CrossFit Games

NCAA Rule Change Opens Door for Teenage Athletes to Monetize Their Brand

July 18, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Athletes Eye Photography
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A while back, you probably heard a lot of news about big-time college athletes wanting to monetize their name, image end likeness just like universities have been doing for deuces. After all, it kind of is their name, image, and…likeness. 

Remind me: After pressure mounted, on October 29, 2019, the NCAA finally caved and agreed to allow players to start cashing in. That ruling finally went into effect July 1, and with it a whole host of college athletes immediately signed sponsorships deals worth millions. 

  • Most notable is Hercy Miller (son of rapper Master P) who signed a $2 million, four-year brand ambassador deal with Web Apps America. Miller will be a freshman this upcoming basketball season for Tennessee State University. He is currently the highest paid NCAA athlete.
  • LSU freshman gymnast Olivia Dunne is widely expected to surpass Miller and become the highest paid athlete. The day the NIL was announced, she was in New York City meeting with potential brands while her likeness was on display in Times Square. With a large following on social media with over 5 million across Instagram and Tik Tok combined, she has endorsement deals on the horizon that will rival those of full-time professional athletes.

Why it matters: Previously, athletes could lose their college eligibility if they received any monetary compensation or opportunities while competing as a NCAA athlete. In the case of CrossFit and their burgeoning teenage division, athletes couldn’t take any prize money or endorsements without losing their eligibility to play college sports.

  • The teen division is the only division at CrossFit Games that has no prize purse.
  • Under the NCAA’s new NIL ruling, athletes who are enrolled and competing in collegiate athletics at a NCAA institution can receive compensation from potential sponsors.
  • The NIL rule essentially gets rid of the term “amateur” within the NCAA. The dividing line from “professional” athletes and “amatuer” athletes has been the ability to receive compensation for their achievements on the playing field.
  • Teen athletes in the sport of CrossFit have in the past fallen under the “amateur” category due to the majority of them not accepting or receiving compensation or endorsements for their exploits in the sport.

One big thing: This season, prior to the NCAA NIL being announced, a number of teen athletes sponsors. While this is fair game, prior to NIL, it would have eliminated them from competing at the NCAA and went professional.

  • 17-year-old Mallory O’Brien recently became the youngest NOBULL athlete on their star-studded roster.
  • 17-year-old Emma Cary signed deals with JUNK, ESC and 2POOD as well as earned prize money from the Dubai Online Competition, the Open and the Semifinals. 
  • 16-year-old Emma Lawson signed with WIT, NOVA3 Labs, ESC, TYDAX and many more.
  • According to Lawson’s agent Snorri Baron, the NIL has not had an effect on athletes yet, stating, “most of the sponsors in CrossFit are focused on CrossFit and are looking at athletes within the sport specifically.”
  • Cooper Marsh, agent to Cary, had another take on the NIL, “it’ll allow teen athletes transitioning into college to play collegiate sports and still accept endorsements within the CrossFit realm to monetize their platforms. Essentially allowing them to double-dip. Build a platform through CrossFit and their college sport and accept endorsements from either side, without losing NCAA eligibility.”
  • Though there haven’t been many instances of former teen athletes moving onto NCAA sports, Adison Balderston competed at the 2016 Games in the 16-17 girls division while receiving scholarship offers to play softball, finally settling on Kansas University.

The bottom line:  The NIL announcement sent shockwaves through the sports world, but how it affects the sport of CrossFit is yet to be determined. With teen athletes seeking and receiving sponsorship deals and endorsements, the question is if CrossFit will continue to treat these teen athletes as amateurs and offer no prize purse for competing at the Games.

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