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Watch now: Millikin begins navigating world of athletic sponsorship at the Division III level

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DECATUR — When Millikin athletic director Dr. Craig White was playing in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills in the 1980s, he didn't have to navigate the world of athletic endorsements. 

"I was like the fifth receiver on a not very good team so there wasn't a lot there," White said. "I was on different shows and they give you a gift, that was the extent of it. But it was also a different time."

Times changed significantly this week, including those at Division III schools like Millikin, as the potential to make money on sports endorsements is here following the signage of Illinois legislation on college athlete name, image and likeness this week and the NCAA's recent decision to allow athletes to pursue deals.

Millikin women CCIW

The Millikin women's basketball team celebrate winning the 2021 CCIW Tournament championship. DIII Illinois athletes can now sign endorsement deals. 

White, along with his coaching staffs, have started treading through the murky water of what these endorsements will look like. 

"It is going to start out with everyone feeling their way. What does this mean exactly and what can we do? How will it impact what we do and how athletes deal with it? It will have a big impact at the high levels especially because they are more in the media," White said. "I've already had some talk with our coaches on what it could mean. I really think the first step is to have it clearly defined from what can and cannot be done and and what lines cannot be crossed. That is the first thing on doing it properly."

Although top athletes in DI programs might be the first to receive deals, endorsement opportunities will certainly not be limited to them. Former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, who hosts the Pat McAfee Show, announced Thursday that he was looking to partner with collegiate kickers, punters and snappers in the fall. 

"I will have to do plenty of research and will seek advice from others about who the right folks are to represent the entire collegiate specialist community #FortheBrand," McAfee tweeted. 

Maroa-Forsyth softball coach Jon Kidd, who played baseball for Millikin, joked on Twitter about the potential income he missed out on in endorsement deals while in college. 

"I think back to my four years of Millikin baseball and wonder how much money I missed out on. 'Welcome to Krekel's, would you like the Jon Kidd special?'," Kidd wrote. "'What's that?' That's two double cheeseburgers, two cheese toasties, fries and a large lemon milkshake." 

Bradan Birt

Millikin's Bradan Birt was national champion in 165-pound weight class at the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division III National Championships.

Those type of partnerships seem possible at Millikin, especially given the outstanding season Big Blue Athletics had in 2020-21. The women's basketball team became CCIW Tournament champions and both the softball and baseball team competed in the NCAA Tournament. Millikin wrestler Bradan Birt became champion at 165-pounds at the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division III National Championships. Additionally, Central Illinois athletes with large followings in high school attend Millikin, leading to the potential for sponsorship opportunities, especially on social media. 

"We will see how it goes. If a company in Decatur or the surrounding area thinks a certain athlete would help them do what they do and sell their product, we will see what happens," White said. "There might be opportunities. I feel like Millikin is a Decatur school and a Central Illinois school. There might be some companies that want to be involved with our student athletes in that way. I don't have broad knowledge on social media and the prospects there, but I'm sure there are broad opportunities in that way as well for the athletes."

Along with the rules that outlaw endorsements for gambling, sports betting, controlled substances, cannabis, tobacco, alcohol, nicotine, performance-enhancing supplements and adult entertainment, rules are also established related to the use of university logos, names and jerseys in athlete-related sponsorships and advertising. 

"I think (the restrictions) are good. There has to be some controls. You don't want a student athlete being some kind of associated with a strip club or something like that," White said. "There are things we have to have limits on and I think we have that. We will monitor that as well and, even if that wasn't there by law, it would be there by Millikin University."

Elyce Knudsen

The Millikin women's basketball's Elyce Knudsen cuts down the net following the Big Blue's win in the 2021 CCIW Tournament championship game. 

White doesn't see the additional money influencing athletes to stay longer in college. 

"I think first, you have to want to play. You've got to love the sport and then want to come back for another. You've got to weigh that with the income that you could make from working versus playing the sport you love," he said. "I can't gauge the numbers but I don't know if the money at the DIII level will rise to make them come back for that."

Along with establishing Millikin's procedures, White and his staff will monitor the quickly developing marketplace. 

"It is intriguing and what I'm curious to see is the range of what we are talking about. What are some of the possibilities for these athletes in Division I at the BCS level?," White said. "Our first step is compliance and putting together a summary list of what these new rules mean and what this decision entails. We will keep our eyes out for what our competition does because whatever we do is competition. What are our other schools doing in this world? Are we keeping up or setting the trend in what it is you can do to have these athletes compensated for what they do?"

Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten


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