The NIL era of college athletics has finally arrived. On July 1, Connecticut governor Ned Lamont signed a bill into law that will allow college athletes in the state to profit off their name, image and likeness while the NCAA eliminated its rule against it on the same day.
UConn student-athletes can begin capitalizing on July 12 and the Huskies’ women’s basketball players are primed to be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the new rules.
Head coach Geno Auriemma publicly pushed for the Connecticut legislature to pass a NIL bill so that UConn and other schools in the state wouldn’t be at a disadvantage on the recruiting trail.
“Essentially, it comes down to a part-time job,” Auriemma said. “So they go to school, they come to practice, and then they have a part-time job. Whether that part-time job is after practice or it’s in the summer or weekends during the preseason. I don’t know. But I’ve had plenty of players through the years, that I’ve been here, that played here and also had part-time jobs to make some money. So to me, that’s the exact same thing.”
For years, the NCAA tried to hold off NIL rights by claiming student-athletes were amateurs and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to profit off themselves. But once states started to pass NIL legislation around the country, they had no choice but to get with the times. Auriemma believes this will help chip away at the myth of amateurism.
“Tell me what kid playing at this level doesn’t put in as much time as any professional athlete,” he said.
As a program, UConn women’s basketball is doing all it can to provide its players with the information, resources, and tools so they’re as well-equipped as they can be to make NIL-related decisions. When the bill became official, they held a team meeting to announce the news and, since, the school hired a company to meet with all the teams to go over the rules, guidelines, and restrictions, which were then sent in an email to all the players and their parents.
Auriemma said he’s met with some of his players individually regarding NIL but made it clear he’s only there to help guide them and give advice on how they should handle the situation, not what they should do.
“The policy is very clear: I’m not involved. I’m not telling you don’t sign with this person, make sure you sign with that person,” Auriemma said. “Someone said to me, ‘Can you pick [an agent] for me?’ No, if I pick one and then you don’t like them three years from now, you’ll come back [and say] it was my fault.”
Auriemma did ask one thing of his players, though.
“I just made a simple request: Before you get into any agreement, you probably should run it by me or compliance just to make sure that what you are signing is copacetic with what [is allowed],” he said. “The last thing we want is for you to go ‘Hey coach I got this great deal.’ Yeah, great, now you’re ineligible. So, that’s been the message so far.”
Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd are two of the most high-profile names primed to cash in. Bueckers has a massive following on Instagram and TikTok while Fudd already launched her own clothing line — though she had to take it down when she arrived at UConn. Both have taken different approaches to NIL.
For Fudd, her parents are serving as liaisons between herself and prospective clients, so she hasn’t been all that involved to this point. Once Fudd gets home after the summer session ends on Friday, she’ll sit down with them and begin discussing potential opportunities.
“My parents have done the talking to everyone outside. I haven’t even asked them how their conversations or anything has gone yet,” she said. “So I’m just trying to enjoy the last week with the team and then dive into that stuff.”
Fudd did say she plans on bringing the t-shirts and sweatshirts back soon.
As one of the most recognizable college athletes in the country, Bueckers could make up to six figures off endorsements if some estimates are to be trusted. She’ll have plenty of opportunities to cash in but for now, she’s not worrying about it.
“I’m gonna be honest, I haven’t really talked to a whole lot of people about it,” she said. “I’ve just tried to keep my peace and my sanity. I know that a lot of people have been going crazy and doing a whole bunch of deals and stuff but I’m not really ready for that yet.”
“I just feel like once I’m mentally ready for all this stuff to start happening, then I’ll start with it,” she added later. “But I’m not really like in a rush to get things started.”
That doesn’t mean Bueckers is completely against taking part in NIL. She just understands the potential pitfalls that come with it and is self-aware enough to know she’s not fully ready to handle everything on her own. So she’s fine being patient with it for now.
“Obviously, I’m going to capitalize on opportunities that I get but I want to get a person and maybe an agent, maybe a financial advisor to help me with all that because I’m not really good with all that stuff yet,” she said.
Exactly how much student-athletes will make on endorsement deals depends on who you ask. Some think it’ll be a lucrative business for players while others, namely Auriemma, have low expectations.
“The other perception out there is that every single kid on your team is going to get a ton of offers to make money. And that’s just not true,” he said.
Ultimately, Auriemma is happy student-athletes have these opportunities even if he is somewhat concerned about the “unintended consequences” that will inevitably come along with it. In the end, he just wants his players to be sure their primary focus remains on basketball because, without that, nothing else matters.
“I want to keep my priority straight because as soon as I have a bad game, it’s gonna be like, ‘Oh, she needs to focus on basketball and not commercial deals’ and stuff like that. So I just don’t want it to get in the way,” Bueckers said.
“I asked Paige the other day, I said, ‘You know how long this is going to last right?’ She goes, ‘Yeah,’” Auriemma said. “‘You know what makes this go away?’ She goes, ‘Yeah, if I suck.’ I said, ‘Correct.’ So the number one thing is still you better be good at basketball or none of these opportunities come along.”