Starting July 1, NCAA student-athletes are able to monetize their name, image and likeliness (NIL) without jeopardizing their eligibility. That means they can now profit from activities like autograph signings, private lessons, brand deals, endorsements and many other things.
In conjunction with the Eller College of Management and with the James Rodgers College of Law, the University of Arizona created the Arizona Edge program to smoothen the process by teaching its student-athletes about the NIL process and giving them tools they need to maximize their earning potential. (You can read a lot more about it here.)
Brent Blaylock, the UA senior associate director of athletics for compliance, answered questions from a small group of reporters this week. Here’s what he had to say about the Edge program, the NIL process, the biggest challenges facing his department, and lots more.
His answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
How did the Arizona Edge program come about?
Blaylock: “What we wanted to do is make something unique to the University of Arizona, and that’s why we built the Arizona Edge—to create content that’s specific to the student-athlete experience that they get here in Tucson with our institution, with our athletic department. When we started to look at all the different resources we had, there’s there’s so much that we can offer our student athletes for that. One of the great many things that makes us unique is we have incredible individuals like Todd (Watley) that we can bring in to come and talk to our student athletes and help them build really lifelong skills. Not necessarily specific to their four years here, the things they can take with them the rest of their lives to be successful, what they want to do.”
What separates Arizona Edge from all the other NIL programs across the country?
Blaylock: “What sets us apart is we’ve done as much of this in-house with our own corporate partners as really anywhere in the country, if not more so. There are a lot of great companies that have gone out that other institutions have partnered with. Every institution had to make the choice for what was best for their own institution. We just thought there’s so many great things about the University of Arizona. This is our time to flex that muscle and show off. And so when our coaches are in the living room of a recruit to say, ‘hey, we tell you this is why our institutions are great,’ we’re actually showing you and then there’s proof of concept. It’s making those words that you put on a brochure actually make them come to life.”
Do businesses contact the athletes about NIL ideas? Do the athletes or the athletic department reach out? How does that work?
Blaylock: “We’ve seen it in all different ways. We’ve had businesses reach out directly to our student athletes. We’ve had student athletes that reach out directly to entities. We’ve had student athletes that are entrepreneurs and doing their own thing and then selling it on their own and we know they’re only going to get better as it goes with time, and the more we’re able to give them education and skill development, those things.”
When an athlete comes up with an idea or somebody approaches them, do they have to clear it with compliance?
Blaylock: “They do submit the opportunities to us ahead of time. The reason for that is for us to make sure they stay within this few guidelines that we do have because we want NIL to be a positive experience for them. We don’t want any negative implications to come from that. It’s a quick review, just make sure it hits the two or three different checkpoints that we have. We want them to optimize every possible opportunity that they have in front of them. The other thing that helps them with that is as they’re giving it to us, we are helping keep it on file so when it comes time for them to file taxes or do any type of annual, quarterly reporting, we can give them all that information for them to say, ‘hey, this is what you earned,’ just to make sure they’re staying on top of those things.”
What are those two or three checkpoints you’re referring to?
Blaylock: “We have some areas that clearly we want them to stay away from, but mostly it comes down to use of institutional marks, institutional facilities and all those things. They can do those, we just want to make sure that there’s a proper agreement in place with that. So just guiding them through it and saying, ‘hey, as a reminder, if you’re going to do this opportunity, these are the two or three things that you need to do to make sure it’s done.’”
What are those areas that you want them to stay away from?
Blaylock: “Things that don’t align with NCAA guidelines. Sports gambling is the biggest one. We want a student-athlete to stay away from that. Obviously any type of illegal activity or things like that we want them to stay away from those as well.”
(Editor’s note: UA student-athletes are also prohibited from entering into contracts that conflict with their team’s contracts as well as those that relate to alcohol, drug use, pornography and/or “any other activity or entity that could cause harm to the reputation and/or interests of the institution.” SAs also cannot sell items given to them by Arizona or enter “pay for play” agreements that compensates them based on their performance.)
Do you think NIL and Arizona Edge might encourage more student-athletes to stay in school longer now that they can profit?
Blaylock: “I think so in the sense that sometimes that financial uneasiness is a reason why student athletes have to move on from their collegiate experience. And anything you can do to minimize that or show them here’s more stability either for you or your family or for others, that’s only going to get to make this experience easier and better, more enticing for them. You want to show student athletes that you can support yourself here through through these other means so that maybe you don’t have to take the next step that you’re not ready for just yet or you’re doing just for financial purposes.”
As someone in compliance, what has been your biggest challenge in all of this?
Blaylock: “Our first biggest challenge is just the timeliness of things. We want to make sure that we’re very quick to approve these opportunities for student athletes, and it’s really just the education. Everyone is generally well-intending, so making sure that they know what they can do and how much they can do it, and then really supporting and empowering them from there.”
Ideally, how long does it take you to process a student athlete’s NIL idea/request?
Blaylock: “With all the right information, the whole process, from the time they enter to the time we review to approve it, can be five minutes.”
Will these NIL agreements be made public?
Blaylock: “A lot of that will be driven through how the student athlete chooses to promote or market themselves, the entity that they’re working with or whatever. ... It’s early so we’re still figuring out a lot of answers to questions like that. But it’s our job within that to show student athletes, ‘hey, this is how you can put that information out so you’re not having to come to us for those things.’”
When did your preparation for NIL begin?
Blaylock: “We knew that NIL had enough momentum that it looked like the real change was going to happen. I would say very shortly after that is when we first started just kicking the idea around of what would this look like and can we even do it? Of course, you don’t want to have an idea unless you can follow through with it and this takes a lot of support from a lot of people. I would say last fall, early last fall is when we really started reaching out to campus partners and say, ‘Hey, what’s your capacity here?’ What can we do? What what are your ideas?’ And I’d say really September, October of last year is when we started engaging in regular communication with these campus partners.”
When were student-athletes first briefed on NIL and what new rules could mean for them?
Blaylock: “We had events all through last fall. We had the Pac-12 come out and speak. We’ve done some other standalone events with them. Our conference was great in soliciting their opinions for this, to say, ‘hey, what are your concerns? What would you like to do?’ All those things.”
So when July 1 hit, how prepared do you feel Arizona student-athletes were for the new NIL rules?
Blaylock: “I can tell you about the activity we had as of July 1 that they were prepared. Now you can always do more...and we felt we were prepared as we could be, but really we didn’t know till about Monday of that week what the general guidelines were going to be on that. So it was a lot of last-minute pivoting and changing some things to make sure that we had everything in place that we could to empower our student athletes to take advantage of it. But as of July 1, student athletes were ready. Now it’s our job just to keep developing them and to make sure they’re ready for what the new opportunities will come.”
So when you say your student athletes were ready, were you swamped with ideas and requests from them right on July 1?
Blaylock: “Yeah, it was both requests and ideas. And I think to their point, they wanted to make sure was a reality too before they went too far down the line. We had some that were already set to go to sell T-shirts on a national website and others that had logos ready to go and sponsored posts and things like that, so you could tell that they were doing their homework in that regard.”
How many NIL agreements have been made so far?
Blaylock: “I don’t have that number right off hand, but I’ve seen something from just about all of our sports and in something and in some regard, either a finalized deal or, ‘hey, this is something that we’re entertaining’ or even just, ‘hey, this is my logo.’”
How do student-athletes approach you with an NIL opportunity/idea?
Blaylock: “There’s a software platform that they put in it’s called Athliance and one of the reasons why we’ve partnered with them and we’re working with this company from the start to create something that it’s very specific to the student athlete experience. If it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for us. They have to enjoy going on and doing it, and I think they have a phenomenal product for that. Student athletes go in, it’s six or seven categories where they’re entering the information. And because it’s all presented to us, we can review it very, very quickly and it’s all there.”
Here’s a graphic that explains the process:
How do you ensure that the information that you’re given about opportunities is legitimate and lines up with what they’re actually going to do?
Blaylock: “There a couple different methods for that. One, if it’s a website, what’s the link? Or if it’s an actual agreement, let’s upload the PDF of the agreement. There’s contact information from whatever entity they’re partnering with for us to be able to reach out to that individual if we have questions, but a lot of these things are fairly basic in the language of the deal. You know, I got this promo code, I’m helping them out with some sponsored ads, I get 5% of whatever sales go to it. We see the website, we see the agreement, OK, Good luck. Go make money.”
If I’m a business owner and I want to get in on this and I want to contact student-athletes and I just don’t know how. How can businesses best market themselves to be in that position and how can they get in contact with you?
Blaylock: “They can reach out directly to the student athletes for that and I think that’s the best way for them to do it because what we’re doing here is we’re training 500 student athletes to be 500 business entities. We want them to feel empowered, to be able to receive those potential opportunities, to review them and say, ‘is this right for me? Do I like this?’ All those different things. And the other way that they’re going to get that attention is through what they learned today. Every student athlete got better and what they saw on how to tell their story, how to present themselves in these potential opportunities. So I would say to these people that maybe should just go on and spend time on the various outlets that our student athletes have because I know their content is now going to be great and they’ve got really great stories to tell and and connect with them directly. We’re here to help student athletes as a resource to help them through this, but we don’t want to be necessarily a gatekeeper in all of this. I keep using the word but it’s because it’s one of our driving pillars, we’re here to empower them in this process to be able to make these decisions on their own.”