Nick Blassou, UCLA ’23
In the world of ever-changing college athletics, only one thing seems clear: change is imminent. Ever since June 30th, 2021, when the NCAA adopted an interim name, image, and likeness policy, college athletics have been rapidly evolving. Since the dawn of college athletics, colleges and universities have been profiting off of college athletes, and the product they’re able to put on the playing field (or court). However, now, more than ever, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty around the newly evolving NIL market. So, let’s take a step back.
The NCAA, founded in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt, emphasizes three main things: academics, fairness, and well-being. Academics are the main reason some elite high school athletes choose to go to college: to develop and compete as an athlete while receiving a world-class education. Fairness, or impartial and just treatment without discrimination, is one principle that is hard to quantify but is definitely under the microscope in the current climate. Finally, well-being, which some of the top leagues (such as the Patriot League) are beginning to dedicate entire weeks to, is especially vital in today’s post-Covid world. So why does any of this matter?
Name, image, and likeness deals are happening all across the country. However, they are focused more in the Power-5 conferences than anywhere else. Why? Because companies see the followings that these athletes have on social media and are drooling over the ability to easily advertise their product(s) or service(s) through a quick and easy Instagram post or tweet to reach thousands. There’s nothing wrong with that… or is there? While we are coming up on the two year anniversary of the NCAA’s passing of the interim policy, we have yet to see federal regulation passed on name, image, and likeness. As of the writing of this article, roughly 60% of U.S. states have passed state-wide legislation allowing athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness.
So, what’s the big deal? There are a few things. First of all, student-athletes can now transfer without sitting out. Now more than ever, we’re seeing student athletes transfer between schools because not only can they receive more scholarship money but they can receive more NIL money. We’re asking ourselves exactly what “NIL Money” means. In a world where the NCAA values fairness, it sure doesn’t seem fair that “NIL Money” can be used to swing athletes from one powerhouse school to another. This isn’t the only sticky situation, and there will be many more to come over the next decade we’re sure of it.
A few notable topics of concern: are student athletes considered employees of the colleges or universities they play for? Should student-athletes (and their coaches for that matter) be entitled to a revenue share of the profits that a school earns off of their sports? Are there Title IX concerns, given that some schools are hiring NIL Consulting firms like Altius Sports Partners to come in and facilitate brand deals and train student athletes on NIL deals, likely only with their highest revenue sports)?
This is where Holy Cross Class of 2020 graduate Chris Rinaldi decided it was time to make a change in his life to support a greater mission. Chris Rinaldi, who played baseball for Holy Cross from 2017-2020, was an All-Patriot League selection as a shortstop in 2018 and helped lead Holy Cross to a regional in 2017. After the pandemic cut his and his teammates’ senior year short, Rinaldi headed down to the University of Richmond to pursue his MBA. “I always had an interest in business, and when COVID cut our senior year short I knew that I had to take advantage of the opportunity to play another year and get a head start on my MBA.” After playing all over the infield for the Spiders in 2021, Rinaldi returned to New Jersey where he began his career with Ernst and Young as a tax consultant. After re-enrolling in his MBA program in August of 2022 and after nearly two years at E&Y, Rinaldi felt compelled to make a change.
“I had spent my entire life wrapped up in sports and to no longer be involved was really starting to eat at me. I decided to resign from my job and reach out to my brother’s friend Patrick Johnson who I knew had started a company in the NIL space to see what he was up to.” After talking with Patrick, a BC graduate, Chris made the decision to start his career in sports with Vantage Sports. “I decided to work at Vantage Sports because of their mission: to democratize access to top quality training while creating income opportunities for all college athletes. After playing at Holy Cross and Richmond and just missing out on this opportunity I felt like I needed to do something to help college athletes in similar positions to me. Every student-athlete works extremely hard and I want to be part of the change that helps them start to be rewarded for all of their efforts.”
Vantage Sports is a marketplace where aspiring youth student-athletes are able to connect with current and former high-caliber college athletes. The platform allows college athletes to train youth athletes 1-on-1, in small groups, or at clinics. There is also opportunity for film and virtual instruction, or general 1-on-1 advice through Zoom and Google Meet.
Vantage Sports offers access to top-notch coaching at a fraction of the cost seen at private clubs, camps, or other training services while supporting hard-working student athletes who have just recently been offered the opportunity to make money off their status as a college athlete. Athletes from across the country are now working with Vantage Sports. They have especially popular markets in Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, and are working to establish markets in other states where NIL legislation has been passed to help support hard-working student-athletes. Athletes on the platform include athletes from Power-5 Division 1 conferences to Division 3 schools.
“I am excited, as I think Vantage Sports is well-positioned in a market that is bound to change, and change often,” Chris said. It will be interesting to see what happens with college athletics and the directions things head, but it is nice to see Crusaders looking to make a positive impact in a world full of change.
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