Could college jerseys become NASCAR-type billboards?
How about college players having their Twitter handles on the back of their jerseys?
It certainly would be different.
It would be jarring, strange, tick some people off, while it would be celebrated by others.
But that’s the way student-athlete rights are trending right now. Recent legal decisions have opened the door for the NCAA to loosen its grip on athletes rights to control their own brand, use of their names and images.
“I love it,” said former BYU and European basketball star Jonathan Tavernari. “BYU hoops did it a while back in a midnight madness event and I thought it was awesome. This is the type of NIL (name, image, likeness) I support, not paying players.”
University of Central Florida coach Gus Malzahn had player Twitter handles put on the back of jerseys for the school’s annual spring game. He called it the future of college football.
“We’ve been saying that the future of college football is right here at UCF,” Malzahn said after the game. “This is a new age of personal branding. We’re going to embrace it.”
Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi had a little fun covering the event, writing, “@_dillongabriel: 17 of 22 for 191 yards and two TDs.” And, “@RyanOKeefe23: Six catches for 83 yards and a TD,” while pointing out that @Humble_Johnny had seven carries for 68 yards and two catches for 70 yards.”
So, in Provo, it would be a 60-yard bomb from @zachkapono1 to the shifty @DaxMilne.
Or, at Utah, it was a great cut and breakaway punt return by @brit_covey, and the tackle by @DevinLloyd was a bone-jarring takedown sack.
I asked Mark Durrant, a former BYU basketball player turned radio analyst and popular Twitter presence, what he thought about it.
“I guess I’m an old fogey,” said Durrant. “I think the uniform should be about the team and not the individual. Some coaches won’t even put names on jerseys. I guess I’d be OK with a Twitter handle on shoes or on a patch. However, I’m a huge fan of players making NIL money off the field.
“As a side note,” he continued, “if my child were an athlete, I’d strongly encourage them not to be on Twitter until they were done playing.”
This issue is only gaining steam.
Just last week the NCAA was rebuffed by Supreme Court justices when educators pointed out the benefits of scholarships and whether they should limit educational perks to preserve amateur status of college sports.
The answer came back that universities should do more, including computers, graduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad programs and internships.
Wrote Bianchi, “Justice Elena Kagan accused the schools of collusion and price fixing, saying, ‘Schools that are naturally competitors have all gotten together in an organization … to fix athletic salaries at extremely low levels.’”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh said, “Antitrust laws should not be a cover for exploitation of the student-athletes. It does seem schools are conspiring with competitors to pay no salaries for the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars.”
Athletic directors at Utah, Utah State, Weber State and other instate schools have to have this on their agenda because of the wave of opportunities it can bring in coming months and years for student-athletes.
At BYU, Tom Holmoe and his administration are looking at all the possibilities. His mantra has always been to make it all about the athletes and ensure that they have a positive experience.
“When I first saw this, they mentioned Venmo handles. No one is ready for that, not even Congress,” Holmoe said.
Venmo is an online payment app where you can send money directly to people.
“I would say Twitter and Instagram and other social media sites would all be discussed,” Holmoe said. “This all falls under the umbrella of NLI, which for the most part is under discussion with the Supreme Court and the legislative branch of our government.”
Even 10 years ago, who would have imagined these kind of things being discussed?
Remember, it was just in 2016 that first-year Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall had players earn the right to wear a jersey. In an attempt to create a merit-based culture that rewards hard work, all his players were given regular sports T-shirts to wear over their pads until they earned the right to wear the actual Virginia football jersey.
Mendenhall got the idea after reading a book “Legacy” about the All Blacks rugby team in New Zealand — to hold up a standard for rewards so it isn’t taken for granted or viewed as something entitled.
Now, as trends grow, jerseys could become billboards like we see on NASCAR cars and PGA Tour players’ polo shirts and hats.