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The 98 Percent: NIL and a New Era of Opportunity for Harvard Student-Athletes | Sports

By on September 11, 2021 0

Last summer, a dramatic change occurred in the varsity athletics landscape. Effective July 1, 2021, the NCAA adopted policies that grant Division I, II, and III student-athletes the right to use their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL). While the much-anticipated move has drawn mostly praise (and quite a bit of criticism) from NCAA fans, athletes and coaches, the rule change has also allowed private organizations outside of universities to play a role. major role in the new NIL era of collegiate sports.

As the July 1 date approached, former Harvard men’s water polo player Nick Bunn ’19 and his childhood teammate Andrew Mavis (who also played at college at George Washington) started such a venture. to help student-athletes connect directly with potential partners and take advantage of their NIL. Bunn and Mavis founded “98Strong” – which takes its name from the fact that more than 98 percent of NCAA athletes fail to reach the professional ranks in their respective sports – on the belief that student-athletes on each team and level of play deserve to benefit from NIL. Rather than helping a likely future NFL first-round candidate sign million dollar sponsorship deals, Bunn’s and Mavis’ goal is to help the “98%” earn money. small but important and consistent money while competing for their schools.

“You have all of the 98% [of college athletes] who aren’t going to go pro just like Nick and I, ”Mavis said. “How are they going to monetize [NIL] if they only have 1000 [social media] followers? So we came up with 98Strong, which is basically that collectively as a group, as 98%, we’re significantly stronger than that 2%. Our belief is that every student-athlete should have the opportunity to benefit from this new decision. Once it went live on July 1, our database grew from a few kids […] to 300 literally overnight, and now we’re close to 1,000.

To connect student-athletes with sponsors, Bunn and Mavis first seek out potential offers from private companies and sponsors. After the company asks a number of Harvard student-athletes, for example, to sponsor their product, 98Strong sends an email to each of the student-athletes in its Harvard “database” with sponsorship agreement information. For players who agree to the deal, a second email is sent to ensure that by approving the company’s product, they are in full compliance with NCAA, Ivy League and the governing university of NIL. Once the school’s compliance officer finds that the sponsorship agreement complies with current NIL policies, the student-athlete may receive payment from the company for displaying their product on campus or posting a photo of it on social networks.

Although they launched 98Strong just two months ago, Bunn and Mavis have already found that private businesses – whether large corporations, young startups, or local restaurants – are particularly drawn to power. trademark of the Ivy League and Harvard Athletics.

“The Ivy League has always been very remarkable for business at all levels,” Bunn said. “Being [represented] by some of the best Harvard athletes – this is an amazing thing and a very precious thing. In the way we look at the priorities and then what we saw of the sponsors among the five varsity athletics conferences [SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12], the Ivy League is our number six, being one of those priority markets for us.

Andrew Mavis, former George Washington star and triple honorable mention of the ACWPC All-America, ended his illustrious college career in 2019 but has remained close to college athletics through his passion for helping student-athletes to navigate the new era of the NIL. Courtesy of Andrew Mavis

For Bunn and Mavis, the decision to launch 98Strong was fueled in part by their success as Division I men’s water polo players. Mavis, a triple honorable All-American mention from the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches ( ACWPC) to George Washington, believes his accomplishments in the pool could have extended to small endorsement deals with water polo ball or goggle companies. Bunn argues that for a student-athlete wanting, say, a meal at Harvard Square or an exercise group to help them train, earning $ 50 to $ 100 per week is significant. And as varsity athletes struggle to balance their classes, team training, and other responsibilities, Bunn and Mavis believe that it is the role of private organizations such as 98Strong to handle the extra research work in the field. ‘NIL Approval Agreements.

“We spent our time in college dedicating ourselves to water polo, studying and doing all kinds of other things,” Bunn said. “Often [we were] sort of what a quick job i could do to maybe have some money in my pocket to get a burrito from El Jefe’s or whatever, it’s like, how can i get some extra income.

While many players, coaches and fans are excited about the opportunities NIL will bring to college athletics, there remains a small contingent of voices in college sports who are skeptical of such drastic rule changes. The majority of them say that as the biggest sponsorship deals revolve around an elite group of star athletes within a small circle of prestigious schools, tensions in the locker room will escalate. between players and the polarization of talent and income will increase between “power” and “middle”. “Big” sports conferences.

Bunn and Mavis, however, are seeking sponsorship deals for large groups – or “squads” – of student-athletes competing for one college at a time. 98Strong’s central philosophy holds that within a college campus, the overall brand power of dozens of student-athletes is able to match, if not surpass, the individual star power of a future athlete. professional. For those athletes like Bunn and Mavis in the “98%”, their interactions with classmates in mess halls, section discussions and weekend activities provide them with many opportunities to influence college.

“We see him collectively as a team,” Mavis said. “You have 50 Harvard student-athletes who all represent a specific company – that’s maybe 50,000 to 70,000 subscribers. [total]. You pretty much get the attention of the entire student body […] This is what sets us apart from all other NIL platforms. [Most NIL platforms] don’t look at the little guy, but the little guy is so precious. This guy is the most influential on campus. It might not be a global brand, but it’s well known on campus for sure.

As the 98Strong co-founders continue to navigate the unprecedented waters of the NIL in college athletics, they stand firm in their understanding of the sacrifice and pride that comes with competing for a college. Bunn and Mavis have led their water polo programs to the most successful seasons in their respective schools’ history, with the 2016 Harvard men’s team reaching the NCAA semifinals.

“It’s a lot of sacrifice,” Bunn said. “[Being a student athlete] is a lot of hard work. It’s also a lot of pride, and I think being able to walk into a swimming pool and have the logos of our schools that we represent [on our chests] was so meaningful. Especially for me, at least I can talk to myself like on the Harvard side, at [represent] Harvard at the NCAAs, every game was an honor and a privilege. I think within the student-athlete community there’s a sort of boast and confidence that you get to sing so deliberately and so clearly Harvard out of the band.

While their days in the pool are over, New Jersey natives will be working on the new NIL rules to improve the student-athlete experience that shaped them.

– Editor-in-Chief AJ Dilts can be contacted at [email protected]

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