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Park City college athletes eager to take advantage of new NIL rules

Starting July 1, student-athletes could profit off their name, image and likeness

Davidson wide receiver Mark McCurdy was a star wide receiver at Park City High School. McCurdy recently took advantage of the NCAA's new NIL policies to sign a deal with Barstool Sports.
Park Record file photo

Starting July 1, the NCAA allowed student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness for the first time, ushering in a new era for college athletes. The NCAA’s long-held position that college athletics are for amateurs was dead.

In the days that followed, social media was flooded with athletes announcing new sponsorship deals left and right while others declared that they were open for business.

Arguably the biggest player on social media was sports media company Barstool Sports, which started sponsoring any and all college athletes. The company started a new Twitter account called Barstool Athletics dedicated to announcing new “Barstool Athletes.”



Former Park City Miner and current Davidson wide receiver Mark McCurdy became a Barstool Athlete on July 2. McCurdy started listening to Barstool’s podcasts and watching their videos a couple years ago. When he saw that Barstool opened up an application page to become a Barstool Athlete, he took advantage.

At this point in time, there is no financial incentive to be a Barstool Athlete, as McCurdy wasn’t paid. McCurdy thinks he’ll get some free Barstool gear every once in a while along with free access to Barstool events in the future.



“I don’t think it really means much as of right now just because no one really knows what this whole NIL is going to look like,” McCurdy said. “I think it’s really just going to kind of go from there. I’m sure there’s going to be stuff in the future that’s going to have some benefits with it. But as of now, I think that people are just trying to get a feel for what is going on really because it’s so new.”

McCurdy said that he’s had a couple of other companies reach out to him about being an ambassador, but he’s accepted that, as a player at an FCS school in a small town in North Carolina, there aren’t going to be many opportunities. At the same time, the chaotic start to the beginning of the NIL era of college athletics can be intimidating and have athletes feel like they’re on their own.

“I don’t think anyone really knows how much guidance they could really give because, like, they don’t know anymore than we do,” he said. “I think in the future it could be something that they are more proactive about, but I think we need to see kind of the direction the NIL decision goes and like how much of an effect it has on a program of our size.”

On the flip side, Utah women’s basketball player Kennady McQueen, the former Utah Gatorade Player of the Year at North Summit High, hasn’t signed any deals yet because she’s still learning about the process. Utah created a program called Elevate U, which gives athletes “the most comprehensive toolbox to make the most of your name, image, likeness, and business ideas.” McQueen, who hails from Henefer, says that she has had a couple offers and hopes to have some deals in the future.

“Maybe I can get my name with a few small town businesses, like, I think that would be a great start and then just see where it can go from there,” McQueen said. “I’ve talked with my family, like, I want to do a basketball camp and now I’m able to put that in my name. Like it can be a Kennady McQueen basketball camp, which I think is so exciting, and I know that’d be super exciting for my small community.”

While it is believed that the most money for student-athletes will still be made in college football – an hour with Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton will cost $2,000 on Dreamfield, a version of Cameo featuring college athletes – there are still opportunities for athletes in other sports to take advantage of their student-athlete status. McQueen believes that this could be a big step for both women’s basketball and women’s athletics.

“I think just in the world today, like, women’s sports have come such a far way,” she said. “And I think more people are realizing what women’s sports brings to society and just the role that can be played, so that’s awesome to see. And I think just by doing this, it’s just going to help women and women’s sports get their name out there more and realize why they’re just as important.”

The NIL era could also have a significant effect on Olympic sports, like golf, tennis, swimming and skiing. As Olympic-level college athletes prepare themselves for the Tokyo Games this summer or the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing in February, they now have opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Utah cross-country skier and Park City native Sydney Palmer-Leger has her sights set on next year’s Games. Palmer-Leger is coming off a freshman season where she won the national championship in both the 5K classic and the 15K freestyle to help Utah win its 14th national title. Palmer-Leger became the 12th Utah skier ever to win two races at the national championships and was named National Women’s Nordic Skier of the Year.

Additionally, Palmer-Leger was named to the Davis U.S. Cross Country Ski Team’s B team after previously being on the development team. For an athlete in her position, it’s comforting knowing that she would have opportunities to capitalize on her success while still maintaining her eligibility to ski for the Utes if she makes the trip to Beijing.

“It’d be pretty cool to go to the Olympics, come back and be able to take advantage of getting all these sponsors,” she said. “If you make the Olympics, your name will definitely be out, and so there’s going to be a lot of people watching.

“Being able to have sponsors and race World Cups and do the college route, it’s so ideal for growing our sport.”

Sydney Palmer-Leger USA crosses the finish line of the Cross-Country Skiing Women’s 5km Classic at Vallee de Joux Cross-Country Centre. Palmer-Leger is one of many athletes who can benefit from the NCAA's new NIL rules.
Courtesy of OIS/Joel Marklund

There are also plenty of costs for an athlete like Palmer-Leger. Whether it’s for replacing old skiing equipment or traveling for World Cups, the expenses can pile up quickly, especially for amateur athletes on the brink of making the U.S. team. Skiers could now secure sponsorships for their equipment or find ways to cover travel costs.

“I think for skiing it’s definitely helpful because basketball and football they get a lot of, like, car sponsorships, but for skiing, a lot of the time we just get skis, boots, poles, so it’s really helpful for younger athletes to get the support without, like, sometimes parents can’t afford that,” Palmer-Leger said. “For our age, in NCAAs, it’s definitely helpful to have our skis and maybe get funded by that brand and other food or bars or hydration without having to pay for that plus trying to pay for school.”

While Palmer-Leger also hasn’t signed any deals yet, she’s looking into smaller, more local brands as a local athlete competing at a local school. While the dust is still settling from the frenetic start of the NIL era, some still can’t believe that this has happened.

“I thought it would take a couple years or when I was out of NCAA racing,” Palmer-Leger said. “But it’s kind of cool now that I can do both – work with the U.S. Ski Team and be on Utah and hopefully in the next couple of months work with some sponsors and hopefully get some brands and get my name out into the skiing world a little more than it is right now.”

 


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