The NCAA is moving forward with its plans to allow student-athletes to profit off their own names and needless to say, it’s a pretty giant step for the organization. While the idea may have been primarily aimed at football and basketball players, I wondered what the impact would be for college hockey.
When Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau was in his final year at Boston College, for example, his parents began noticing illicit ‘Johnny Hockey’ T-shirts being sold by folks trying to make a quick buck off the dazzling winger’s fame. That led to Gaudreau trademarking the nickname after he left for the NHL, but he wouldn’t have been allowed to profit off any merchandise while he was in college anyway.
Lewis Gross became Gaudreau’s agent once he turned pro and he certainly could have seen opportunities for his client back then, had it been allowed.
“Johnny, in my opinion, was the top player in college hockey both his sophomore and junior years,” Gross said. “There would have been a market for him to get endorsements.”
Having said that, Gross did not believe the opportunities will be abundant across the board, though he does think it’s a positive development overall.
Fellow agent Steve Bartlett, whose NHL clients include Colorado Avalanche super-rookie Cale Makar, echoed that sentiment.
“Obviously there’s a different level in football and basketball because of the footprint of those sports,” Bartlett said. “Unless a Connor McDavid clone ends up in the NCAA, the dollars will be relatively modest. I don’t think it will drastically alter someone’s lifestyle. It’s just a little bit of icing on the cake.”
Where Bartlett sees opportunities are in fields such as hockey cards or equipment, though for the latter, there will be questions about team deals. In the AHL, for example, players have to use CCM sticks and gloves (among other pieces of gear) unless the exception is written into their contract. Could players opt out of similar deals with their NCAA schools? It’s a question that must be considered. It’s also important to note that as of now, the players will only be allowed to profit off their own image – they can’t use their school or conference logo in the process.
Perhaps the most pertinent—but least sexy—question surrounding the new NCAA rules surrounds agents themselves. As of now, student-athletes cannot have agents, they can only have “family advisors.” Now, these can often become the same people, but there are strict rules about what a family advisor can and cannot do for a player, many of which involve money.
But if NCAA hockey players will be allowed to enter into business deals with major corporations, they certainly cannot be expected to do so on their own. And who better to aid them than agents, many of whom are lawyers or financial experts? This is only common sense and some in the industry (separate from those quoted in this story) believe that wall will come down soon.
The Board of Governors has given the OK for the current third-party endorsement changes and by January, the three divisions of college athletics are expected to adapt the rules in time for the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
While it may be bigger news for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team or Kentucky Wildcats basketball, the new rules at least give some more freedom to future NCAA hockey players. And maybe a little more walking-around money for the top guys.
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