NIL gives athletes a platform for change

A look at how men's cross country runner Christain Fitch capitalized on the opportunity to make a difference through NIL, and how the legislation is affecting international student athletes. Story by Jesse Dimich-Louvet

The 100 miles a week that Temple sophomore cross country runner Christain Fitch ran was not all that kept him busy this summer.  

Reaching out to Baleaf Sports in July for an NIL endorsement was all worth the extra effort, with his hometown of Pittsburgh benefiting as well.

Changes to the Name, Image and Likeness rules, most commonly referred to as (NIL), on July 1 allowed Fitch and athletes from all sports to profit from their name and likeness in a variety of ways. 

This change only applies to U.S. student-athletes, leaving out the international student-athletes at Temple that represent 13% of the overall total. According to Temple’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academic & Career Services Justin Miller,  Temple has 71 student-athletes hailing from 35 countries across the globe from Cyprus to Zimbabwe.

In the age of social media, NIL deals often consist of posting on platforms such as Instagram or Twitter used heavily by college-aged students. 

“It may be a few minutes a month or week as of now,” Fitch said. “It has also dropped recently because Baleaf has been extremely cognizant of the fact that we are all returning to the classroom and our respective teams.” 

Fitch recognizes that being a cross country athlete may make it harder to market his name. 

“I understand that niche sports like mine have fairly low marketability and opportunities to ‘cash in’ because, how much money is there really to be made in sports like mine?” Fitch explained. 

“Very few people tune in to watch a bunch of people run a 10k around fields,” Fitch added. “We don’t generate a lot of notoriety because our following is relatively small compared to the big sports like football andbasketball.” 

The legislation was barely a month old when on July 29 Fitch approached Baleaf Sports in what the sophomore called an “incredible opportunity.” This new activewear brand “caters to those who enjoy dabbling in fitness trends but don’t want to keep stockpiling gear for each activity they engage in,” according to their mission statement. 

Another plus of the company that appealed to Fitch was that most of Baleaf’s materials used recycled fabric. 

“This is an added bonus,” Fitch said on his Instagram. He had been wearing Baleaf products since they were founded in 2015,, and was excited to be a part of this young brand’s journey.  

For Fitch, giving back has always been at the forefront of his values, and with this deal has stayed true to his word. In his initial Instagram post on July 29, he explained to his followers that he will be “donating 75% of his NIL revenues to charities and foundations in an effort to give back to the communities that have helped me get this far in my journey.”

The Pittsburgh native further detailed his donation plan by giving 25% of his revenue to local groups that help provide holiday gifts to children who would otherwise receive nothing. The remaining 50% of the revenue he will be donating to two charities that he has not yet decided on but is researching potential charities. 

Fitch’s commission is based on the customer using the code Fitch10, giving the customer 10% off all Baleaf items. 

Although balancing between being a Division I athlete and school can be difficult, Fitch recognizes this unique opportunity to promote change that the NCAA has given him and the 183,000 other D-I athletes across the country. 

Fitch invites other student-athletes to follow his charitable lead. 

“I think it is our responsibility[as college athletes] to use this opportunity if you are in a position to do so. Be the difference,” Fitch said. 

International students are still waiting to capitalize on NIL

Unfortunately, not everyone can heed his call to action.  While the 160,000 American student-athletes can capitalize on NIL, their international teammates cannot. According to the NCAA database of the 2019-2020 season, there are 183,755 DI athletes across the country, with 20,000 coming from outside of the United States

However, international student-athletes face an entirely different set of rules.  According to Sports Illustrated,  NIL rules are not compatible with U.S. visa laws, which prohibits international students from working more than 20 hours per month.  This means that not a single international student-athlete across all schools and Divisions has a NIL deal. There has been no further legislation from either the NCAA or the state statutes. 

Aaron Tobin, a former member of the Temple men’s golf team and a current intern at Student-Athlete NIL and Fidelity Sports Group Providing NIL expertise, offered hope for international student-athletes in the near future. 

“Hopefully they get a national piece of legislation from the government, because the NCAA will not be of any help,” Tobin said. “This will be a large issue moving forward and something the NCAA and State statutes will want to clarify quickly.”

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