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Boundless Futures creates new monetary opportunities for student-athletes

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In June, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that it would allow student-athletes the right to paid compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). These changes, which stem from an earlier Supreme Court decision, no longer allow the NCAA to restrict student-athletes from hiring an agent, accepting sponsorship deals, or starting their own businesses. 

In response to the new policy, the UW launched the Boundless Futures program in partnership with the Foster School of Business and a third-party company, OpenDorse. 

“The new NIL policy is a good way to give student-athletes recognition through their sport and to commemorate our hard work,” junior Ella May Powell, a setter on the UW’s volleyball team, said. “Student-athletes are already in the public eye, so this change will help us be able to benefit from it.”

This policy change caps off a nearly decade-long fight between the NCAA and college athletes. 

Universities across the nation make billions of dollars each year from college athletics, yet student-athletes don’t receive any compensation as prohibited by the NCAA. They’ve long-argued that student-athletes would devalue their education if they were treated like professional athletes who can monetize their athletic abilities and that paying student-athletes would detract from the “amateur” aspect of college sports.

Some economists and politicians criticize this ideology, arguing that the NCAA and third-party companies already make massive profits from college athletics, in contention to that of professional sports teams. 

Most lawsuits against the NCAA regarding compensation have been led by student-athletes of color who feel exploited by their universities, especially Black athletes, a demographic that also makes up a majority of players in the most profitable professional sports in the United States. 

Many former student-athletes argue that their likeness and talent were commodified for the profit of their university and the NCAA. A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 2014 case furthered this debate, with former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon challenging the NCAA’s use of former student-athletes’ NIL for commercial use. Though finding the NCAA in violation of antitrust laws, the 9th Circuit only ruled that the NCAA must permit schools to provide full scholarships to student-athletes. And while the ruling failed to hold the NCAA fully accountable for its antitrust violations, it did pave the way for future class action lawsuits.

The latest Supreme Court case, led by former West Virginia University football player Shawne Alston and former UC Berkeley basketball player Justine Hartman, asked the Court to allow additional benefits and compensation options.

After months of deliberation, the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA was in violation of antitrust laws once again and required the NCAA to permit additional academic benefits.

The UW is encouraging student-athletes to take advantage of the NIL policy through the Boundless Futures program, offering many resources including those for building personal brands on social media. Due to past restrictions on third-party endorsements by the NCAA, many student-athletes could not network with potential sponsors or prepare for post-graduate opportunities. Third-party companies, in turn, could not contact any NCAA athlete to propose potential sponsorship deals.

“I don’t feel like I’ve missed many opportunities to represent a brand or a company for monetary gain, but I have had to be careful about what I post on social media in order to fall in line with NCAA compliance rules,” Lauren Sanders, a senior and middle blocker for UW volleyball, said. “Because I knew pursuing monetary gain from companies using my name, image, and likeness was against compliance rules, I never pursued that type of relationship with a brand or company that I wanted to represent.”

While student-athletes could hold other jobs to secure income, the time and commitment required to thrive in both sports and school limits employment options. However, the NIL policy will allow student-athletes to earn money on their own terms.

“The [NIL policy] is going to change collegiate sports,” Powell said. “It’s a necessary change and will be beneficial for all student-athletes, but I can also see it bring up issues that we haven't dealt with before. It might change the recruiting scene and how people go about picking the school that they go to.”

The new NIL policy has incentivized colleges around the country to provide resources similar to the Boundless Futures program to prospective student-athletes. For students interested in building their personal brands, these supplementary programs may sway commitment decisions. Given variations in schools’ athletics budgets and priorities, prospective collegiate athletes may choose schools based on which one offers the best brand development resources

“I think [the UW and NCAA] should continue to support student-athletes through this change and give people opportunities to take advantage of it,” Powell said. “I don't want to see NIL turn into a popularity contest, and I hope they give every athlete an equal opportunity to benefit from this change.”

While the new NCAA policy will benefit student-athletes across the nation, debate continues over whether the new NIL guidelines will adequately address gender inequities — specifically, concerns have been voiced over the potential discrepancies between monetary opportunities for female and male athletes, especially for male athletes competing in highly profitable sports like football and basketball.

“It’s a known fact that often women's sports do not get the same media and fan attention as male athletes,” Sanders said. “Thus this may develop discrepancies between a contract that a male athlete can receive versus what a female athlete can receive. Obviously this is just a predicted issue, however, I do think that this is something the NCAA should keep an eye on moving forward.”

Boundless Futures seeks to mediate the concerns student-athletes have by introducing them to several methods for utilizing the NIL policy. While the program might not address all the problems associated with compensating student-athletes, Boundless Futures helps build a starting ground for those who want to expand their brand in the future. 

“When you decide to be an NCAA athlete you are signing many parts of your individual life away,” Sanders said. “That’s not entirely a bad thing — however, athletes dedicate their time and energy and their health to the sport that they want to play, and universities benefit from that. By allowing athletes to use the image that they’ve created for themselves for monetary gain, you allow athletes to begin building a career that spans far beyond their four years of sport.”

Last year’s season was muddled with COVID-19 outbreaks and empty stands, disappointing fans and student-athletes alike. But big changes over the summer and new vaccination and masking requirements give fans and athletes cause for hope this season.

This fall, fans are expected to fill Husky Stadium and Alaska Airlines Arena to cheer on the Dawgs, and you can find all our related coverage this year

Reach writer Kimberly Quiocho at Twitter: @kimberlyquiocho

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