U-M gymnastics stars Natalie Wojcik (left) and Sierra Brooks (right) pose with a young fan at a meet-and-greet and autograph-signing event staged by the Michigan merch shop The M Den. Their success in leading the Wolverines to the 2021 national championship is paying off in endorsements and paid appearances. // Photograph curtesy of the M Den
Free time is a foreign concept for University of Michigan superstar gymnast Sierra Brooks. Between class, weight lifting, homework, exams, and practice, there’s little left over. Since July, though, she’s made time for frequent Zoom meetings with company reps, updating her social media to endorse skincare products, and popping in at U-M retailer The M Den for paid autograph gigs.
June is when the NCAA — forced by a landmark 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling — announced that college athletes could, for the first time in college sports history, make money from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). In other words, they can profit from endorsement deals.
“It adds more to my plate, but it’s cool to have a source of income,” says Brooks, a junior who led the Wolverines to the 2021 national championship. “I’m already super busy, so my first priority is not to get NIL deals. But it opens doors — you’re able to make money, meet the people behind the companies, and network.”
This radical sea change in a once-amateur system that prohibited any real compensation is rife with both possibilities and perils. Some student-athletes are being offered a wide range of opportunities; others none at all. Some believe this will de-emphasize the importance of getting an education and keeping up studies; others believe it may keep students in school longer, since before the ruling, star players would often leave early to make money in the pro leagues. Some worry that elite student-athletes will gravitate to the schools with national appeal to maximize their NIL endorsement deal potential; that would be just fine for U-M fans given the Ann Arbor school’s international popularity.
Already, the landscape is shifting. Hundreds of student-athletes at U-M and Michigan State University — the two Big-Ten colleges in the state — have inked NIL agreements that include some six-figure deals. Five U-M Michigan football players, for instance, signed with Yoke Gaming to play video games with paying subscribers. MSU basketball stars Gabe Brown and Malik Hall, meanwhile, appear at the Pro Sports Zone in Livonia to sign autographs for …….