In November 2014, a Bloomington bar came up with an idea that was very fun, but also very out of bounds.
A Tim Priller T-shirt promotion.
Priller Mania had swept through Bloomington after the awkward, but well-intentioned IU freshman forward debuted with one basket, two rebounds, one steal and one block in that season’s opener against Mississippi Valley State. He was the program’s newest Human Victory Cigar, an instant fan favorite well on his way toward attracting a cult following. And as Priller’s whimsical legend began to grow, one of the go-to student bars in town was eager to get in on the bit.
So the bar stamped Priller’s name all over a giveaway and tweeted out pictures of a shirt emblazoned with Priller’s name, number and the phrase “Priller Time” on the front and back, prompting longtime IU basketball sports information director J.D. Campbell to tell reporters, “That is something we would not authorize or allow in any way, shape or form.”
Because, of course. NCAA rules being what they are, profiting off an athlete’s name, image and/or likeness is an infraction on par with first-degree murder. You just can’t do it.
Until now — errrr, well, soon.
Name, image, and likeness reforms for college athletes are coming, they’re just not here quite yet. Even so, Indiana is positioning its athletes to be ready when the time comes. The school announced Wednesday that it has entered a three-year partnership agreement with Opendorse Ready, a marketing company that works with athletes to both extend their reach and leverage their personal brands on social media.
In March, Nebraska entered into a similar agreement with Opendorse, which was founded by a pair of former Husker football players. According to The Athletic, Opendorse’s agreement with Nebraska includes valuations of athletes’ brands, group education and workshops.
“The NIL rights movement opens the door for Indiana Athletics to provide the students in our program with life skills that will prove valuable well beyond their time on campus,” IU athletic director Scott Dolson said in a statement. “When these changes come, we have to be prepared to educate and assist our student-athletes with the best possible resources.”
I don’t really see how this partnership will equip athletes with actual “life skills,” as Dolson mentions in his statement. That feels like a stretch. But the important thing here is that training and education is good for everybody — and understanding brand equity will be a crucial component on the road ahead. Similarly, athletes should be educated on partnerships and how to avoid risky ones. That’s not only going to be important for athletes. The university, particularly the athletic department, will need to protect itself, too. As much as Priller Time was a fun idea, it may not have been the best use of a 19-year-old’s name.
With new NIL rules expected to be in place by the 2021-22 academic year, schools are finally beginning to adopt forward-thinking approaches toward allowing players to profit. It’s past time, but we can give IU some credit here: the athletic department sees what’s on the horizon and they’re willing to embrace it. At the very least, announcing this partnership now serves as an arrow in IU’s recruiting quiver. That’s good, too.
It might be too late for former Hoosiers like Priller to cash in, but a new wave of IU athletes will soon have the tools to do so.