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CU Buffs adapting in evolving NIL era

Colorado AD Rick George: “We’re always gonna look at how we can be really good in this space”

BOULDER, CO - September 18, 2021: CU Athletic Director, Rick George, left, and new Pac-12 Commissioner, George Kliavkoff, at Folsom Field. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – September 18, 2021: CU Athletic Director, Rick George, left, and new Pac-12 Commissioner, George Kliavkoff, at Folsom Field. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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It was nearly a year ago, on June 30, 2021, that the NCAA approved a new policy allowing student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness (NIL).

College athletics hasn’t been the same since, as Colorado and other schools have continued to figure out how to navigate that new world.

“We’re always gonna look at how we can be really good in this space,” CU athletic director Rick George told BuffZone. “It’s evolving and there’s a lot going on across the country.”

From the moment the NCAA permitted NIL compensation, schools have operated with individual state guidelines, rather than a clear-cut national policy.

The NCAA has said NIL opportunities can’t be used as recruiting inducements, but that’s difficult to regulate and the NCAA doesn’t have the power to do much about it. Since last summer, there have been reports of some student-athletes receiving six- and seven-figure NIL deals and there are many who believe schools have used NIL deals to attract high school recruits or transfers.

“It’s not NIL as it was intended to be,” George said. “We certainly want student-athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness and they should, just like another student, but some of what we’re seeing now is outside of that realm, so it is concerning.”

University of Colorado Boulder Volleyball player Sterling Parker speaks to reporters during media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
Colorado volleyball player Sterling Parker attended an NIL summit in Atlanta this summer.

While George and other administrators around the country have their concerns, they also continue to strive to find the right balance between providing NIL opportunities and doing it properly.

“We’re going to do things that fit Colorado, and we’re going to do things that ensure that we’re abiding by the rules and we’re not tampering and we’re not inducing and getting booster involvement that isn’t done the right way,” George said.

“Let’s don’t be naive. I mean, we know that there’s tampering going on, we know that there’s inducements out there and we have got to begin enforcing that and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”

For now, George’s top priority is making sure CU is doing all it can for its student-athletes.

During the CU Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, George said 67 male student-athletes and 65 female student-athletes at CU “are participating in the NIL space.”

CU announced its “Buffs With a Brand” program on June 1, 2020 — 13 months before NIL came into effect — to help student-athletes learn about brand management, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

In January, CU partnered with INFLCR and launched its NIL exchange, which helps businesses partner with student-athletes. While CU can’t help facilitate NIL deals, the athletic department does make sure that companies using the exchange are in compliance with guidelines. George said about 70 different companies have used CU’s NIL exchange.

Looking forward, CU will continue to evaluate what it can do for its student-athletes in the NIL space.

“I think what we’re going to do now is we’re going to take a little bit of a deep breath, we’re gonna evaluate what we’ve done and then by the time we get to August and those student-athletes come back, we’ll make some changes that we think are best for that program,” George told BuffZone.

Earlier this month, INFLCR hosted an NIL Summit in Atlanta. Student-athletes from around the country met with executives and influencers to learn more about NIL and business opportunities. CU volleyball player Sterling Parker and alpine skier Bobby Ryan attended the summit.

“Both of them were excited about what that looks like and how they’re learning about creating businesses and business transactions in that,” George said. “Every student-athlete is different, and some really want to get into it heavy and some don’t. We’re just trying to make sure that we provide the opportunities that give them access to these transactions that help them monetize their name, image and likeness.”

The opportunities provided by CU could be changing.

Several schools have benefitted from collectives — basically, businesses formed by donors to generate revenue to be used to create and fund NIL opportunities. Some believe those collectives have led to tampering and inducements.

“I think a lot of people are hiding behind the NIL collectives as an opportunity,” George told the regents.

George is open to the idea of a collective, however, if it’s done properly.

“We do have a couple of collectives that haven’t really morphed yet,” he told the regents. “We also have some that want to come to us and talk about creating a collective and we’ll be in process of looking at what that looks like for our student-athletes, but we intend to be competitive. But, one thing that we’re not going to do is we’re not going to induce student-athletes to attend here, we’re not going to tamper with student-athletes and we’re not going to have boosters involved in the recruiting process and other areas.”

While CU continues to evolve with NIL, George said the athletic department won’t lose sight of its core values and the importance of what it offers to student-athletes in areas of nutrition, mental health, career development, etc.

“There’s one or two percent of student-athletes (around the country) that are participating in NIL at a level that’s a little bit different,” George said. “That’s about the same number that goes pro in a professional sport and we can’t lose sight of what we’re here to do.  That’s to make sure that we provide an incredible education for our student-athletes, that we set them up for life after college athletics or when their pro days end.

“We’re not going to put an eight-figure deal out there for a student-athlete. That’s not our focus. Our focus is to ensure that the 98% or the 99%, that we’re providing great programs, we’re providing them a great education and we’re giving them meaningful career opportunities so they can be successful in whatever community they live in once they leave here.”

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