‘It’s a whole new world’

Jul. 2—STORRS — UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma joked that the last he heard, Paige Bueckers was “trying to borrow money to go grab something to eat.”

So, Bueckers, the National Player of the Year as a freshman last season, isn’t rich just yet from newly enacted rules that for the first time allow NCAA athletes to benefit from their names, image and likeness (NIL) — what Auriemma referred to in an in-person interview session Thursday as “a whole new world.”

Nor does Auriemma believe that monetizing the athletes’ images will result in their amassing fortunes.

“People are under this perception that July 1, NIL goes in and now all the kids do is sit around their apartment and people just come in and give them checks,” Auriemma said.

The NCAA’s NIL policy for Divisions I, II and III went into effect Thursday.

It allows athletes to profit from endorsements on their social media accounts — Bueckers, for instance, has 829,000 Instagram followers and a significant number on Twitter and TikTok as well — from signing autographs and from working at summer camps, while also allowing them to sign with professional agents to help them navigate the process.

UConn’s Board of Trustees enacted a policy Wednesday that would allow athletes those same privileges beginning July 12, while Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill into law later the same day that allows all college athletes in the state to profit beginning in September.

UConn’s policy necessitates that athletes disclose to the university any dealings they have with a sports agent and any endorsements. Athletes may not use the school’s name or branding in any endorsements. UConn staff members and athletic boosters are prohibited from facilitating such compensation opportunities.

In some ways it’s complex, Auriemma said.

“The State of Connecticut just signed a law yesterday. The university has a policy,” Auriemma said. “And the NCAA has a policy. If we had one set of rules it would make our life easier for sure, but right now we’ve got too many things to have to navigate.”

Among the complexities, he argues, is that 18- and 19-year-olds are not equipped to hire agents. In addition, he said, it will be impossible to keep the endorsement deals out of team dynamics, perhaps creating jealousy among teammates in certain scenarios.

“Now, you’re asking 18-year-olds, ‘Do you understand there’s no demand for you and there’s a lot of demand for her, or these three and none for you?’ I don’t see how you can keep in out of the locker room,” Auriemma said.

“It’s just another thing you’ve got to talk to them about. It’s another thing you’ve got to be diligent about. It’s a shame that they’re 18 years old, 19 years old and they have to pick an agent. That just doesn’t sound right. It’s just the world that they live in.”

Auriemma said there was a general announcement to team members that before they sign anything, they should run it by the coaching staff or the compliance department to ensure it doesn’t affect their eligibility. He said there will be an outside company that meets with the teams at UConn to go over what they’re allowed to do under NCAA and university guidelines.

In other ways it’s simple. Auriemma said that throughout his tenure at UConn, he’s had players that have had part-time jobs to earn extra money. This is akin to a part-time job, he said.

Meanwhile, the prime concern is still basketball.

“I asked Paige the other day, ‘You know how long this is going to last, right?’ She goes, ‘Yeah.’ ‘You know what makes this go away?’ ‘Yeah, if I suck.’ I said, ‘Correct,'” Auriemma said. “So the No. 1 thing is still you better be good at basketball or none of these opportunities come along.”

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