As the University of Texas at San Antonio secured a thrilling victory over the University of Alabama-Birmingham and fans streamed onto the Alamodome field, Mayor Ron Nirenberg was spotted wearing the official merchandise of UTSA running back Sincere McCormick.
The same shirt — displaying the words “Run 3MC” in the same lettering as the logo for 1980s hiphop group Run DMC — was soon after sported by one of the hosts on the Rich Eisen Show, a national sports talk show.
It’s a novel sight. Not only because UTSA’s football team has a newfound national profile, but also because college athletes have never before been able to make money off their fame without running afoul of NCAA rules.
New NCAA rules took effect over the summer that allow student athletes to receive compensation for use of their name, image or likeness — so-called NIL deals. The changes took place amid a growing number of state laws, including legislation in Texas, and opened the floodgates for student athletes to profit by promoting brands, making appearances, or simply signing memorabilia.
The new rules come at a time when UTSA’s Roadrunners football team, in just its 11th season as a program, briefly rose to the AP Top 25 college football rankings as it won its first 11 games, and will soon join the American Athletic Conference, a step up from its current league, Conference USA.
UTSA’s success on the football field couldn’t have come at a better time for players who are newly free to capitalize on their fame.
That said, if success translates to more deals, the effect so far has been muted.
Steve Lautz, an associate athletic director at UTSA who handles disclosure forms for NIL deals, said there hasn’t been a “drastic surge that some people might expect from the success we’ve had on the field.”
“Maybe it’s a little surprising,” he said, but the highest profile athletes have already gotten deals.
Case in point: McCormick, who has set a handful of school records this season, already has around 10. Among them is a deal with 7 to 7 Dental and Orthodontics, for which he’s paid $1,000 a month to promote them on his social media accounts. He was also recently featured in a video spot for the Red McCombs Ford West dealership along with safety Rashad Wisdom.
McCormick said that amid the team’s historic season, he’s been getting offers “here and there,” but he’s batted away many because they don’t fit into his busy schedule juggling classes, practices and games. “Some companies will have you do a lot for a little. And as a player, you don’t have time.”
To help its athletes benefit from the new rules and adhere to the NCAA rules, UTSA created an in-house education program called “Runners Go Bold,” teaching players how to navigate the new space, cultivate a personal brand, and develop financial literacy. It draws on experts pulled from its business school.
Under the NCAA’s new rule, players can’t receive payment from their schools in exchange for using their name, image or likeness, and there are other restrictions as well.
McCormick said the money he gets from his deals have been a welcome relief to him and his family. Previously, he’d worked during the school year at a moving company, and also at Walmart.
He said the money he’s made from them largely goes to his mother and his 1-year-old daughter. He recently bought her some Jordan brand shoes, a Mercedes toy car, and threw her a Minnie Mouse-themed birthday party.
“She’s a little spoiled right now,” he said jokingly.
McCormick’s teammates have landed their own paying endorsement gigs, including quarterback Frank Harris’ deal with UTSA Roadrunners podcast Alamodome Audible, and defensive lineman Lorenzo Dantzler’s deal with personal computer-building service Artesian Builds. Fritz Kennel, a Houston-based daycare for dogs and cats, pays running back Brenden Brady and other players to post pictures of their dogs on social media.
The compensation provided in NIL deals is nowhere near the scale of endorsements signed by players in the NFL or NBA.
“Not even close,” said Jonathan Pixley, an executive at MatchPoint, a consulting firm that matches influencers with businesses. “The biggest fallacy we saw coming into this was everybody thought they were going to make $100,000.”
Most athletes, he said, will have deals in the hundreds of dollars, with a few in the low thousands.
At UTSA, most NIL deals don’t even involve cash. Lautz, the UTSA athletic director who sees every accepted NIL deal, said most signed with the school’s athletes have terms that promise compensation in the form of products and merchandise, like a T-shirt or a coupon, rather than cash.
The school’s athletes have about 70 deals in total, Lautz said. Football players have more deals than the school’s athletes in soccer, golf and other sports.
But whether UTSA’s success going forward spells more deals, or bigger deals, remains anyone’s guess.
“To even speculate where it’s going is foolish,” Pixley said. The NCAA is already in the process of amending their constitution to address “loose ends” in how NIL deals are regulated.