NIL is official: Several Wildcats ink marketing deals

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Posted at 5:23 PM, Jul 01, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Compliance office staff members inside the University of Kentucky athletics center will be busy rewriting some of the rules. What was not allowed yesterday, is permissible today.

Beginning Thursday, college athletes will be allowed to market and sell their name, image, and likeness while maintaining their amateur status. UK sophomore Dontaie Allen wasted no time in pouncing on this opportunity, announcing Thursday his partnership with “The Players Trunk,” which is already selling shirts and hoodie sweatshirts with Allen’s name and image emblazoned on the front. Other men’s basketball players are using “Cameo” to earn money for their time.

“It’s kind of like flying the airplane while it’s still being built,” said Tony Neely, an Assistant Athletics Director, of the learning curve everyone is experiencing with the new legislation.

Neely said the department is asking student-athletes to provide seven days notice of their desire to sign a deal with a marketing company.

“That’s so we can make sure it fits in the parameters of what’s allowed,” Neely offered, before saying that the decision ultimately lies with the student-athlete and his/her family and any representative they may be working with to help memorialize an NIL usage deal. And under no circumstance can a marketing deal be a part of any recruiting pitch made to a prospective student-athlete.

“…If a business, or individual wants to approach a student-athlete we are not allowed to do that on their behalf. They have to approach that student-athlete directly,” Neely explained.

This new way of doing business could, for example, make a second, or third year of college basketball more palatable to a player who may not be a surefire NBA lottery pick, or ever first-round selection. That player could make a few bucks while playing in Lexington (or anywhere else) while working on his game to improve his draft stock.

“There’s a lot of speculation how it might impact a player coming here for one year, or staying multiple years,” said former Wildcat Jeff Sheppard.

Sheppard was a member of two NCAA championship teams with UK (1996 & 1998) while reaching three consecutive championship games. Jeff is happy for the student-athletes, and for many of his contemporaries who fought for this ruling (see: Ed O’Bannon - UCLA). But he also wonders if college sports will lose a part of its soul because of this new landmark decision, which came from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“My desire,” Sheppard said, “is that both can co-exist; that the athletes can benefit, but it doesn’t pull away from the amateur purity that still exists,” he continued.

Sheppard is likely to get a first-hand look at whether or not this can co-exist. His son is a terrific player in Laurel County, who’s likely to have these kinds of marketing opportunities once he lands on the college campus of his choosing. Jeff didn’t seem too unhappy about not having NIL available when he played here, but it’s only natural to wonder.

“I’m sure there would’ve been some unique opportunities. In the 90s we were winning a lot of ball games, winning championships, so I’m sure some businesses or fans and events would’ve enjoyed having the players there,” he said, before noting that he and his teammates did a lot of those things anyway, without being paid.

College sports changed today. Forever. And now yesterday’s rules no longer apply. Those NCAA compliance people have their work cut out!