'I love it': How Iowa basketball has navigated the Name, Image, Likeness era
Last week, Iowa point guard Ahron Ulis was watching TV when a commercial for local pizza chain Falbo Bros. Pizzeria appeared.
That's not uncommon but the star of the commercial took him by surprise.
He saw his teammate: Sophomore forward Patrick McCaffery performing a song-and-dance routine promoting the eatery. He immediately pulled out his phone, recorded it and sent it to the rest of Iowa's men's basketball team.
The team, much like the large reaction on social media had a good laugh about McCaffery's cameo but what did his dad and Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery think?
"My first reaction was, 'How much did they pay you,'" McCaffery said. "When I heard the number, I was, like, 'I'd probably do a dance, too.' So good for him."
Welcome to the Name, Image, Likeness era.
Since July 1, college athletes have earned money from sponsorships and partnerships without being in violation of NCAA rules.
Jordan Bohannon and Iowa women's basketball star Caitlin Clark were among a group of athletes within the #NotNCAAProperty movement during the the NCAA basketball tournaments in the spring who met with NCAA president Mark Emmert.
Now, that change has occurred, Bohannon sees the difference it's making.
"Every time I scroll on Twitter I see a new deal being done by someone across the country," Bohannon said. "And I love it. That's everything that we fought for."
With basketball season beginning shortly, the focus for coaches and players has shifted to on-court responsibilities and the season ahead. The question then becomes, how does Iowa, a team that was in the middle of the fight for NIL, plan to balance exciting opportunities with on-court expectations?
Fran McCaffery is thrilled to see players like Bohannon, McCaffery and sophomore Keegan Murray earning money through various ventures but emphasizes that his team must continue to "keep the main thing, the main thing."
"I do think there's a fine line," McCaffery said. "Getting in the gym and getting in the weight room and understanding the focus that's required to be the best player that you can be, because a lot of the NIL stuff is social media driven. So it requires you to be on social media, which I don't have a problem with because our guys have made pretty good decisions there. But that can't become the number one focus, especially when we start playing games."
Part of the balance is knowing when to take an opportunity and with who. Bohannon for example has focused primarily on working with locally based companies that can expand his network nearby. That in a way is also a benefit of NIL according to Patrick McCaffery. Whereas before it was taboo for student-athletes to interact closely with high ranking business officials, now their business acumen is rapidly improving.
"It's something that's a really good experience for all of us," Patrick McCaffery said. "I'm reading over contracts, meeting with people, getting to shake their hand. Stuff I've learned but maybe things that other guys haven't learned: how to conduct yourself in a professional setting. It's different than a basketball court."
It also helps to have players like Bohannon, who were at the forefront of this movement, to lean on for advice on how to handle opportunities and keep focus during what will be a long season.
"I can use Jordan as a resource," Patrick McCaffery said. "If I don't know what to do, how to negotiate different stuff I can send it to Jordan. I'm really happy to have him as a resource here."
For coaches, the balancing act goes beyond current players to prospective players as well. McCaffery like many other college coaches have had to answer questions about NIL at their own school on the recruiting trail.
"Everybody wants to know about it," McCaffery said. "There are some rules that are in place that should be followed. But as we've all seen, the NIL, to-pay-for-play line, is blurred. It's not supposed to be pay-for-play. It's supposed to be NIL.
So are we moving to that end? We just pay the guys, whatever? So those are questions — people just want to know, are guys making any money; are guys having opportunities? And they are. And I hope that they become more abundant."
For this year's team, McCaffery expressed confidence in his players to add another element to their college experience and continue to balance it. Right now only Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery and Keegan Murray have announced ventures.
Within the team, there isn't any concern about NIL distracting them from basketball. If anything, it's the opposite. Their play on the court is what brought opportunity and continued success and national team notoriety will bring more.
"There's 24 hours in a day," Patrick McCaffery said. "I can't wait to miss a shot and someone's going to say, 'Well if he wasn't making pizza commercials' … . But I promise I and everyone has put in enough work to make this a successful season. There's a lot of time to do a lot of different things, it's a personal choice but I promise we've bee in here working."
Kennington Smith is the Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.