ivy League rival Yale on Memorial Field. Injured tackle Griff Lehman, left, and center Evan Hecimovich look on. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint » Purchase a reprint »

  • A sampling of posts from Dartmouth hockey player Sara McClanahan's Instagram account.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/24/2021 9:43:00 PM
Modified: 8/4/2021 1:34:52 PM

HANOVER — When the calendar flipped from June to July, it marked a momentous change in collegiate athletics.

After generations of prohibition in the name of amateurism, student-athletes can now try to make money off their name, image and likeness — or NIL — while in school.

That includes endorsements, advertising and social media sponsorships.

Dartmouth College senior Griff Lehman, an offensive lineman on the football team, has already taken advantage of the rule change, albeit in a small way.

Lehman and number of other Big Green athletes have signed on to become a Barstool Athlete, in conjunction with Barstool Sports, an online media company known for its irreverent style.

That partnership yields no money for the student-athletes, who can sign on to represent Barstool by filling out an online form, including their T-shirt size.

Upon completing the registration, students were instructed to write “Barstool Athlete” in their social media bios. Barstool Sports set up a separate Twitter account for Barstool Athletes and posted welcome messages for those who sign up.

“It’s kind of just fun,” Lehman said. “You get posted on an account with a bunch of followers. Who knows what you get out of it? If I get a T-shirt, I’d be pretty hyped. That’s like $15 that I’m saving right there.”

Lehman, who lives with teammates who also filled out the form, was more interested in the clout he may receive for being a Barstool Athlete than any monetary reward. He said anything tangible he gets from Barstool would be a bonus.

The new NIL rules do not allow schools to directly pay student-athletes for playing their sports, nor do they let boosters give the student-athletes money simply for being on a team.

The athletes must perform a service or task of some sort — such as appearing in a commercial, holding an autograph session or attending a charity event — for the payments to be legitimate. And the athletes can’t use any of the school’s intellectual property — so Lehman and his teammates could not, for example, appear in an advertisement for a Hanover restaurant while wearing Dartmouth apparel.

State laws and school policies also apply. (In New Hampshire, a bill addressing NIL was introduced in the House of Representatives in December, but it has not become law.)

Schools try to keep up

As July 1 approached, collegiate athletic departments across the country prepared as best as they could for a change with wide-ranging ramifications that may not be fully understood for years. Dartmouth was no different.

Peter Roby, Big Green interim athletic director, held internal discussions about NIL and participated in discussions with the other Ivy League schools leading up to July 1 and after the new rules went into effect.

“There’s been quite a bit of conversation leading up to what we thought was inevitable,” Roby said in a phone interview. “There’s been some convening of some of the stakeholders from each of the (Ivy) schools to have some conversations with the league office about what’s getting ready to happen and how the league can be supportive, if there’s a need for some outside resources to be made available and what everybody’s doing. So just trying to share best practices and what people are seeing. We meet fairly regularly.”

Roby didn’t know how the new NIL rules would impact Dartmouth athletics. He noted that it would require the participation of Dartmouth’s Compliance Office, which might have to monitor student-athletes’ NIL activity to ensure all rules are followed.

Roby is not the only one unsure what this new NIL world will look like. University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban expressed the same sentiment on Wednesday at SEC media days. He also shared that sophomore Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young is nearing $1 million in endorsement deals.

Steve McKelvey, a professor of sport management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the first few weeks of the NIL rule change have played out pretty much as he thought it would.

“The wild, wild West is what I expected. And that sounds pretty much like what it’s been,” McKelvey said. “Between companies looking to capitalize on this from their own perspective for their own PR and marketing reasons — you had that slew of companies that had already lined up deals so that they could announce deals the moment that the NCAA allowed this — to companies and to athletes and agents hitting the ground running to line up deals right out of the box. That was what most expected, since there’s so few guardrails around this.”

Roby’s priority for Dartmouth is ensuring all students are fully informed about NIL, the rules surrounding it and some of the potential pitfalls. An email from Roby to all student-athletes went out on July 1.

“At a minimum,” Roby said, “what we want the student-athlete to do is to let us know — hopefully ahead of any agreements — what they’re considering, with whom and what the expectations are in terms of what they’re going to be asked to do. Just so we can have a handle on it.”

Off and running

It hasn’t taken long for the athletic department to fall behind in its messaging. Lehman and Sara McClanahan, who plays on the women’s ice hockey team, are two of several Dartmouth student-athletes who have already capitalized on NIL opportunities. Both said they didn’t report their activity to anyone at Dartmouth, and both were unaware of any obligation to do so or what that process looks like.

Sophomore Josh Waters, from men’s hockey, has also found an NIL deal. He partnered with SidelineSwap, an online marketplace for used sports equipment. He promotes the site on Instagram and shares a promo code, and if anyone uses the code, he gets money in his SidelineSwap account.

McClanahan, like Lehman, joined the Barstool Athletes, and she’s also hoping the Barstool opportunity leads to more social media attention. She already has a notable audience, with over 2,100 followers on Instagram. Once she filled out the Barstool form and updated her bio, she changed her Instagram account from private to public in hopes of bringing in more followers. (All posts on a private account are hidden from anyone who doesn’t follow, and users can accept or deny requests to follow.)

She knows that more followers could lead to more NIL opportunities. McClanahan referenced another college athlete from Minnesota who has 14,000 followers, and McClanahan said that athlete already has a Bud Light sponsorship.

“I think (social media) following is huge,” McClanahan said, “because a lot of those companies, they want their content to reach as many people as they possibly can. So I would assume that a lot of these businesses are going to shoot for more of the social media influencer-athlete people.”

Will Norton, another professor of sport management at UMass Amherst, agreed with McClanahan. He said the market is tricky to understand right now, noting his surprise at high school basketball player Mikey Williams signing a potential multimillion-dollar deal with marketing agency Excel Sports Management. Williams’ large social media following certainly factored into that opportunity, as he has over 31,000 followers on Instagram and over 56,000 Twitter followers.

Norton recalled former UMass men’s hockey player and 2017 NHL first-round draft pick Cale Makar and wondered what his appeal would’ve been in the NIL market. Norton and others he’s spoken with figured that despite Makar being a star in the world of college hockey, he wasn’t well-known enough in Boston to have been a candidate for big-time endorsement deals.

Norton thought both of those points could apply to Dartmouth.

“Some of the smaller schools that have reputable athletic programs and maybe athletes within those programs are in local markets with a less active commercial presence — smaller markets in terms of media size and in terms of companies that want to borrow equity from the athletes,” Norton said. “For Dartmouth, I would say it’s going to be about how savvy those athletes are and whether they’ve done the legwork to build the audience. If they haven’t, I think it’s going to be small, local appearances.”

While Roby has no certainty about what NIL will look like going forward, he’s largely in favor of the change.

He supports the concept of students benefiting from their athletic achievements while in school but has concerns about potential exploitation and the overall focus of college athletics turning further away from its origins in education. And he fears that bad actors will turn NIL into pay-for-play and further taint the recruiting environment.

“The idea that students that participate in intercollegiate athletics can monetize their name, image and likeness, I have no problem with that. That’s the stuff that the general student population can take advantage of. And so I have no issue with it fundamentally,” Roby said. “My concern — like a lot of the concern that’s been voiced around the country within the NCAA membership — is how do you do this in a way that won’t create the additional ‘have-and-have-not’ gap that’s out there, with respect to college athletics? And how do you maintain some sort of level playing field?”

Seth Tow can be reac at stow@vnews.com.




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