Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Taylor Jacobs hurries down one of the many purple and gold corridors at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in early August with a cell phone between her ear and shoulder. She’s holding another in her hands as she flips through emails and texts as she spends her first week in a brand new role at LSU’s sports department.
Jacobs doesn’t have a name sign outside her new office door yet, but on a 90-minute rainy Tuesday afternoon, she hopped from locker room to locker room to introduce herself to members of the volleyball and basketball teams to make sure they know who she is and what she does. . Her job – at least an oversimplified description – is to help them make money.
LSU is one of the most progressive of the many schools that are increasingly committed to helping their athletes manage and maximize opportunities for name, image, and likeness endorsement deals. Jacobs, a former tennis player at Auburn, was promoted from Compliance Officer to Assistant Athletic Director of NIL and Strategic Initiatives last month. She oversees the NIL team, which will expand its scope from teaching to building tools so that fans and brands can easily connect with their athletes. The school also plans to promote these deals whenever possible, an idea that ran counter to the NCAA’s amateurishness just over a year ago.
“I expected things to go a little slower,” Jacobs said. “Things escalated so quickly.”
Jacobs’ small team includes Cathy Darby, an employee of the consulting firm Altius, who will work in the sports department as a “general manager” responsible for, among other things, finding and arranging endorsement deals for LSU athletes. Altius is hiring general managers for at least six sports departments across the country this school year. They will work on school campuses, but remain on non-sports departments to provide an outside perspective on the national landscape, as well as to enable schools to manage the potential legal liability associated with helping players close deals.
Other schools fill similar vacancies on their own. One of Duke John Scheyer’s first men’s basketball coaches was Rachel Baker, a former Nike and NBA employee who became the general manager of his team. Athletic directors at each Power 5 conference have created and filled positions to develop and oversee the NIL strategy in their schools this summer. The practical approach is very different from the distanced stance taken by many administrators (and the NCAA initially sought to codify its rules) when the prospect of making money while in school first arose.
The main shift is driven by confidence, competition, and the need for control. Coaches and administrators in general are now more confident that they are allowed to make new rules. The increased involvement of boosters pooling their money into NIL teams to attract talented players has predictably made a solid NIL strategy a necessary tool on the hiring path. And as the influence of these teams grows, more and more schools are realizing that they need to step in if they want to maintain some control over how their teams attract players.
Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans, who is in the process of hiring a NIL director for Terps, said he is looking for someone who “first and foremost” can serve as a liaison between donor teams and his athletic department. Evans said it’s important to make sure these groups comply with state laws and NCAA rules. It’s also important to coordinate, he said, to make sure they don’t create “donor fatigue” by drawing on a similar pool of donors too often to provide funds to both the sports department and the teams that pay the players. Finally, Evans said it’s important to be able to show current and future athletes that Maryland is doing everything it can to help athletes make the most of their new opportunities.
“We at the University of Maryland have to do our best because, like everything else, this is part of the recruiting world,” Evans said. “Ask Blockbuster if they ever wanted to get into streaming?”
Maryland is one of several states where laws prohibit schools from being directly involved in facilitating deals for their athletes. Louisiana legislators repealed a similar piece of their law in June 2022 that gave LSU and other schools in the state the freedom to explore new ways of matchmaking between businesses and their athletes. Britney Whiteside, vice president of collegiate partnerships at Altius, said changes in both legislation and administrators have changed how many schools approach NIL strategies.
“That’s when you started to see institutions get a little more comfortable and started asking questions about how they could do that,” Whiteside said. “How can they get more involved? And what is the best way to help student-athletes in this space?”
Evans said he would like to have a single set of rules for all NCAA schools that governs what they are allowed to do to help their athletes. He said he wasn’t sure how he felt about the school helping to close deals for its players. On the one hand, he believes that it will be difficult to ensure that athletes of all sports are treated equally at school, and that this is another step towards the professionalization of collegiate sports. Pairing athletes with businesses or sponsors that might otherwise be giving money to the sports department isn’t all that different from a school paying players directly from the money it receives from donors and sponsors. On the other hand, he says that in reality “the horse came out of the barn” in amateurishness and that he is “open-minded enough to realize that I might have to change that philosophy” if Maryland were suddenly given the same opportunities for relief. deals. .
LSU football coach Brian Kelly said that when Louisiana loosened their laws shortly after his arrival in Baton Rouge, it resulted in a “dramatic change” in how they approached the assistance they provided to players. Kelly said he and Jacobs meet weekly to discuss opportunities for his players and keep an eye on what other schools are doing in the NIL space. He often talks to her more often to answer questions. He believes schools should be doing everything they can to help players get a piece of the very big financial pie they are helping to create.
“We get so much money,” Kelly said. “Doesn’t it make sense that it eventually comes back to how you can help the student-athlete?”
Jacobs and Whiteside said athletic departments are now starting to view NIL education as another area they need to invest significant resources in to help their athletes, similar to how athletic departments view nutrition, academic assistance, or mental well-being.
Athletes across the country told Sportzshala this summer that they hope to get more support from their schools for NIL subjects in the future. While many major sports departments have provided general information on NIL rules, brand building, and financial topics such as paying taxes, athletes say they need someone on campus who can provide answers to specific questions when they are trying to navigate. in the new market.
LSU star gymnast Kia Johnson, for example, said she remembers trying to pick a photo for social media approval but struggled to figure out if it was okay to have school gym mats in the background or what kind of clothes she was allowed to wear. Jacobs has found herself as the source of such responses at LSU over the past year, which has now evolved into a more formal role. Johnson said she’s reached out to Jacobs several times over the past year to make sure she’s following the rules.
“It’s the little things that you don’t really think about,” Johnson said. “I think it’s really important. It just makes our life a lot easier. Our schedules, everything we have to do, is already difficult enough. .”
Back in the first week of August, a month before Kelly debuts as LSU’s new coach at Tiger Stadium, Jacobs paces the stadium’s upper lobby (at real SEC speed) to record a podcast about finance. means of training athletes. She makes her way around pallets and construction equipment to reach a well-furnished little studio that still smells of fresh paint.
LSU is in the process of renovating the top floor of the south side of the football stadium to install a full-service content creation facility. The plans include the premises and state-of-the-art equipment for recording podcasts, photo shoots and video production. All of this, according to Jacobs, will be used to help players build their brands and possibly run promotions for their sponsors in the future. It is the physical embodiment of NIL’s new school approach of concrete and drywall, a rush forward into a future that is still under construction.
Along with infrastructure such as the new LSU studio, the output of a more active group of schools will be visible to fans in many ways as the new fall sports season kicks off. This summer and fall, more than 100 schools plan to launch websites that will allow fans to directly pay athletes for autographs, video shoutouts, public speaking and a host of other services.
LSU and Maryland are among the many schools that plan to direct fans to these websites by advertising them on videoboards or around their stadiums and arenas during games this year. Imagine a quarterback making an interception on a Saturday this fall, and seconds later, a QR code that directs fans to his online NIL profile to buy his autograph appears on the stadium’s JumboTron. He will come this fall.
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