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‘It isn’t just about NIL’: How name, image and likeness courses at Gonzaga, WSU are about more than student athletics

UPDATED: Tue., March 1, 2022

Cha-chingcha-chingcha-ching

Rick Clark’s phone seemed to chime every few seconds with the sound of a cash register during a visit he made to Gonzaga University earlier this month. He talked over the noise, chatting with just over a dozen student-athletes on how he goes about his life as founder and executive director of the nonprofit Giving Back Packs and founder of the Spokane Quaranteam movement.

His phone was part of the presentation.

Earlier in the day, Clark published a few posts on the Quaranteam’s 33,700-strong Facebook page asking members to consider donating during the hour he’d spend at Gonzaga. The goal was to raise money for Second Harvest’s Bite 2 Go program, a cause picked by the students themselves.

He put out a similar challenge when visiting Gonzaga student-athletes last semester, raising $9,329 for meals at the House of Charity.

“Over 100 donations have already come in,” he said that night, his phone chiming as he spoke. “It’s actually slowing down a little bit now, but it was going crazy.”

The Quaranteam raised $13,211 during what proved to be a hands-on lesson in the power of influence.

The effective use of social media is among the topics taught in Gonzaga’s Personal Branding for Athletes elective, a course that was newly developed after the NCAA announced rules to allow student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness rights, also known as NIL rights, during their collegiate careers.

With the new licensing rules , Gonzaga and Washington State University are among schools that have made new courses to guide students through the regulations and help them make sound decisions in promoting their personal brands.

The courses are products of university programs dedicated to name, image and likeness issues. WSU’s Cougar Pursuit and Gonzaga’s Next Level program were both announced initiatives right as the new rules took effect in July.

Both schools have partnered with INFLCR (pronounced “influencer”), giving student-athletes access to an app used by more than 3,500 NCAA teams, according to the company, to help track reach and engagement across social media.

As star athletes like Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and WSU’s Max Borghi have famously taken advantage of opportunities since the licensing rules were changed, course administrators and students alike believe the classes have something for everybody, including nonathletes.

“I don’t think they have to be the starting quarterback on the football team to want to do this and to want to learn about it,” said Marie Mayes, director of WSU’s Center of Entrepreneurship. “Our goal is to use their interests in NIL opportunities to provide a transformational student experience much like we would a student who wants to create a venture or go into a business planning competition.”

‘It isn’t just about NIL’

WSU formed an NIL working group about a year before the NCAA’s rules changed, said Mayes, an associate professor at the Carson College of Business who has helped teach WSU’s name, image and likeness course since the summer.

The Carson College of Business partnered with WSU’s athletics department to have students enrolled for the inaugural course by July.

Mayes brings perspective beyond her business school skill set. Her husband, Rueben, is a former WSU football star running back who played seven years in the NFL. Their son, Logan, played two seasons of his own at WSU before finishing his football career at Cal Poly.

“For me, NIL is so exciting because it gives (student-athletes) the same opportunity that regular students had to pursue business ideas and to kind of bring their education together with something that’s practical for them – something they’re really interested in,” Mayes said, “and it gives them the opportunities that regular students had where they couldn’t in the past.”

Similarly at Gonzaga, marketing professor Peggy Sue Loroz came into teaching the university’s iteration of a name, image and likeness course with a background in college athletics as a former rower for the university team.

Though while the focus of the class is the immediate context with licensing rights, Loroz said everyone involved seems to understand the lessons are meant to help students beyond that scope.

“It isn’t just about NIL,” said Loroz, who serves as Gonzaga’s NCAA faculty athletics representative. “It’s about how you can leverage who you are for the rest of your life in terms of identifying opportunities, looking for jobs, creating your own business, engaging in the community and figuring out what you bring to the table that is valuable and what you can contribute.”

She and Ken Anderson, dean of Gonzaga’s School of Business Administration, collaborated to shape the fall curriculum while working with athletics on a “wish list” of what student-athletes might want from a course, she said.

At that point, the class was called Personal Branding and Business for Athletes. Thirty students were enrolled for the inaugural fall course compared to around 12 this spring. Enrollment levels at both Gonzaga and WSU were dictated by student schedules and the timing of sports seasons.

Gonzaga’s course dropped the “business” part of the name this spring to represent a renewed focus, as Loroz said instructors felt they may have tried to cram too much into a single one-credit course the first time around.

As such, the instructors this spring decided not to dive very much into topics like entrepreneurship, financial literacy, contracts and intellectual property law. It’s possible, she said, that those topics could be covered in another way down the road.

“It is landmark curriculum. There’s no textbook,” Loroz said. “This curriculum is still under development. We’re creating as we go. I think a lot of where we go will be dictated by how the NIL marketplace evolves.”

Finding ‘ikigai’

The Gonzaga class from earlier this month wasn’t done after students helped raise more than $13,000 for charity.

Ed Reese, Loroz’s co-instructor this semester, followed Clark’s presentation with a thought exercise on the principles of “ikigai,” a Japanese concept centered on self-purpose.

As part of the exercise, each student was tasked with completing a Venn diagram by categorizing their skills, hobbies and interests into four circles: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what can make you money. Theoretically, the correlation between all four circles could lead someone to finding their purpose in life.

Guest speakers and presentations have been normal in the Personal Branding for Athletes class, with guests often leaving their contact information to students for networking opportunities, Loroz said.

Along with Clark, visitors have included local artist and designer Jesse Pierpoint and Greg Bui, a retired Nike executive and a member of Gonzaga’s Board of Trustees. Loroz said the class used those guest appearances to tackle various personal branding topics, such as identifying values, how to articulate a compelling and authentic brand story and how to leverage that brand into something marketable.

“The hope is that students are there because they really see the value in it and they’re going to take from it what they put into it in terms of engaging with the content and really making it personal,” Loroz said. “I can tell you what a personal brand is, but if you don’t bother to consider how that applies to you, then we’re stuck at the definition of a personal brand.”

WSU’s class is more similar in scope, though not structure, to what the Gonzaga course may have looked like in the fall.

Whereas Gonzaga’s two-hour class took place weekly over eight weeks, WSU’s course was broken up into three 50-minute sessions per week over five weeks.

Mayes said guest speakers came in from across campus as well as through the WSU alumni network. A logo workshop, for instance, was led by David Janssen Jr., an assistant professor in the fine arts department. Representatives from Spokane law firm Lee & Hayes discussed intellectual property law. WSU alumna Nikki Torres, a reporter for KATU in Portland, talked about mental health impacts in using social media as a public figure.

“We really tried to make it as hands-on as possible and that students walked away having completed something,” Mayes said.

Topics covered by the WSU course included NIL legislative history, intellectual property personal branding, digital marketing, social media, corporate partnerships and brand alignment.

The summer course, broken into two sections, saw 41 students enrolled, Mayes said. Fall only saw seven students, while the nine enrolled in the spring class wrapped up their coursework earlier this month.

The smaller classes, Mayes said, have afforded “more rich dialogue” about real-world experiences, such as a creative hook or what might have gone wrong with a failed proposal. Faculty have managed to build relationships with the students to help them with their business endeavors, Mayes said.

WSU officials clarified university staff isn’t allowed to advise student athletes on specific deals. Rather, they’re allowed to give the students advice and knowledge to help them make informed decisions down the road.

“We felt like they’re really personal entrepreneurs, the way they’re approaching NIL,” Mayes said, “and so we wanted to equip them with just a few tools they could have in their toolbox to help them in this way.”

Something for everyone

Students coming into the class had varied levels of prior knowledge on NIL-related concepts, Mayes said.

For instance, cross-country runner Alaina Stone-Boggs said she really didn’t really have any expectations going into the class. She said she found out about it when she asked for help in getting the INFLCR app to work, at which point she was told to take the course.

“I honestly didn’t even think about my own brand statement or anything like that,” said Stone-Boggs, a sophomore. “It kind of forced me to think about one and make one. I kind of knew where my values were aligned, but it definitely made me specify that and hone in on a few sentences of what I want to do, who I want to be, who I want to work with.”

Stone-Boggs, who wants to go into the physical therapy field and own her own business someday, said her values and interests lie with fitness and nutrition.

She said the class helped her hone those ideals and opened her eyes to just what owning her own business could entail. Meanwhile, students also reviewed “things any other human being would have to work on,” she said, like taxes, finances and investments.

“I really enjoyed the class,” she said. “I wish it was longer.”

Her classmate, Washington State football kicker Dean Janikowski, has announced a few name, image likeness deals this year over social media. He’s now offering appearances through Cameo as well as video calls and kicking training sessions through FanBlitz.

Janikowski felt like he was “kind of ahead of the game from other people” given that his roommate was defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs. Hobbs was a fixture in the “#WeAreUnited” movement fighting to have the NCAA address certain concerns among student-athletes, including name, image and likeness rights.

“I was always poking at him asking him just questions about what NIL is and how we can use it and what the rules are,” said Janikowski, a sophomore. “He was super helpful for all of that.

“Marie, she kind of made me look dumb because she knew so much and I just felt like I didn’t know as much as I really did. It was really good for me because I was able to grow that much more.”

Janikowski feels “more professional” following the course, saying he has a better grasp on communicating with others in a professional setting, whether it’s messaging potential sponsors or composing a hook for a business proposal.

He said he appreciated the insight from the guest speakers – and the networking opportunities with their appearances.

“Honestly, this class has been my favorite class I’ve ever taken in the last three years,” Janikowski said. “I would just recommend that everyone takes this class for sure, no matter what your major is.”

Like Stone-Boggs, the only thing he wishes was that the class was a whole semester so students could’ve done even more.

While Janikowski has NFL aspirations, he wants to use his time at WSU to build a business based on electric transportation, whether it’s electric bikes, single-wheel electric boards or otherwise.

After all, as he put it, “football isn’t forever.”

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