116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Seth Wing saw no shortage of headlines about college athletes profiting off their names, images and likenesses starting July 1.
At Iowa, the NIL era literally started with a bang when men’s basketball player Jordan Bohannon signed autographs at Boomin Iowa Fireworks in Windsor Heights.
But a half-hour trip north from Iowa City on Iowa Highway 1 to the dark red bricks of Cornell College’s campus in Mount Vernon showed a far quieter start to the NIL era.
“I didn’t have anybody reach out,” said Wing, the athletics director at Division III Cornell College. “I didn’t have anybody that had a plan in place.”
Wing isn’t the only one, either.
On Division II and Division III campuses across Eastern Iowa, administrators are anticipating a far more subdued impact of NIL for their athletes.
“We don’t expect much,” said Rick Hartzell, the athletics director of Division II Upper Iowa University in Fayette. “We’re going to be prepared. … But we’ve had no activity or requests at this time.”
The lack of NIL requests “doesn’t surprise me at all,” Hartzell said. He’s not expecting the first one to come in the near future either.
“We’re a rural, northeast Iowa Division II school,” Hartzell said. “There’s a chance, but it’s doubtful.”
The lack of immediate activity at lower divisions also doesn’t surprise Mark Conrad, the director of Fordham University’s sports business program.
“It’s not going to be quick, and it’s not going to be a lot right away,” Conrad said.
Conrad said NIL deals are possible although not probable for most Division II or III athletes.
“I don’t think the majority of students in any of these programs will have deals, but some may,” Conrad said. “Maybe two or three. Maybe 5 percent.”
A Division III athlete who already has a large social media following, Conrad said for example, may have a better chance of profiting off their name, image and likeness.
But the athlete’s batting average or yards after the catch likely won’t be as important as at the Division I level.
“There is going to be some market — not big stuff, but some market out there — depending on the talents and interests of the students more than the sports they play or the program they’re in,” Conrad said.
When lower-division athletes start pursuing that market, Wing expects NIL ideas from Division I athletes will “trickle down” to them.
“Our athletes are smart,” Wing said. “They’re going to catch on. … The more these stories come out, light bulbs are going to start going off here.”
Even with ideas trickling down, programs like Wing’s have NIL obstacles that major Division I programs don’t have.
The relatively small population in the cities where Hartzell and Wing work have them not as optimistic for their athletes’ NIL potential.
Upper Iowa is in Fayette, which has a population of 1,113. Cornell’s home of Mount Vernon has 4,451 people, but that’s still a far cry from the 132,301 people in Cedar Rapids.
“Being in Mount Vernon and being more rural, we just aren’t going to have the huge amount of outreach for our athletes,” Wing said.
Different resources at different divisions
NIL will “certainly be an adventure” for the nine schools in the Cedar Rapids-headquartered American Rivers Conference, commissioner Chuck Yrigoyen said.
The Division II and III schools do not have the same resources to invest in NIL as a place like Iowa or Iowa State.
Wing said he doubts many Division III schools will develop the same infrastructure around NIL education and compliance that many Division I programs like Iowa have.
Iowa signed a five-year contract with INFLCR to create its “FLIGHT” program that educates athletes on profiting off their name, image and likeness.
That won’t be happening at Cornell.
Cornell will still work to “help these student-athletes execute this properly,” Wing said, albeit with fewer resources.
While many Power Five programs like Iowa have clearly articulated NIL policies in place, athletics departments like Hartzell’s and Wing’s don’t have formal policies in place.
Hartzell said Upper Iowa will clearly communicate what athletes are allowed to do when profiting off name, image and likeness and what the consequences may be.
That includes implications of the new NIL income on needs-based financial aid.
Wing said Cornell’s policy will be coming “sooner than later” to answer questions like whether a football player can use Cornell’s logo to promote his football camp.
“We’re not there yet, but we’ll be there,” Wing said. “It just takes some time for us to get there.”
As larger Division I schools lean on businesses like INFLCR or Opendorse to track these NIL deals, smaller programs are having to get more creative.
“Right now our schools are most concerned about how they’re going to track all of these things and make sure that rules aren’t being broken,” Yrigoyen said.
The July 1 start-date did not help matters for Division III schools like the members of the A-R-C, Yrigoyen said.
Along with a short turnaround — the NCAA finalized the decision one day earlier on June 30 — the start of the NIL era comes when most Division III athletes are not on campus.
“I understand why the NCAA did it,” Yrigoyen said. “It’s just that from an academic calendar standpoint, it would have been better for Sept. 1.”
Just like how athletes are expected to benefit from a “trickle down” of ideas from their Division I counterparts, Division III administrators are expecting the same thing.
The Midwest Conference, which Cornell belongs to, already sent the policies of larger athletics departments like the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin to its nine members.
“We’ll learn from them,” Wing said.
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