This article was originally published in the August 2021 Back to School edition of The DN.
On July 1, 2021, the NCAA Board of Directors approved the long-anticipated Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) legislation that allows NCAA student-athletes to create a personal brand for themselves and earn money for that brand while participating in college sports.
This legislation came after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled 9-0 in favor of college athletes seeking unlimited benefits tied to education. The decision was long-awaited since the case for NIL began in September 2019.
Student-athletes can take advantage of NIL in various ways such as social media, endorsement of other brands or starting their own clothing line — a route taken by Nebraska volleyball’s senior outside hitter Lexi Sun.
According to senior deputy athletic director Garrett Klassy, who served as interim AD following the retirement of Bill Moos until the July hiring of Trev Alberts, adopting NIL at Nebraska was a no-brainer.
“We are all for student-athletes' freedoms and rights,” Klassy said. “It's one of those things that we are uniquely positioned [for] because the Nebraska brand is one of the premier brands in Nebraska, and our fan base is about as passionate as they come, which is a good thing for our student-athletes.”
With the new legislation, colleges have started to implement educational programs for student-athletes, helping them learn how to take advantage of the opportunity.
On June 3, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska Athletics announced the launch of #NILbraska, an initiative to help Nebraska student-athletes be successful in the NIL era.
There are three components to #NILbraska: Ready Now, the Opendorse component; Accelerate, the campus program and Husker Advantage, the Life Skills component.
For the Ready Nowcomponent, Nebraska partnered with the local company Opendorse, co-founded by UNL alumni Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic. According to Klassy, Nebraska was the first athletic department to partner with Opendorse more than a year ago. Additional schools that have since partnered with the company include The University of Texas at Austin, Ohio State University and Louisiana State University, among others.
“With them being located right off campus, we know them very well, and they have been amazing partners,” Klassy said. “We knew they were leaders in NIL and wanted to continue our partnership with them.”
Opendorse will work alongside Nebraska’s program, Ready Now, which was the Huskers’ first program to start preparing student-athletes for NIL. According to Klassy,Ready Now consists of two components: education and assessment.
“Ready Nowand Opendorse will educate student-athletes on their social media in order to build their personal brand,” Klassy said. “That's the education piece. Then there's an assessment piece, which is an analysis of each athlete's social media accounts to help find areas for improvement.”
In addition, outside of the Ready Now program, athletes will be able to monetize their NIL by partnering with businesses through the help of Opendorse. They boast a long list of businesses interested in partnering with student-athletes to monetize their NIL, according to Klassy.
However, Klassy emphasizes that #NILbraska is especially aimed at improving student-athletes' strengths and life skills through theAccelerate and Husker Advantageprogram.
For the Accelerate program, Nebraska will use the Clifton Strengths Institute to identify and improve talents and strengths as well as entrepreneurial attributes, according to Huskers.com.
According to Tom Lemke, the assistant director of Life Skills for the athletic department, the Husker Advantage program uses these Clifton Strengths to learn about brand building, communication, networking and financial literacy.
“Our main goal is to just help student-athletes by introducing tools to maximize their overall experience with regards to NIL, entrepreneurship and career development while at Nebraska and after,” Lemke said.
According to Lemke, incoming student-athletes are educated on the Husker Advantageand Life Skills programs, but all athletes will have these resources available at all times during and after their time at Nebraska.
Lemke said two key takeaways for student-athletes from the Husker Advantage program is how to communicate with others both on social media and in person.
“We want to emphasize how to utilize their strengths as a student-athlete to benefit them in other areas outside their sport,” Lemke said. “There are so many important skills that they can transfer, such as hard work, teamwork, resiliency and time management.”
Both Klassy and Lemke believe that the Life Skills component of NIL is a vital part and that Nebraska's renowned student-athlete experience will set them up for success both now and later in life.
“#NILbraska is beneficial in multiple ways since it is also about educating them on life lessons like managing money and starting their own business — skills they will be able to use for the rest of their lives,” Klassy said. “Therefore, while Nebraska is the education piece, it's up to the athletes to initiate the deals.”
Each university has its own specific policy and Nebraska’s policy was made with key campus stakeholders, giving student-athletes freedom to take advantage of NIL. Nebraska’s policy was sent out to all student-athletes on July 1.
While the future of NIL at Nebraska is yet to be charted, Nebraska Athletics remains committed to helping its athletes in any way it can.
“We treat our student-athletes like a startup, and we want to be able to help them become entrepreneurs,” Klassy said. “We hope that they will have incredible opportunities to promote themselves. NIL is changing and adapting, so it's a wait and see to see how it will change things.”