SFA Athletics adapts to name, image and likeness rules, launches Axe 'Em Experience Exchange
Story by Nathan Wicker '19
Photos by Lizeth Rodriguez Santes
In summer 2021, the landscape of National Collegiate Athletic Association-sanctioned athletics changed.
The NCAA, since its beginning in 1906, has built its empire on amateurism as a core tenet: student-athletes could not be paid to play — or paid for anything — using their name, image or likeness while representing their respective universities. They could only receive scholarships. That was true for more than 100 years, until just a couple of years ago when the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled that the NCAA could not limit education-related payments to student-athletes.
Due to that decision, various state laws regarding name, image and likeness went into effect July 1, 2021.
Simply put, student-athletes competing in NCAA intercollegiate athletics are now permitted to receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness — often shortened to NIL — for commercial and entrepreneurial activities, endorsements and appearances, among other opportunities. Like so many other schools, SFA had to decide what that meant for Lumberjack student-athletes.
"When you look at NIL for what it's designed to be, I think it's good," said Ryan Ivey, SFA's director of athletics. "I think it's a good opportunity to provide an avenue for our student-athletes to earn compensation for their name, image and likeness."
Axe 'Em Experience Exchange
The new legislation allowed for NIL opportunities but didn't require them, so each school had to decide if and how they would go about implementing the process.
According to the NCAA, schools can inform student-athletes about potential NIL opportunities and can work with an NIL service provider to administer a "marketplace" that matches student-athletes with those opportunities.
For SFA, it was an easy choice — why turn down an opportunity for student-athletes to tap into that new and unique source of income?
SFA Athletics partnered with Teamworks to use its platform called INFLCR, pronounced "influencer," which is a software service to help collegiate athletic departments support student-athletes in NIL endeavors. In July 2022, SFA Athletics launched the Axe 'Em Experience Exchange to create a seamless marketplace transaction for student-athletes and vendors to engage in NIL opportunities.
All student-athletes are automatically enrolled in the program but have the choice to opt out. Businesses, vendors and individuals can create a profile within the exchange and connect with student-athletes. They're able to see what sport the student-athlete plays, monitor the student-athlete's social media following and observe their posts' value. Then, they're able to connect with the student-athlete with a contract request, which the student-athlete can accept or decline.
The exchange can be used by local or national companies to promote the company itself or its products. Individuals or associations can also use the service for such things as sport-specific lessons, birthday announcements and engagement appearances, among other opportunities.
"We really try to protect our student-athletes in this activity, so the platform creates a safe and compliant place for vendors to communicate with student-athletes," Ivey said.
Contracts between student-athletes and vendors are streamlined through the exchange, including the processing of payments. The program also processes and sends all tax documents to the student-athletes.
‘Puting' it into Practice
Since the NCAA's ruling, student-athletes have taken advantage of NIL to grow social media followings, earn new income and tap into their entrepreneurism. Jonathan Shuskey, a member of SFA's men's golf team, is one of them.
Shuskey's story can't be categorized any other way than unique: a 41-year-old, 20-year U.S. Army veteran who is pursuing collegiate golf and a bachelor's degree following his military retirement, all while being a loving husband to his wife and father to four children, who live in Columbus, Georgia.
His well-documented story has drawn a lot of attention for NIL deals and media appearances alike. The story is his hole in one.
"NIL has been a little different for me than the normal student-athlete," Shuskey said. "Obviously, I'm not a starting quarterback or starting point guard. In a lot of cases, NIL is tied to the star athlete. For me, it's about my story."
The sports business major has landed three NIL deals, the first two with Talco Industrial Chemicals Inc. and golf apparel company, SwingJuice, while he was at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. After transferring to SFA, he received a deal from Last Stand Hats, which has an SFA line of products.
According to Shuskey, his main responsibilities are promoting the products and frequently interacting on social media. The funds have helped cover expenses in his athletic endeavors, such as replacing old equipment.
Shuskey believes SFA's efforts to assist its student-athletes will open many NIL opportunities, and the Axe 'Em Experience Exchange is a true testament to that.
"Through the Axe 'Em Experience Exchange and INFLCR, I think it's something that's really going to take hold here," Shuskey said. "What we have in place and just the ease of access and use is really well done."
The Axe 'Em Experience Exchange provides ample opportunities for SFA alumni entrepreneurs. Want to book your favorite Lumberjack student-athletes? Visit sfajacks.com/NIL to request access, or contact the department at 936.468.3501 to get started.