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Janell Fitzgerald, a senior blocker for the Texas State volleyball team. Daily Record photos by Gerald Castillo

How Texas' NIL law has impacted Texas State, one year later

Texas State Athletics
Thursday, June 30, 2022

Texas Senate Bill 1385 was the first of its kind, allowing college athletes to finally be compensated for their name, image and likeness (NIL) after decades of being blocked by the NCAA.

Despite the law being in effect for a full year, Kennedy Taylor has made minimal efforts in making any deals related to her NIL. It’s not from a lack of interest. Taylor has been a four-year starter for the Texas State’s women’s basketball team. The point guard ranked seventh in the nation this year averaging 6.3 assists per game and was voted to the All-Sun Belt Second Team at the end of the season. She could be of value to companies looking for one of the top passers in the country to promote their brand.

But Taylor has struggled with knowing where to start. And one year into the NIL era in college athletics, it’s become one of the biggest hurdles for a majority of athletes to overcome.

“I think the biggest thing that we have tried to push this past year, and will continue to increase on, is the education piece,” said Kelsey Solis, Texas State’s Associate Athletics Director of Compliance. “If you don’t have businesses and donors reaching out to you, if you’re the student reaching out to them, how can we educate you on the best way to do that and the best way to market yourself and the best way to have those conversations and the best way to increase your social media and things like that, right? Like, how can we arm our student-athletes through that education channel to be more marketable?”

A select few college athletes are recognizable on a national scale from their name, image and/or likeness alone, and have been compensated as such. But for the large majority of those who aren’t — especially those at mid- or low-major schools — forming partnerships has proven to be challenging.

That doesn’t make it impossible. Janell Fitzgerald, a senior outside hitter and four-time All-Sun Belt selection for the Texas State volleyball team, has been one of the Bobcats’ biggest success stories. Fitzgerald boasts a TikTok following of 119,400 and has accumulated over 1 million likes since first posting on the platform on Dec. 10, 2019. She had multiple businesses reaching out to her about endorsements prior to Texas’ NIL law going into effect but had no choice but to turn each one down at the time.

Fitzgerald testified in front of the Texas House of Representatives Committee on High Education on May 6, 2021, advocating for college athletes’ NIL rights and in favor of SB 1385. The bill was later passed and signed into law the next month, going into effect on July 1, 2021.

In the past year, Fitzgerald has taken full advantage of the brand she’s built, finally able to accept offers that come her way and partnering with businesses like CROSSNET and Bumble. The Mansfield native said she’s had mostly positive experiences utilizing her NIL, and that it’s been helpful to her in numerous ways.

“Being able to market myself, being able to actually make money, that’s definitely the biggest benefit. And networking has been amazing. I’ve met so many different people, I’m continuing to meet people,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s helped my everyday life. Scholarships are definitely helpful but if you really break it down, it pays for your rent and like, your food — not your day-to-day activities or anything like that. So (NIL deals have) been making me able to live more freely.”

Fitzgerald had the advantage of already having a large online presence when SB 1385 went into effect. But many student-athletes who don’t have as big of a following may not have as good of an idea on how to publicize themselves.

One established starting point is INFLCR, a software company Texas State teamed up with that allows athletes to create a profile specifically designated to help them make NIL deals. Companies can use INFLCR to search for athletes who would be a good fit to endorse their product based on specific criteria, and athletes can do the same with businesses they’re interested in promoting.

Solis believes athletes need to be prepared even further for what it takes to actually earn an NIL contract. She said that Chris Kutz, Texas State’s Associate Athletics Director of Communications, has been particularly helpful in this regard.

Kutz joined the athletic department’s staff in February 2022, but previously worked as a Program Director for Opendorse — a company similar to INFLCR — overseeing athlete education when it came to NIL across multiple levels of college sports. While Kutz’s new role doesn’t entail the same responsibilities, he’s able to use his knowledge on the subject to help answer any questions that athletes have had.

“Athletes see this NIL thing and they hear of values, whether those values are accurate or not, or they see they have 30,000-plus followers on a social media platform and they want to know, ‘Where’s the NIL? Like, when does it show up?’” Kutz said. “And so that first question of like, ‘Where do I start?’ is always the most common.

“And then what’s kind of rooted in that question is the idea of, it’s not just like it just shows up. It’s athletes coming to realize this is a part-time job. Like yes, there are some who have it easy from the sense of someone approaching them and saying, ‘Here’s several thousand dollars to do an activity,’ and that’s NIL. Nearly every athlete, though, has to do it the hard way, which is kind of build up that brand and work for it. And so that’s kind of how I usually answer.”

Kennedy Taylor (left), a senior point guard on the Texas State women's basketball team

Athletes are taking different routes in gaining insight. Taylor recently attended the inaugural NIL Summit, which was sponsored by INFLCR. The event took place at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on June 13-15 and featured several panel discussions and networking opportunities with celebrity influencers, brand ambassadors and fellow college athletes.

“I really tried to network with a lot of student-athletes that were mid-major, because it is very different,” Taylor said. “There was an SFA athlete, there were a couple of South Alabama athletes, some (North Texas) athletes. I was definitely able to talk to them and we were kind of in the same boat as far as how NIL deals are kind of brought to us. So I was just kind of networking with them and I think, now that I’ve got the knowledge that I have, I’ll try to pursue something. But I just have to kind of figure out which route I want to take because, you know, it really takes a lot of work.”

The Dallas native had a few main takeaways from the summit: She needs to learn what type of content would help her build up her social media following — and lean into trends to do so. She needs to be consistent in building her personal brand, setting aside time dedicated to doing so. And chiefly, she needs to be more aggressive in researching and reaching out to businesses she’s interested in working with.

Some Bobcat athletes, such as Triston Dixon, a senior pitcher on the baseball team, have been more proactive in that approach. Dixon posted a 2.93 ERA and an 8-0 record across 27 relief appearances in 2022, playing an important role in helping Texas State have its winningest season in program history but not receiving any offers. He began dipping his toe in the NIL waters by sending emails and DMs to companies he was already familiar with, pitching them on the idea of using his Instagram account, which has over 3,500 followers, to promote their business.

NCAA Division I baseball teams are only allotted 11.7 athletic scholarships to spread out among a maximum of 27 players. As Dixon points out, it’s exceedingly rare for an individual college baseball player to receive a full-ride, meaning there are some things they have to pay directly out of pocket for that are typically provided to some of their fellow athletes through their scholarships.

This made the appeal of NIL deals all the more attractive for Dixon. But Taylor noted that it can be tough knowing what offers are actually worth putting your time and effort into — time that’s hard to come by between being a full-time student and being a full-time athlete — especially when, as Taylor points out, “a lot of NIL deals aren’t monetary.” Receiving gear from a clothing company or a free meal from a local restaurant rather than actual money can sometimes make the value of a deal murky and difficult to decide on.

The Corrigan-Camden High School graduate specifically targeted brands that could help alleviate some of his expenses, either by providing products he was already regularly using or by paying him directly in cash. One such partnership he made was with C4 Energy, a beverage company whose drinks contain a high dosage of caffeine. Dixon was admittedly spending a lot of money on energy drinks before striking an agreement with C4 to supply him with their goods in exchange for his endorsement.

“(The NIL law has) made it a lot easier for you just to pick up a couple extra bucks,” Dixon said. “Regardless of if it’s $100 or $200, you know, like, just something small, it at least helps you get food for the week or gas and stuff that you might need for anything — just to live, honestly.”

SB 1385 hasn’t been without its faults. Solis said that one of the top concerns has been the use of NIL as a recruiting tool, which wasn’t necessarily the intention of the law. Texas State women’s basketball coach Zenarae Antoine agrees, feeling that the rules are in some cases being abused and that athletes are getting taken advantage of.

“I’ve always been an advocate for NIL. Allowing the student-athletes to utilize their own name, image and likeness to have monetary opportunities, that piece, I’m all in,” Antoine said. “But I will tell you this: it affects us mid-majors because it prices you out — and maybe not necessarily so in the ways that you might be thinking. You know, we may not have these large packages that we’re able to offer for student-athletes. What also happens is the allure of fiscal opportunities, whether you’re going to put in the legwork or not, is so strong right now that you have a lot of student-athletes that are making quick decisions based on NIL versus thinking through, ‘What does my four-to-five-year plan look like, and what will that provide?’”

Solis and Antoine also think more institutional involvement in NIL deals would be advantageous to both schools and athletes. The Athletic reported in May that the NCAA may begin cracking down on whether or not NIL policies are being enforced and could sanction schools where infractions are being committed. But SB 1385 explicitly prohibits Texas schools from facilitating deals, meaning they have little to no control if one of the parties decides to break the rules, putting them in a vulnerable position.

More institutional involvement could also help provide protection for athletes from making bad deals. For instance, in one of her early partnerships, Fitzgerald said she rushed into an agreement with a merchandising company without doing all the necessary research and background work to make sure it was legitimate.

“Everything seemed fine and the contract seemed fine, everything went fast,” Fitzgerald said. “And then they just basically ghosted me. So they sold the merchandise for a couple of months but unfortunately, I was never paid for any of it.”

Access to the Texas State’s legal resources could have helped Fitzgerald avoid getting scammed, but it isn't allowed under SB 1385. Dixon said he frequently reaches out to Solis to validate his contracts, and while Solis is happy to help as much as she can, she makes it clear that that’s not actually her job as a compliance officer. Her job is only to make sure that both the business and the athlete are complying with NCAA and state regulations.

Triston Dixon, a senior right-handed pitcher for the Texas State baseball team

The lack of institutional involvement isn’t unique to Texas, but there are states in which it’s permissible. And in places where state governments haven’t passed an NIL law, the NCAA allows schools to create their own policies, which Solis calls “convenient.”

“What that also hurts is an athlete coming to us and asking about a specific deal,” Kutz said. “And so, we have to kind of navigate that and say, ‘Hey, I can’t facilitate this or put you in touch with anyone directly. But you know, let’s talk about this from a theoretical standpoint.’ So I think that hurts the athlete experience, to be honest with you because, just like if they wanted to go study for a test, there’s an academic adviser on campus or in the athletic department, or the Writing Center helps them with an essay. When it comes to NIL, they don’t know who to turn to. And they might be turning to some 23-year-old who claims they’re an NIL agent or some booster with intentions beyond the scope of education and competition.”

Dixon said he’d be in favor of more institutional involvement, but was weary of schools having too much control. While he would welcome the university's assistance in earning more endorsements, he wonders how they would dictate fairly which athletes pushed toward prospective partners.

Other changes may be coming down the pipeline. One maneuver that’s become popular at larger universities is for donors to pool their money together to use in larger NIL deals, creating “collectives.” There hasn’t been a Texas State-specific collective formed yet, but Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director of Development and Administration Travis Comer has been leading discussions to see if there is any interest.

“It would be silly for us not to be talking about collectives,” Solis said. “I think we could probably talk next summer and see where collectives have gone because I don’t think they’re a bad thing.”

SB 1385 likely won’t be amended until the Texas legislature’s next regular session in 2023. The NCAA’s policies won’t change without a federal law passed — Solis said last year that the NCAA’s guidelines were “laughable” but she now realizes the association had its hands tied due to anti-trust concerns that were raised by the Supreme Court in 2021 in the NCAA v. Alston case. And while seven NIL bills have been introduced by U.S. senators and congressional representatives, none have generated enough recent momentum to be brought up for debate.

Texas Senate District 21 Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who represents the west side of San Marcos and served on the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, said via email she’s been pleased with the impact of Texas NIL law so far, though, and the opportunities it’s provided college athletes like Taylor, Fitzgerald and Dixon.

“Thanks to Senate Bill 1385, which I co-authored after filing my own Senate bill, Texas student-athletes now receive the compensation they deserve for their skill, dedication and countless hours of hard work,” Zaffirini said. “Their contributions not only uphold our universities’ standards of excellence, but also bring in millions in revenue, supply one of the largest and most popular sources of entertainment in the country and facilitate economic growth. I look forward to this bill’s continued impact on the recruitment process, including for my alma mater (the University of Texas at Austin) and the universities in Senate District 21.”

San Marcos Record

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