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On the first play from scrimmage, UCF quarterback @_dillongabriel completed a 5-yard pass to tight end @JakeHescock — and a new era of UCF football had begun.
I’m not just talking about the Gus Malzahn coaching era; I’m also talking about the name, image and likeness branding era.
That’s right, UCF’s players did not have their names on the backs of their jerseys during Saturday’s spring game, they had their Twitter handles.
Highlights and stars of the game:
@_dillongabriel: 17 of 22 for 191 yards and two TDs.
@RyanOKeefe23: Six catches for 83 yards and a TD.
@Humble_Johnny: Seven carries for 68 yards and two catches for 70 yards.
“We’ve been saying that the future of college football is right here (at UCF),” @CoachGusMalzahn said afterward. “… This is a new age of personal branding. We’re going to embrace it.”
Actually, UCF and all other college football programs don’t really have a choice. They can either embrace players monetizing themselves or those players will simply go elsewhere. This is the new world of college football, where it’s not just about representing your school; it’s about maximizing your brand.
Kudos to @CoachGusMalzahn and new athletics director @TerryMohajirAD for getting a jump on the competition and using an otherwise meaningless spring game to send a message to players and recruits that the Knights are looking out for their best interests. It is unclear whether UCF will continue the practice in the fall, but the simple act of putting individual Twitter handles on jerseys during the spring game made @CoachGusMalzahn a hero among his new team.
“Everybody was so excited when he did it,” @_dillongabriel said.
“Gus is big on building our brands and wants to help us set up the next part of our lives,” wide receiver @RyanOKeefe23 said.
Added linebacker @fvo56: “It shows that he cares about our lives after football.”
There was a mixed reaction among UCF fans on social media, but I’m guessing UCF’s younger fans loved it while the old-school fans probably hated it. Then again, it doesn’t really matter what we think because there’s no stopping the tidal wave of player monetization that is about to crash down upon on college football. And, quite frankly, when big-time institutions of higher earning like Auburn are wasting $21 million to buy out @CoachGusMalzahn and pay him not to coach, it’s hard to argue against players getting paid.
Even the Supreme Court is now taking shots at the NCAA. Several days ago, the high court heard arguments not on if athletes could profit from their name, image and likeness, but whether NCAA institutions can limit the education-related compensation for athletes. The NCAA defended its rules as necessary to preserve the amateur status of college sports, but Supreme Court justices, both conservative and liberal, were obviously sympathetic to the athletes who argued that schools should be able to offer them tens of thousands of dollars in education benefits for perks such as computers, graduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad and internships.
By the time the arguments were complete, the Supreme Court justices made their feelings on the NCAA clear. Justice Elena Kagan accused the schools of collusion and price fixing, saying, “Schools that are naturally competitors have all gotten together in an organization … to fix athletic salaries at extremely low levels.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh said, “Antitrust laws should not be a cover for exploitation of the student-athletes. It does seem schools are conspiring with competitors to pay no salaries for the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars.”
Of course, the Supreme Court’s arguments had nothing to do with name, image and likeness, but they do show how government officials are tired of the NCAA dragging its feet on allowing athletes to be compensated.
This is why the NCAA is scrambling to try to amend its rules to allow athletes to profit from their own fame. Several states have already passed such laws, including a Florida law that is scheduled to take effect July 1. This would allow star athletes such as UCF quarterback @_dillongabriel, one of the top returning QBs, in the country, to be compensated for personal appearances, autograph sessions, sponsorship deals and social media endorsements.
Which is why UCF and every other school in the country are in discussions to try and figure out how to help its athletes maximize their brand. The schools that figure it out first will have a huge recruiting advantage.
Former UCF coach Scott Frost, now at Nebraska, has been ahead of the game on this issue. The Cornhuskers announced a year ago that they were partnering with a company called Opendorse to help Nebraska athletes build and monetize their social media followings.
“We believe social media is at the core of this next frontier for player development,” Frost said then in a statement released by the school. “There’s an opportunity for our players that transcends compensation today. We as coaches and leaders can provide our student-athletes the tools to maximize their future value while they’re competing for the University of Nebraska.”
Frost’s message was clear: “Hey, all of you five-star recruits out there, if you sign with Nebraska we have somebody who is going to show you how to make more money than if you sign with Ohio State, Alabama or Oklahoma!!!”
UCF sent out a similar message to its recruits on Saturday. @CoachGusMalzahn wants current and future players to know he’s got their backs, not to mention the backs of their jerseys. He wants to continue to build UCF’s image as the young, cool school, speeding down the social media superhighway, passing up the stodgy old-school jalopies along the way.
“The new age of college football is here,” @CoachGusMalzahn says of his players branding themselves on Twitter and Instagram. “We have 322,000 living alumni with an average age of 36 and they’re all on Twitter. Some of these big schools, the average age of their alumni is 65 and they’re on Facebook.
@CoachGusMalzahn laughs and adds,
“My mom’s on Facebook!”
This column first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email me at email@example.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2