Since July 1, college athletes have had opportunities available to them that they never had before.
NCAA athletes are now able to receive benefits for their name, image and likeness, giving them the opportunity to make money while they are still playing college sports through avenues like endorsement deals, autograph signings and event appearances. For athletes like Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford, who was raised by a single mother and didn’t have much growing up in Cincinnati, it’s a long-awaited chance to be able to profit from their fame on the field of play and make some money for themselves and their families.
“It’s a nice relief to have cash in our pockets, but also at the same time, for people like myself or people that came from nothing, it’s a great opportunity to actually have money in our pockets to actually give back to our families,” Munford said Friday at Big Ten Media Days.
Munford said he has already lined up multiple NIL deals, including one with his girlfriend’s uncle’s car dealership, which enabled him to get a new car. Making money immediately isn’t his top priority right now, though.
After all, Munford could have entered the 2021 NFL draft if getting paid was his top priority. But he opted to stay at Ohio State for one more year so he could fulfill his promise to his mother that he would get his college degree. So Munford knows he needs to stay focused on his academics to set himself up for his future after football, in which he wants to be an athletic director. And as he prepares for Ohio State’s 2021 season, in which his goal is to be the best offensive tackle in the country and become the top offensive tackle in the 2022 NFL draft, he knows it’s important to stay focused on football – and he believes it’s his responsibility as a team leader to make sure his teammates do, too.
“It’s new. We’re all trying to get used to it, of course. It’s like dang, we actually like having opportunity to get a new car or actually get money for our name,” Munford said. “But it also depends on the leaders as well. Like all right, the NIL stuff is off to the side, focus on the team now. You always gotta focus on the team first before yourself.”
Ohio State’s other two Big Ten Media Days representatives, tight end Jeremy Ruckert and defensive end Zach Harrison, both said they’re taking a patient approach to name, image and likeness benefits. Harrison said he has multiple NIL deals in the works, but he’s not rushing into anything, believing it’s important to make sure any agreements he makes are in his best interests.
“I am excited about it, but it’s something that you don’t just want to jump into without having all your things aligned, your things in order,” Harrison said. “You don’t just want to run into things, because that’s how you get in trouble. That’s how you get caught up. So I want to make sure I have all the information that I need and I have all the people who I need to support me to be able to make those decisions before I really get into anything big.”
Ruckert said that while he will consider any opportunities that he believes could benefit him, he doesn’t want to do anything that will get in the way of him finishing his Ohio State football career strong.
“For us older guys, it’s our last year, so I don’t want to be distracted by any of that,” Ruckert said. “Obviously if something positive comes my way, I’m gonna take a look at it, have some people I know look at it and hopefully some opportunities come in that aspect. But we’re a couple weeks out from camp, I haven’t really thought too much about it.
“Ohio State’s done a great job of educating us on how to read contracts, how to deal with taxes and stuff like that, so there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it, and I’m not really sure I want to just go full-steam into it when we have this big season coming up. It’s my last year, so I’m chasing the bigger check.”
Ryan Day doesn’t believe name, image and likeness will be a major distraction for his players. Since many NIL deals have been for players to promote products through social media, Day doesn’t expect them to be a big time commitment for his players, though he is making it clear to the Buckeyes that they need to keep their priorities in line.
“I don’t foresee it being too much of an issue in terms of time management,” Day said. “But if the academics and the football aren’t in order, then these opportunities aren’t gonna be there. So that’s gotta be the focus. And certainly, it can’t take away from academics or football. And that’ll be made clear.”
“It’s my last year, so I’m chasing the bigger check.”– Jeremy Ruckert on staying focused on football
Asked specifically about the name, image and likeness opportunities that could be available to whoever Ohio State’s starting quarterback ends up being, Day said he thinks they need to keep their focus on continuing to develop – and that their opportunities to profit will come if they take care of business on the field and in the classroom.
“I think that stuff will happen naturally, and I think the focus for all those guys just has to be development. If they're worried about starting, if they're worried about money, then they're worried about the wrong things,” Day said.
As members of one of the most popular college sports teams in the country, Day believes Ohio State football players stand to benefit from NIL opportunities as much as anyone. He’s happy for the Buckeyes to have those opportunities, and it’s certainly something Ohio State will use in its recruiting pitches.
“When you combine the brand of Ohio State football, you combine the city of Columbus with our social media presence, it's like the perfect alignment,” Day said. “So the opportunity for our guys is going to be unlike anywhere else in the country.”
Coaches and staff members are not allowed to have any involvement in their athletes’ name, image and likeness opportunities, so Day’s influence on what his players will ultimately do on that front is limited. He is hopeful, though, that there will be opportunities for all Ohio State football players – not just the most high-profile players on the team.
“I do think that we need to consider, down the road, somewhere along the line, maybe it's a year from now, figuring out how we spread some of that money out. Because certainly the quarterback at Ohio State is going to have unbelievable opportunity; the wide receiver, the running back, there's going to be certain positions,” Day said. “However, how do we find ways to make sure we disseminate that throughout the team? Because there's a lot of guys out there who are also playing football. There's guys who are blocking for the quarterback, there's guys who are covering the wide receivers. And while it's tricky and I don't really have quite the answer, I know that there's got to be some sort of formula down the road that we can consider.”