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UW wants to educate Badgers athletes on NIL, not oversee contracts; some proposed deals raise questions
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UW wants to educate Badgers athletes on NIL, not oversee contracts; some proposed deals raise questions

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Two weeks into college athletics' new era of player marketing rights, the University of Wisconsin hasn't flagged any deals that run afoul of NCAA rules.

Some potential name, image and likeness contracts on which Badgers players have sought guidance, however, didn't stand up to the UW athletic department's temporary policy.

UW has reviewed 33 NIL deals that were submitted for disclosure under the athletic department's guidelines for player marketing since July 1, senior associate athletic director Justin Doherty said Thursday. None was determined to be against NCAA regulations, he said.

Badgers players have introduced personal brands and endorsed companies since the start of the month, when such arrangements became permissible under NCAA rules. The national organization put the onus on schools to define NIL policy at a local level; UW unveiled a temporary set of rules the same day.

UW has taken an educational approach toward players seeking out and signing contracts to capitalize on their right of publicity but added an oversight component. The NCAA has general guidelines — agreements can't be tied to a player attending a certain school and can't be rewards for athletic performance — and UW has more specific ones.

Using UW photos and facilities have been among the potential conflicts with the school's regulations, Doherty said. Badgers players are allowed to identify themselves as such in marketing deals but any use of a UW logo or trademark has to be licensed.

UW players can share game photos that they're provided for free by the school on social media as part of personal brand-building but they can't use them as part of NIL arrangements, Doherty said. Athletic department venues also are off-limits for NIL activities.

Barstool deals in question

UW's policy also prohibits sponsorships that promote gambling and sports wagering. The compliance department at American International College in Massachusetts judged deals with Barstool Sports to be in violation of its policy because the sports-focused digital media company is connected to a sportsbook.

Barstool deals are permitted at UW, Doherty said, as long as they don't expressly involve gambling promotion. At least nine Badgers players have been announced as a Barstool Athlete by one of the company's Twitter accounts. UW female athlete of the year Daryl Watts of the women's hockey team and rower Eden Rane, a student member of the UW Athletic Board, are among them.

The difference in opinion between schools highlights the gray area involved in the early days of NIL arrangements. Wisconsin is among the states not governed by an NIL law. Federal legislation that the NCAA sought to provide a level playing field has stalled.

"Without a universal, national set of standards you're going to have what we have right now, which is school to school, state to state differences in policies, differences in laws, interpretations of those policies and laws," Doherty said.

Focus on education

Athletic department officials are prohibited by both NCAA and UW regulations from becoming involved in the recruitment for or execution of NIL contracts. So they're hands-off with everything except education, guidance and the confirmation that deals fit into national and local rules.

Players that are on campus this summer have met as groups with athletics officials for presentations and question-and-answer sessions on the UW policy. Virtual sessions have been organized for others, Doherty said.

In June, UW started a one-year deal with sports tech company Opendorse costing $45,000 that provides athletes with education and tools to find their social platform. Included is an individual assessment of a player's brand value.

When specific contract or tax questions are brought to UW athletic officials, that's when they recommend the player consult with a lawyer or accountant.

"Our mission is to support and elevate the lives of the student-athletes," Doherty said. "So we're trying to take that approach to it as opposed to just being a 'no' and you're off on your own type of thing."

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