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Peak Perspective: College Athletics Forever Changed

New San Jose State athletic director Jeff Konya’s big bold moves and a first of its kind initiative (7 min. read)

SJSU Nick Starkel NFT (non-fungible token) image concept: Adobe Stock, One Spartan Nation, Vic Aquino

When San Jose State president Mary Papazian announced new athletic director Jeff Konya’s arrival this past June, it was the usual pomp and circumstance welcome, but that’s where the typicalness ended.

Konya was hired to not just bolster the Spartan sports portfolio, but to rebuild and uphold some lost institutional integrity from a sexual misconduct scandal against San Jose State athletes that started 10 years ago.

Konya has also been quick to make known his plan-of-action and the driving philosophies to implement and execute a grand holistic vision.

“Having been here for about 60 days, the reality matches my perception from when I initially took the job,” said Konya. “And by that, I mean I believe that there was a lot of potential on the foundations that was built here, but what I’ve been most surprised about are the student-athletes themselves.”

A law doctorate with a degree in politics, Konya’s 20+ year career in college athletics administration means expectations are very high.

“Ultimately, it is about the student-athletes,” Konya counteracting the idea of being under pressure. “How much they support one another here is a great testament to our coaches and staff. They embrace a family culture here that I welcome.”

Konya’s charter from the top down has athletics being a big part of the strategy for the university to achieve continued success, especially with what San Jose and the innovation spirit that Silicon Valley represents.

“It’s been a great listening tour so far, as we’ve engaged strategically with season ticket holders, all the athletic leadership, all the offices around campus, and the student-athletes,” said Konya. “We’ve created the charge of the Spartans, which is our vision for all of us to understand what the return on investment for intercollegiate athletics can be for the university, especially with the landscape changing all around us in the NCAA.”

Success in college athletics offers prestige and revenue, but it also has a symbiotic relationship with the pursuits of academia and the heart and will of a community.

Konya’s five ways to raise revenue:

  1. Naming opportunities
  2. Community fundraising events
  3. Sponsorships
  4. Advertising
  5. Partnerships

N.I.L. - a potentially enormous initiative

Having the potential to profoundly affect generations to come, it is important to gain more of the human perspectives behind the technologies.

Konya’s big move to officially and programmatically allow Spartan student-athletes to leverage their name, image and likeliness (NIL) for profit is a first in the nation for college athletics.

This past summer, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) finally had to allow college athletes the right to monetize their NIL.

Just as it was for the San Francisco 49ers to forge partnerships as a best practice for business pursuits, San Jose State will leverage a key partnership with Opendorse to enable NIL.

Opendorse will provide a turnkey service and technology platform for the Spartan student-athletes to pursue this NIL initiative. Opendorse had been involved with SJSU since 2019, but the NIL project expects to take shape later in 2021.

The first big hurdle - the hierarchy against N.I.L.

College athletes getting paid ruins the “purity” of amateur sports is what old school institutional thinkers say, but the idea of the NCAA cartel not getting all the money is what others would say as well.

Regardless, it’s all happening. But one big reason it’s in a gray state is there is not yet comprehensive rules and regulations.

The only hard rules: schools cannot employ any form of “pay-for-play” or recruiting enticements to lure student-athletes. Also, the schools themselves must create guidelines and even the support system to assist the student-athletes - as they are primarily there as their title suggests - student, then athlete.

NIL has long-been an initiative the NCAA has often punted rather than address head on.

Common sense says these student athletes should have at least some right to earn money. It can all also be a financial education that includes other interested students and other parts of the university in this initiative, if it makes sense.

For a majority of student-athletes, their college lives are a feeble, but fun and worthy existence. For generations, it’s been well-known that they’ve been the free cogs that makes the NCAA almost a billion-dollar organization.

It’s not like each student-athlete can or will make a lot of money – very, very few would accomplish that. A majority of them could or will make fractional amounts, but that can be the difference between a decent student-athlete existence and a good or better one.

The three main reasons to regulate NIL:

  • Just as there is creative financing and gray business dealings, there is fear that some will exploit any loopholes. Indirect pay-to-play is possible when businesses get involved.
  • Many coaches around the country feel team equity can be sacrificed. Star players will reap the rewards and support players can be left envious. Schools should find a way to spread the wealth.
  • Players can be exploited and overwhelmed with the additional load, plus there will be the need to teach financial and tax literacy – which could be a good thing, actually.

The future is now & NIL is just but one profound aspect

The majority of us are conventional and contemporary thinkers – whether we like it or not or whether we know it or not.

The kids in school now (along with Millennials and Gen Xers) will set the tone for the remainder of the century of what’s to come – whether we like it or not or whether we know it or not.

The stage is being set for more financial inclusion and economic liberty on a global scale - again, whether we like it or not or whether we know it or not

The underlying enabler of this upheaval is blockchain technology. What’s to come in the simplest terms is Web 3.0 - or what those deep in this movement call “crypto.” Most of us have lived through Web 1.0 (basic web sites) and Web 2.0 (social media & ecommerce) and most of us denied its significance early on.

As with all technological disruptions throughout history, this disruptive technology cannot be stopped, though the old guards and incumbents are trying to slow it.

Coming back down from the 30,000 foot view

NIL pursuits will allow student-athletes their long due economic rights and provide the ability to monetize their NIL whether it’s in a video game, sponsorship or endorsement deals to even training kids or promoting a social media endeavor. These are all obvious linear pursuits, which could also be team wide pursuits depending on the deal.

“We’ll need a policy to protect the university and protect our student-athletes as they go through this process in that we allow maximum flexibility for them,” said Konya on SJSU’s NIL project overall. “And when they want to partner and use our brand, then we have a conversation and make sure interests align before we move forward.”

The Charge will be broadcast on an HD network in the region and online 24/7 for the student-athletes to propagate and monetize content in their own spaces and networking channels.

The real opportunities and potential

As an example from 2006, Mountain West athletic commissioner, Craig Thompson, helped pioneer a first of its kind conference sports TV network. Thompson’s experiment struggled and closed in 2012, but it set in motion what many major college sports conferences now have as big profit broadcast platforms for themselves.

What Konya is helping launch is also a first of its kind, but how he and the university juxtaposition its resources and efforts along with the creativity and business aspects to work with and especially, support the student-athletes can certainly be mutually beneficial.

If it doesn’t work here, NIL adventures will surely work elsewhere. Why not San Jose?

San Jose and the university are known for so many things from social activism and diversity, business and entrepreneurship, technology and arts, sports and innovation. Spartan alumni and stakeholders also hold some keys to helping implement something unique.

Calculated speculation with NIL and NFTs

NIL can be to student-athletes and universities like what investments are to American ingenuity.

Part of such an endeavor should be to let people be creative and let it be part of their education. If we take the idea of leveraging NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in this NIL mix, things get really, really interesting.

NFTs are permanent digital records forever and transparently on the global blockchain.

NFTs also allow for smart contracts that automatically execute all kinds of transactions without human intervention. Currently, NFT use is very early and primarily known for creative art projects and collectibles.

NFTs in the NIL space is one of many ways a student-athlete can use creative business projects to not just raise money but be involved in a deep technological movement that will remain for the rest of their lives, especially as NFTs start to tie into tangible properties and many types of other global interactions.

A hypothetical student-athlete NFT example

A very basic use case possibility is with star college quarterback Nick Starkel. Starkel is a vibrant personality with a large community following that’s been with him through his college football career.

Starkel’s NFT could be a high definition personalized highlight reel or artful representation where a purchaser also gets various real branded items with his likeliness and even training time with him. The automatic contract could include a percentage for fundraising for the university in perpetuity, especially if Starkel continues onto success in any endeavor. It has the potential for secondary market sales long after Starkel’s career is over (San Jose State has much past intellectual sports property and personalities to leverage just as well).

Crazy as it sounds, Starkel could even crowdsource some dramatic comedy movie of his life with some big name actor through NFTs. As interesting as that could be, under the water line is where the on-going value and reach will be permanent, yet flexible to continue to build into and onto many more projects that benefits his community.

A smaller, simpler example: there’s lot of digital content creation that captures many athletes where leveraging their likeliness in various formats for their fundraising sponsors or partners may potentially be an investment if a thoughtful approach is part of it.

Yet, a larger creative endeavor could be including the eSports teams that many colleges now have, including San Jose State. That platform is already exclusively in the Web 3.0 space. If the creativity and business execution can mesh, the pieces and potential for something very significant is already there.

The future is very bright. Who knows what it can all look like.

The contemporary and innovative minds are all around. If it can’t be done here, it will be done somewhere.

(original story was first posted on Newsbreak.com)