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Shaming Attractive Athletes; Some NIL Stats; A Not Very Big Game

It’s a crime, it seems, to be an attractive woman athlete and cash in on your good looks.

Or so the New York Times and some prominent coaches would have us believe.

The Times published a bizarre article last week entitled: “New Endorsements for College Athletes Resurface an Old Concern: Sex Sells.”

Since the NCAA grudgingly consented to allow athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) a year-and-a-half ago, the leading earners have been football and men’s basketball players.

But women athletes, particularly in gymnastics and basketball, are more than holding their own by leveraging athletic performance and social media popularity.

Trouble is, according to the critics, some of these women are also being rewarded for their “feminine desirability” and for “showing off traditional notions of female beauty.”

The NYT told LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne they wanted to do an article on her and NIL, then proceeded to produce a hit piece about how she is taking women’s sports backward by selling sex.

Never mind that she’s an All-American and has done nothing tasteless or objectionable.

Some industry analysts claim Dunne will make $2 million this year, mostly because she has eight million followers on Instagram and Tik Tok, where she posts sponsored content modeling American Eagle Outfitters jeans and Vuori activewear, along with videos of her lip singing or dancing.

The photos I’ve seen are all PG. Pretty tame stuff. She is a petite blond with a trim gymnast’s physique. In most of the photos, she’s wearing a black leotard. You won’t see much skin, other than her legs. I’ve seen racier photos in Athleta catalogues.

Yet Stanford’s iconic women’s basketball coach, Tara VanDerveer, among others, finds any NIL compensation related to beauty to be regressive, calling it “one step back.”

I beg to disagree. We want women athletes to get their due, in terms of NCAA resources, promotion, game attendance, sponsorships, and exposure. But when that happens, and some of the women who’re getting NIL deals are attractive, the purists howl that they’re using sexiness to sell themselves.

Sorry, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of good looks to rake in endorsements, unless the sponsor requires you to overtly sell sex.

As one of Tara’s players, Haley Jones, who has scored numerous NIL deals, says, “this is the society we live in.” The good looking and articulate athletes are always going to do better in landing sponsorship and broadcasting deals.

And that holds for male athletes as well.

After the NYT article was published, Dunne fired back on Instagram with a photo of herself in gymnastics gear (above) and the question, “@nytimes is this too much?”


NIL Stats: Speaking of NIL, here are some interesting stats. So far, 55% of all disclosed NIL transactions have involved football players. College football players have received over $500 million in NIL compensation. The average deal has increased from $1,132 a year ago to $3,162 this fall, per data obtained by On3. However, many transactions are for six figures and a few are in seven.

How important are these deals in terms of a football program’s ability to recruit and retain players? This from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: “There’s going to come a time in the very, very near future where the top 25 NIL pots of money are going to mirror exactly the top 25 teams in the country.”

Big Game: This weekend Stanford and Cal square off in one of the least attractive Big Games in memory. Both teams are hurting, both on the scoreboard and in the training room.

Stanford and Cal each have won only one conference game and will bring 3-7 records into Saturday’s contest.

The Bears have lost six straight, the Cardinal four straight. The last three weeks have been particularly uninspiring, with Cal losing to Oregon, USC and Oregon State by a combined score of 121-69 and Stanford losing to UCLA, Washington State and Utah by an even more lop-sided 132-34.

Yesterday Cal coach Justin Wilcox fired his offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Angus McClure with two games left in the season. Ugly stuff.

Financial Fumbles: Both Stanford and Cal have been plagued by turnovers this season. However, the most costly turnovers may relate to the financing of the Bears’ football field.

My old friend Roger Salquist and his Stanford GSB classmate Jerry Ireland reminded me that in 2013 Cal sold the naming rights to its field to mobile video game producer Kabam. But the 15-year, $18 million deal only lasted four years before Kabam paid $5M to pull out of it.

In 2021 Cal sold the field naming rights to Bahamian crypto currency exchange FTX for $17.5M in FTT crypto currency. The crypto token, which initially had a value of $27, reached a high of $80. Today that value has plummeted to $4. FTX filed for bankruptcy last week and is under criminal investigation in the Bahamas, where it is headquartered.

Then there was the infamous Memorial Stadium renovation. Cal spent $321 million in renovations and $153M for a student-athlete "high performance center” in 2011-12 that was to be financed by selling 50-year rights to season tickets in an Endowment Seating Program. The same seating program had failed spectacularly at Kansas and was a total bust at Cal.

The Athletic Department was left with a $440M loan. The University took on a little over half the debt in 2018. Both parties now pay about $9 million a year in interest only payments, but that number will increase to about $13M per year in 2032 when the principal starts coming due.

The Bears did get some good news last off-season when head coach Justin Wilcox turned down an opportunity to become head coach at Oregon and returned to Berkeley.

Right about now he may be wondering if he made the right call.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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